rockford illinois entertainment guide
Date: 11/04/2005
"Through the Looking Glass" - Alice in Wonderland @ NAT
by Tony Vezner

I wrote the adaptation with some great help from the NAT staff.  I decided to do this adaptation because none of the adaptations I read of the story really pleased me.  Somehow, they just didn't grab me or excite me, and if I can't get excited by the script, it's nearly impossible for me to stage it in a way that excites an audience.  So, I decided to adopt the do-it-yourself approach which is something I've done a couple times before, but never with a story, or in this case two stories, of such huge scope.  So, it was a bit of a challenge.  I'd like to write a bit about how we went about meeting that challenge.  


Chipping Away

Michelangelo once said that he made sculptures by taking a large rock and simply chipping away all of the pieces that weren't the sculpture.  Making this adaptation started in much the same way.  Our first step was having a series of meetings in which we decided which scenes in the books should stay and which should go.   The decisions weren't easy.  There were scenes that many of us didn't think should be in the play, but one of us would simply be in love with it.  If you're a fan of the chapters "The Lobster Quadrille" or "A Caucus Race", I'm very sorry, but they had to go in the interest of time.  I also looked at the work of other "chippers".  I purchased eight different adaptations of the script and about a dozen movie versions which ran the gamut from children's cartoon to experimental art film.  By the time I had considered everyone else's adaptation, it was a lot easier to define what to do with our adaptation.


After that I worked on the scenes that we had chosen to be part of the play and chipped away the bulk of the narration leaving Lewis Carrol's dialogue and a smidge of narrative.  I should point out that 90-95% of the words that you will hear today are directly from the original books.  This "chipping" was very easily done at first, and then got harder when some of the dialogue had to be cut because it was too long or seemed repetitive (when dealing with so many sections of genius nonsense, it's very difficult to separate "non essential" nonsense from "essential nonsense").  At the end of this stage of "chipping" what we had was a series of unconnected scenes that were full of Mr. Carrol's dialogue but which didn't relate to each other.


Adding Sinews and a Skeleton to the Muscles

In the original "Alice" books there isn't an overall point, moral, or idea that the author uses to tie all the pieces together.  The scenes are what we call "episodic", meaning that each chapter is like a little individual episode and there is no overall story or structure holding the book together.  The scenes are like loose muscles without bones or sinews to tie them together.  One scene doesn't necessarily move the main character forward to the next scene.  In a way, it makes sense for children's books to be episodic.  Episodic structure is perfect for bedtime stories.  Each night a child can hear about another creature or person that Alice encounters without having to remember the whole storyline.  However, if one is going to hear a whole series of episodes in one sitting, one wants them to be tied together in some way.  So, it was up to us to come up with some thematic idea that could be added to Mr. Carrol's work to do just that.  It was at this point that my own personal life experience came into play and that I added a "creative" contribution to the story.


In thinking about what the play could be about overall, I went back to what inspired the books to be written.  Lewis Carrol (his pen name, his real name was Reverend Dodgson) claims that he made up the story that became Alice's Adventures in Wonderland one day while on a boat trip with his friends, the young Alice Liddel (then 7 years old) and her sisters Lorina and Edith.  The day of the boat trip meant so much to the author that he wrote the poem that we use as the beginning and the end of the play.  Young Alice liked the story so much she asked him to write it down and he did, giving it to her in book form for Christmas that year.  Later, the story was published and the rest, as they say, is history.  So essentially, the story was written for a young girl who was growing up.  The main questions I asked myself were "What does it mean to grow up?  What happens to us as people as we grow up?  What does it feel like to stop being a child and become a grown up?"  With these questions in mind, I started to frame an overall story where Alice goes on a "quest" of sorts in Wonderland to find out what she will be facing as she grows from childhood to adulthood.


When thinking about growing up, I didn't really use a child's perspective but my current one.  I know that when I was a kid I couldn't wait to be "big" and "grown up" so that I could do more things and enjoy all of the rights and privileges of adulthood.  However, now that I am a father of two children, age 5 and 7, I both applaud their maturation and am afraid of it.  I love being able to see them do more things, and yet I love so much how they are now, that I don't want to lose the "current version" of them.  This fear of change, the fear of losing something precious as they grow, is what I used as the main adversary in Alice's heart and in her way.  As she journeys through Wonderland, exploring different physical sizes and different ways of looking at life, she has moments that resonate with her real life and her own fear of change.  So, the times when Alice hears the voices from her real life are my invention.  And, her real life "invading" the final scene is also from me.  It seemed only right that this overall conflict about growing up should come to a head, or climax, in the courtroom scene.  The other lines I added are, I hope, indistinguishable from Mr. Carrol's text.  As an adaptor I have no desire to be noticed.  I just wanted to take Mr. Carrol's great characters and events and devise a way for them to make as much impact as possible with a modern audience.  Hopefully the text and production we've constructed will do that for you.


Enjoy your trip to Wonderland!


Tony Vezner

Adaptor and Director

Alice in Wonderland opens November 25th and runs through December 30th.
Student matinees available.

Contact Information
New American Theater
118 N Main St
Rockford, IL 61101
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