Friday night, Gonzaga University’s Magnuson Theatre opens “Alice,” a steampunk-themed rendition of the beloved Lewis Carroll work meant to creatively convey how the college experience leads to discovery and change.
Written and produced by four students, the theater department’s only seniors, this is the first time a senior project has appeared on the main stage as part of the regular season, marketing coordinator Summer Berry said.
“They’re looking at their personal journey as a student in the world, their impact on Gonzaga and Gonzaga’s impact on them,” Berry said. “This isn’t Disney or Tim Burton. This is their own interpretation of the story of Alice and her adventures in Wonderland.”
After months planning and brainstorming, the students divided leadership of the production, with Devin Devine writing the stage adaptation, Anthony Armstrong producing the play, Hannah Hodulik creating the choreography and Erin Fitzgerald co-directing with adviser Kathleen Jeffs.
According to Devine and Fitzgerald, the play has many recognizable elements of other Alice renditions but focuses more on Wonderland than on the Alice character.
“It’s not the classic tale of finding yourself and becoming what you were always meant to be,” Fitzgerald said. “The story is about not finding but searching. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is all about the questions. It’s not about the answers.”
For the seniors, the project became a vehicle to reflect on their own college experience.
“Alice or any college freshman can be so sure of who they are and the world they’ve known before. They come in and question everything. Sometimes they redefine who they are,” said Devine, adding that in this stage adaptation, Alice becomes a catalyst of change for the other characters.
“She comes in as a spark, gets the wheels turning again in their minds so you see how Alice affects the community as well as how the community affects Alice,” Devine said.
With that sense of community more than 50 students have participated in some aspect of the production, including senior music composition major Catherine Hildebrand, who wrote an original score for the play, and junior engineering major Vito Tullo, who designed a 3-D Cheshire cat head that solves the on-stage difficulty of portraying a character that appears and disappears.
“It’s a giant puppet head that isn’t attached to the body but is manipulated by a person. It has all sorts of great mechanics,” Berry said.
The play, Fitzgerald said, approaches the Alice story from a new perspective while using the steampunk theme to show the audience how Wonderland ticks, from scene transitions and costumes to cast members who play everyday objects.
“We chose steampunk because it’s a great movement toward finding out how the things we use every day work on the inside mechanically,” said Fitzgerald.
With a PG rating, the play is recommended for ages 10 and up, but Berry stressed there isn’t sex, violence or anything scary, so it may be suitable for younger audiences.
“We tried to write it with range,” Devine said, “for the people that will come and see this with an analytical mind will get as much as a kid could. We wanted it accessible and modern.”