The Design & Production Studio class, in its second inception, offers an incredible opportunity to bring a group of students together to create a true ensemble piece of theater, and do this work during the class day to create a fully staged performance from the ground up.
It is my goal to give the students as much autonomy as possible during the design and creation process, as well as the assistant direction and dramaturgical aspects. This presents a wonderful challenge when it comes to finding a script that offers plenty of roles for the actors in class, but also provides a rich textual fabric for design potential and opportunities for learning and discovery.
This semester, as an ensemble (we named ourselves The Dish and Spoon Players), we decided that every member of the group would contribute to the design elements in some respect, even if their main interest is performing. We needed a project that created an opportunity for some student-led design projects! Mary Zimmerman’s The Secret in The Wings, told in classic frame story style, delivers on all fronts. It’s an ensemble text with no lead roles, and a wonderfully spellbinding setting for which to design and create—as well as plenty of props! On this project, almost all that you see on the stage was designed and made by the ensemble members—everything from the scales of the armour to the puppets and trees. The students also designed and built much of the set and handled the lion’s share of the scenic painting, lighting, and costumes, all under the wonderful and skilled guidance of SA parents, Nina Endicott and Robert Cobbold, and our own “Master of Making” Sean Freese. Our resident ensemble musicians, under the direction of student actor and songwriter, Connor Devlin, also wrote and created original music and created the ambient soundscape and underscoring that so beautifully accompanies this mysterious piece.
From a personal perspective, I have always been drawn to myth and folktales, especially those written for the young. I love the way different cultures have distinctly different versions of familiar tales, offering insight into culture and also revealing the darker corners of children's fiction that have existed historically throughout cultures around the globe. Oral storytelling traditions and fables were told not only to entertain but often as a way to teach morality or to caution growing minds about the dangers of the unknown, with each culture conjuring a different form of the witch or monster lurking in the shadows. Even today, most Disney stories start with an orphaned child, and the hero/heroine fighting cruel/evil forces or mischievous spirits and other supernatural forces (as well as human faults and frailties).
I am so lucky to be surrounded by so much talent and creativity with this ensemble, and I am consistently blown away by what our Sonoma Academy students are capable of both on and off the stage. I hope they will keep alive their creativity and artistic passion. The world needs story, imagination, and morality tales now more than ever. Stories are what bind us to one another and keep us engaged and excited about life, and constantly scratching away at the shadows of our curiousity.
The Secret in The Wings is a wonderful combination of that whimsy and darkness, a wild and unpredictable piece of storytelling that draws on many aspects of the fairy tale and folk world, from Grimm’s to Celtic tales. On their first reading, and in looking for a throughline for our production, the ensemble felt the text reminded them of what it felt like to be read to as children, and of the ripe world of their childhood imaginations. They talked about backyards where tree houses became castles, and monsters and dragons were conceivably hiding behind garden hedges. With this production, we wanted to capture the easy enchantment of the young mind and the wonder of storytelling, but also the often macabre themes that sometimes preoccupy children’s stories and creative play. The world can be a scary place, and not only because there might be an ogre hiding under the bed.