It’s the in-between-space between the first and second weeks of the run, and here I am getting a bit of relaxation for the first time in several months when I realized that I didn’t attempt any kind of director’s note for Jobsite’s ALICE.
There are so many great stories here, and so many things I think people would be interested in knowing about the show. I’m not even exactly sure where to start. I’ll break this up into thirds. What usual counts as the Director’s Note, and then a heading each for Development and Process.
FROM ME TO YOU
I simply hope that folks enjoy the show, it was designed for pure fun. We wanted to create an experience, a cabaret spectacle, in the vein of our lauded production of Shockheaded Peter a few years ago. It was that show’s wild, unexpected success that got us looking for other literature in the public domain we might be able to treat similarly. The world of Wonderland works perfect. There is not “a” meaning here, the chapters work independently and even mashed up from book to book, and so on.
Knowing we wouldn’t be able to use the Jaeb, we scaled down some of the bigger things about Shockheaded (like replacing aerial silks with lyra hoops) and due to the room’s lack of backstage space we also took a lot inspiration from the many (abridged) shows we’ve done over the years. Many (but not all) of the puppets are inspired by the construction methods used for Avenue Q, which designer Spencer P. Meyers performed in alongside Julia Rifino and Ryan Sturm, who also appear here in ALICE.
I hope that folks appreciate why I won’t make a direct age recommendation on Jobsite’s ALICE — I don’t want to sidetrack this with my lengthy list of reasons why — but we sincerely do hope that both the young and young-at-heart enjoy this.
It was built specifically for an all-ages audience in mind (we even took out the one swear-word that snuck its way in), I’ll just never tell a parent categorically what is ok or not for their specific child, that’s not my place. Kids often have an easier time suspending their disbelief, and are more willing to go on the sort of wild, surreal ride we’ve created. Bill DeYoung of the St. Pete Catalyst recently said “It unspools like a manic, mushroom-fueled Muppet Show.” I’m not sure I could have said it better myself.
As far as what underpinned my approach to adapting and directing this? I feel like a lot of Wonderland-adjacent adaptations fall into two distinct traps: trying too hard to establish a linear narrative (looking at you, Wildhorn), or relying so much on pure aesthetics (looking at you, Burton) that they lose the thread.
I believe the cabaret vibe we aimed for alleviated the former — we didn’t need it — and that we revered the texts (even as we jumbled up two different books out of sequence) enough to escape the latter. But, I suppose YMMV.
There’s simply no way to please everyone with an adaptation, I know that, I just hope everyone who attends has fun. If people leave humming a song with a smile plastered on their face, I think we’ve all done our jobs.
Both Spencer and Katrina Stevenson have a lot of connections to the Carroll books, and Kasondra Rose also performed not that long ago in an Alice-themed aerial show. Colleen Cherry, Jeremy Douglass, and me combined with those three to create some weird 6-headed creature that would give birth to a book, score, and lyrics.
Kat, me, and Spencer developed the outline, based on their knowledge of the books and the stories that Spencer had original artwork for to serve as the aesthetic inspiration. I adapted most of our book direct from Carroll’s writings (not just Wonderland and Looking Glass, but some standalone poetry), with Kat adapting the Tweedles scene (now sisters, as circus performers).
The music was also a team effort: some of Carroll’s poetry was handed directly to composer Jeremy Douglass as-is, other songs were developed first by original lyrics and melodies from Colleen Cherry or Kasondra Rose before landing in Jeremy’s lap for tweaking. Jeremy’s daughter, Juniper, ended up also with a major composition credit for earwigging him with a melody that became a major theme for the show.
The script was developed specifically for the actors we planned on using, each of them possessing a mighty, diverse set of talents, and of course the performers included everyone on the development team except me (who directed) and Spencer (who designed and built the puppets and acted as art director/my second set of eyes).
I felt huge relief after the first reading, we’d been shooting for at least 75 minutes and we had 85. We did do some cuts here and additions there, and as I begun to get us on our feet I was confronted with the wild stage directions I’d included from the books before I had to worry about how I’d actually DO any of that in practice. Oops.
The songs were far beyond what I thought possible. The requirements for them grew so fast that in order to make sure we did these things justice, we went incredibly over budget to make sure each actor could have a wireless mic pack. Thankfully our friends at Beamworks gave us a deal that helped eliminate some of that excess burden. Greg Kazek came in to save our bacon in engineering the audio, and Dave Cohen (who is our IA sound tech in the Jaeb) came in to fine tune things at the end. Most impressive? Stage manager Nicole Jeannine Smith is not only running the lights but also sound while wrangling all these props and even climbing a ladder every night to load one of our effects.
Teah Banks, our props master, was in an out of rehearsal daily to drop off things, or repair things, or to come brainstorm with us on all of these weird damn ideas we kept having. I do not envy the late nights and hair-pulling she must have endured as we literally made this thing up as we went along.
Our schedule was non-traditional (for me), something I was willing to endure to secure the right people and balance their needs. I’m usually very much a creature of habit. We might go a few days without meeting, or work longer days on the weekends, or work nights we’d usually have off. Some nights I’d just look at everyone with an hour to 90 minutes left in the call and could tell they were crispy and just let them go, even if we needed the time to work. I can read a room. 🙂
I always maintained faith that this group of artists had what this show required. I repeated almost daily that “let’s focus on what we can control today.”
That faith has been rewarded in the show you see. I’m envious they get the chance to share it with folks for the next month. I was inspired by Ted Lasso before preview and put a sign on the back of the dressing room door, the last thing they see before they go out, that says MAKE-BELIEVE. There’s wordplay in that, even, but that’s a story for another time …
All ALICE photos courtesy Stage Photography of Tampa, Shockheaded photo courtesy of James Zambon Photography.