Little Red Riding Hood. Jack and the Beanstalk. War camp refugees. One of these things is not like the other. To Communication senior John Aldous, however, these fit perfectly together.
Aldous is the director of Arts Alliance’s production of Into the Woods, opening Thursday night, which introduces a new concept to Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s popular musical. The production adds another layer by setting the entire play in a war camp where refugees act out the original Into the Woods for each other.
“I’m a firm believer that theatrical texts die if they aren’t constantly renewed…if there isn’t a process of breathing new life into them,” said Aldous, explaining that the concept deals with storytelling. “It’s really about figuring out what it means to survive in any sort of humanistic sense, what it means to allow your soul to survive whenever all the comforts of life are taken away from you.” The obvious choice for Aldous was thus a war camp. “It becomes all the more important for them to try together to keep optimism alive…it’s also about community and telling stories as a community.”
Business producer Sean Brennan agreed. “People ask the obvious questions, ‘Why would you tell these stories in the midst of war? Aren’t there more important things?’” said Brennan, a Communication junior. “[This is] getting a chance to say ‘No, this is how we relate to each other. This is how we get through these bad times.’”
Because of the stark contrast between the moods of the two acts of the original musical, adapting this new concept was a natural process, Aldous explained. “Act one and act two are very yin and yang,” he said. In the original, act one follows the story in which all fairy tale characters come together and interact, and act two tells of what happens after the “happily ever after.” “If you’re looking at a show a new way, it has to be a symbiotic relationship,” said Aldous. “I try to keep the truth of that yin and yang.”
In this production, act one is similar to the original musical, but there is an awareness from the characters on stage that a show is being put on. In act two, “as text falls apart, the production that they are putting on starts to fall apart as well,” Aldous said.
“It’s really sort of built into the script for you, to add in this other layer,” said artistic producer Anna Ciamporcero, explaining the translation of the musical into a war setting. “Cinderella’s gown is made entirely of white trash bags. Red Riding Hood’s cape is all patchwork red denim,” said Ciamporcero, a Communication junior. Indeed, the set, anchored by four prison watchtowers, is transformed into a fantastical forest with two towering trees arching over the stage and just a bit of imagination.
Aldous admits that introducing a new concept to a well-loved text was a challenge at first. “It was the show that got me to love theatre…and a lot of people have that very strong relationship to it,” he said. However, he said he is glad the concept has worked with the support of his team. “If something doesn’t scare you a little bit, then why do it? Luckily, I have a team that really grasps onto that concept and believed in it.”
Arts Alliance’s production of Into the Woods will run in the Louis Room at Norris University Center at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 19; 7 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Friday, May 20; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, May 21. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for the general public.