The Fall Play, ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ is Underway

Annually, Latin’s Upper School Performing Arts Department presents its fall play. Last year, the play was Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” but this year, the US is putting together something a bit more magical: “Alice in Wonderland.”

As for why he chose “Alice in Wonderland,” Upper School Drama and Technical Theater teacher Frank Schneider said, “I have always loved ‘Alice,’ and there are some scripts out there of ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ but they focus on what the characters do, so we lose a lot of Lewis Carroll’s language, which I think is the whole point of ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ I wanted to do a version that kept as much of Lewis Carroll’s language, only translated onto the stage.”

And that he found. Mr. Schneider said, “I knew a theater company that I really liked and their resident playwright, I felt like her sensibilities worked really well with Lewis Carroll, and so I contacted her and said, ‘Hey! Can you come adapt this play for us?’ and she said, ‘Absolutely.’”

The playwright, Emily Schwartz, stepped up to the challenge of creating a script that stays true to Lewis Carroll’s original text through the use of narrators, who recite Carroll’s lines almost word-for-word while adding some original text.

However, this year isn’t the first time “Alice in Wonderland” has been performed at Latin. It was last put on in 2012. It was almost performed in 2020 as well. Mr. Schneider recalled, “When we first did it in 2012, we did a matinee for the Lower School, they all came over here and watched it, and some of those kids were in high school, and I wanted to have this full circle moment, and of course, now, they’re all graduated.”

Due to the COVID pandemic, the show was canceled in 2020—its physical nature changed the dynamic. Mr. Schneider wanted to wait until all was safe to execute his vision of what “Wonderland” could be. Mr. Schneider said, “My idea of ‘Wonderland,’ I wanted it constructed by the actors, I don’t want a ton of props and sets that show us where we are, I want the actors to create that with their bodies. I think it sort of helps reinforce that ‘wonder’; there’s nothing wonderous about a set that’s a house. There’s something wondrous about actors creating that with little bits and pieces and their bodies.”

To execute this movement-intensive show, Mr. Schneider wanted to bring in some professionals to teach the students how to safely and creatively move. He went to the Actor’s Gymnasium, a Chicago-based group that holds classes, shows, and events all centered around physical theater and circus, for help.

Regarding the group, Mr. Schneider said, “I really want the professionals to come in and train these folks, and I like to expose the students in the play to some of the amazing stuff we have here in the city. Being able to bring in a company like Actors Gymnasium and say, ‘Hey, look! This is what’s happening out there. Go see it. Go participate in it. Go be a part of this Chicago theater,’ is really exciting for me. And I’m trying to keep the students safe.”

The actors in the play have been really enjoying their classes with the Actor’s Gymnasium. Sophomore Izzy Schafer called the classes “Very intense, [even though] I’ve done that kind of movement before with LookingGlass,” and was thankful for how Actor’s Gymnasium was “great at teaching us how to do it safely versus us attempting to do things.”

Sophomore Marc Abrahams said that he didn’t appreciate the classes as much for their content as for the opportunity to learn to fully trust his cast mates. He also said that “it was great for bonding, and it’s great for the people who are going to use it.”

Senior Mikayla Smey, who plays Alice, said that she found the classes “really fun and terrifying [but the Actor’s Gymnasium instructors] were all so nice and really supportive.” She also echoed Marc’s sentiment, that beyond all of the new movements they were learning, Mikayla added that “It helped with learning our comfortability with doing things, like if you’re not comfortable with being a base, then you know what your own limits are.”

Beyond these classes, rehearsal has an infectiously positive atmosphere and a continuous flow of creativity—from both actors and teachers—which helps make this show their own. Mikayla said, “We can’t get through a scene without having to stop and be like, ‘Wait. We have a better idea.’ We just have too many ideas [and] every time we do it there’s something else we can add. Wonderland is so expansive, and you can do whatever you want with it, it’s very free, which is really fun, but also a challenge.”

Tackling fanciful scenes like Alice’s growing and shrinking or her fall down the rabbit hole requires a lot of creative thinking and problem-solving by the actors. Marc remarked that, because of the abundance of these wondrous scenes, the rehearsals have been moving slowly, setting down the fundamentals for what’s to come. All of these physical challenges require patience and precision—precisely what the plan is for rehearsals now and in the future.

As always, the many seniors in this show are grappling with the fact that this is their last fall show at Latin, but are making the most out of every moment. The cast is close, trusting, loving, which creates an environment where everyone feels supported.

The approaching show dates aren’t the only thing looming over the seniors’ heads. College is as well. Senior Lindsey Gassel said, “Being a senior and applying to colleges while having rehearsal is a special kind of tired that I didn’t think was possible to experience. Normally, tech week is when you’re obviously the most tired because you’re at school until 9 pm. It’s our second full week of rehearsals and currently, I am tech week levels of tired.” With many actors applying early decision or early action to colleges, balancing work with rehearsal is key.

Mikayla added, “Being tech week tired is a special kind of tired, but it’s also a happy tired. I would rather be here than anywhere else. It’s stressful, but it’s the stress I’m willing to take on. Tired and excited.” The seniors’ motto this year appears to be “tired and excited,” as Lindsey agreed, saying, “I am tired, yes, but I’m also happy.”

As in 2012, this year, the actors will have that same opportunity to perform for the Lower School students. Both students and teachers can agree on how delighted they are to perform for them—with Mr. Schneider noting that the last time they did this, “Kids remembered it when they were in high school. There were kids who saw that and said, ‘That’s why I want to do this.’”

All in all, “Alice in Wonderland” is shaping up to be a phenomenal show. Mr. Schneider said that this is a “show that the little kids are going to love, and the big kids are going to love, and adults. There’s something for everybody who comes. It’s not a little kid’s show; it’s a show for everybody; it’s accessible to first grade through 101.”