Students go “Into the Woods” in the shadow of the Dome
Jordan Gamble | Thursday, August 26, 2010
Most students are still settling into their dorms, but the cast and crew of the St. Ed’s Players have been spending the past two weeks crafting a twisted fairytale landscape in the laboratory theater on the third floor of Washington Hall. They will perform the Stephen Sondheim hit “Into the Woods” this weekend.
Notre Dame senior Brian Davenport is directing, producing and acting in “Into the Woods.” After three years of building up his skills as a triple threat, he’ll be one of the producers for Pasquerilla East Musical Company (PEMCo) this year.
In an email with The Observer, Davenport explained the challenges and rewards of putting together a musical on such a tight schedule.
Observer Scene: With this being the first weekend of the year, how did you manage to get “Into the Woods” together so quickly? What was that process like?
Brian Davenport: The whole thing started as a semi-delirious finals week conversation at four in the morning with Carolyn Sullivan, who graduated last year and is co-directing with me. It struck us both as a pretty crackpot scheme at the time, but it also sounded really cool, and I base all major decisions I make on what sounds cool. We applied for the rights and began to gather a cast and crew in early July. Two weeks ago, the cast began to trickle back to school, and we began rehearsals.
The process has alternated between exhilarating and absolutely terrifying. It’s been a team effort every step of the way, and it’s unthinkable that it could ever have come together without a group of people as talented and dedicated as the one that we’ve assembled.
Why “Into the Woods?” What is your favorite part of this show, as a director and as an actor?
BD: “Fractured fairy tales” were just about my favorite thing when I was a kid, because the real thing always struck me as a little ridiculous. What’s so great about this show is that it takes the fairy tales we know by heart and takes them seriously. Does Cinderella actually want the Prince to find her? Why is it okay for Jack to kill the Giant? What did the Giant ever do to anybody? Plus, musically, it’s just a gorgeous piece of work.
I’ve wanted to put a musical up in the Lab Theatre, which is much smaller and more intimate, and I can’t think of a better candidate than this show. We’ve completely transformed the space. The floor has been painted like a forest, and the stage extends into the audience. The divide between actor and audience is somewhat removed.
My favorite moments in the show as a director all come in the second act. The first act follows Jack, Cinderella, Little Red Ridinghood, Rapunzel and many others into the woods and ends with everything tied up pretty neatly. Every character has more or less been granted their wish and seems well set up to live “happily ever after.” Then in the second act, everything just falls apart, and it’s great, because to even suggest that a fairy tale character would get anything other than a fairy tale ending is very unsettling. As an actor, I just love the part I’m playing. “Into the Woods” is full of not-very-smart characters, and Rapunzel’s Prince is one of the not-very-smartest. That’s fun to play around with.
Why should people come see this show?
BD: If nothing else, this will be one of the best-looking productions you’re ever likely to see at Notre Dame. Everyone has been working around the clock to put together something really special. And it’s the perfect opportunity for incoming freshmen to see what’s really possible in student theatre. Plus, our costumers built Rapunzel’s wig, which is at least eight feet long, from scratch out of yarn and Velcro. That’s reason enough.
St. Ed’s Players will perform “Into the Woods” Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at the Washington Hall Lab Theater.
Tickets are $5 for students, $7 for general public and will be on sale at LaFortune Box Office, as well as at the door.