5 Things to Know About Madera Theatre Project’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’
The Madera Theatre Project (MTP) kicks off its second season with a production of “Alice in Wonderland” (opening Thursday, June 15). This adaptation by Brainerd Duffield of the classic tale written by Lewis Carroll features the characters you’ve grown to know and love, including Alice tumbling down a seemingly endless rabbit hole, the Queen of Hearts, and the Cheshire Cat. The production is at the beautiful new performing arts center at Matilda Torres High School (16645 Rd 26, Madera). Performances run through Saturday, June 24.
With the help of director Duncan Needham, here are 5 Things to Know about the show:
It’s a great show for families.
While there are many interpretations of “Alice” out there — and some focus more than others on the darker side of adolescence — this version is recommended for anyone 5 and older. “I know many readers have memorable moments from both books and I feel this play version has the strongest representation of characters and scenarios the audiences will enjoy,” Needham says. “Duffield’s adaptation may come across darker, but I staged it with younger audiences in mind.”
Look closely or you might miss something.
“I was really lucky to get such a talented group of designers to bring my vision alive,” Needham says. “Many of our audiences will expect the big pop of spectacle and wildly animated characters and they will get that. However, if focused deeper, you will see fragmented components of reality. I mess around with theatrical customs, bringing in various styles of music, raising the poetry up a beat, and leaving imagination open to the audience, as it should be. Wonderland is an organized chaos, but with a bright coat of paint.”
The biggest production challenge was the Cheshire Cat. Needham says the creative team must have gone through six or seven different designs and ideas of how to expose this magical feline to the audience. First it was a hand-held puppet, but it was too small for the stage. Then there was the idea of a floating cat, but that fell flat. The final version is going to impress the audience, he says, especially the kids.
Two actresses play Alice, and each makes the character her own.
Mia Vazquez, 18, and Elizabeth Rogers, 11, both did exceptionally well at auditions, Needham says. And each will portray their own unique Alice. Vazquez, a recent graduate of Madera High School, will be dressed in tans and royal blues, just as the original illustrator of Carroll’s books imagined. She will play Alice as an intelligent, witty, mature and down-to-Earth child who is not so naive. “There is no fear, only uncertainty,” Needham says.
Rogers, a student at Nishimoto Elementary School in Madera, will wear a stereotypical Disney blue dress, but with a much more innocent outlook of Wonderland. “One that is not as mysterious, but a world that has tasks to complete so she can get home,” Needham says. “Elizabeth’s Alice is gullible but can smell danger ahead of her.”
Though it might blow young minds to learn, “Alice” is not a Disney creation.
Growing up, Needham saw the Disney movies without realizing the story came from a famous Victorian-era children’s tale.
Now he knows a lot more about Lewis Carroll, especially after visiting Oxford University last summer to learn more.
“There are more characters and adventures Alice takes,” he says. “I took time to track down the true reasoning of this story and the mysteries it holds regarding Carroll’s imagination. I discovered my own interpretations of each character as if they were all adults in Alice’s real world and how she works and deals with each one of them in Wonderland.”
Let’s get deep for a moment here.
I ask Needham:
Some people experience a nightmare adolescence. Others breeze through without much of a negative ripple. What factors in a person’s life do you think most impact someone’s growing up? (Parents, culture, personality, just plain luck?) Any thoughts?
His response is so eloquent I want to quote it in full:
“I fully believe in the power of parenting. Parents are the first people a child has in their lives and should be the main stakeholder in the child’s growth and impact. The parent introduces culture and traditions and personalities are genetic. Ever hear the line, “Oh my, goodness, I’m beginning to sound like my mother!” Growing up, learning, developing, influencing, and good old common sense comes from the choices parents make for their children. Rules, laws, respect for elders and authority, knowing how to eat healthy, and to use the voice for goodness and not abuse or bullying, are all the responsibility of the parent.
“Alice isn’t the strongest character representative for the average child. She only represents a fraction of other personalities, backgrounds, and cultures. However, the dream she has of falling into Wonderland isn’t a dream (or, unfortunately, a nightmare for some) that is uniquely their own. That dream, that imagination, holds symbolic truths to the real world experience. When we dream, we use our memories, experiences, and cognition to design those same dreams we have each night. For Alice, and for many children, those same dreams are a cornucopia of the reality they experience. Everyone in their lives has or had a Queen of Hearts who looks down on them as if they are nothing and should not be worth the time to speak to.
“Our Caterpillar is the impatient psychology that swirls in children’s heads, asking the big question, “Who are you? Why are you here? What shall you become?” Waiting for the right time to become the butterfly benefits the tough choices made to eat the temptations of growing up faster than one should. And, the White Rabbit is most likely a child’s own personal nemesis: the pressure from society to keep up with responsibility and deadlines that the world expects. If I am to be late for my very important date, I am sure to have my head cut off. And we always wake up from that dream the second before the blade hits the neck. What a wake up call it is to find out that life is like a deck of cards: what is dealt has already been determined; how the cards are played is free will.”