This semester, the Northwestern College theatre department is producing a show unlike any the community has seen before: “Jabberwocky,” based on Lewis Carroll’s poem of the same name.
Directed by Ethan Koerner, this production will emphasize the technical and design elements of theater much like last fall’s production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.”
Yet, as actor Kevin Griffiths explained, “It is unlike anything we’ve done at Northwestern before.”
With performances scheduled Nov. 19-21, “Jabberwocky” is a nonsense poem published in Carroll’s second novel “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and tells the story of a little boy tasked with destroying the infamous “Jabberwocky,” a fearsome creature, which has frequently been illustrated as a dragon in the years after its publication.
The poem is only seven stanzas so, in adapting the piece, instead of delivering the lines, actors will be utilizing design and technology to perform beats of action.
With this goal in mind, “Jabberwocky’s” nonsensical and wonderous tone lends itself to a world of creative possibilities.
“We, as designers, have been given lots of room to be creative and imaginative as we worked to develop our designs,” said Sofia Schaeffer, assistant costume designer.
While Schaffer has been creating body-inclusive, Victorian-inspired costumes, Professor Drew Schmidt and his team are working diligently on motion graphics, projections, sound, lighting and more.
The most unique design element of the show, however, is it’s use of puppetry.
Director Ethan Koerner is a masterful puppeteer and designer, having previously lent his talents to the NW theater in “Jonah and the Giant Fish” last fall. In “Jabberwocky,” the actors have the opportunity to operate puppets of many whimsical and silly animals like “toves” and “jub-jub birds.”
Learning how to work these puppets and use movement to illustrate the story of “Jabberwocky” has been a huge part of the rehearsal process for the cast.
Actor Taylea Mills explained how difficult yet exciting this endeavor is.
“The hardest thing was learning how to function and position shadow puppets as a team,” Mills said. “I’m really excited to see how the whole thing turns out in the end.”
Fellow actor Paige Ginger agreed, saying that seeing the different forms of puppetry and watching the show come to life has been one of her favorite aspects of the show so far.
“Jabberwocky” is also different from traditional theatrical productions in the fact that it will not be performed on a stage.
“Our production will be a tour throughout the entire theater building with different stations for people to experience,” Rebekah Phifer stage manager said. “Audiences should expect a guided tour around the space and maybe even some opportunities to interact with the show itself.”
Koerner and assistant scenic designer Ryan Altman have been experimenting with all sorts of found spaces within the theater building to create this tour experience, such as the coat room and the many hidden hallways.
This specific performance setup was greatly inspired by a need for further safety precautions for audiences in light of COVID-19. The tour format allows for a great measure of social distancing.
“There will be little to no close interaction between actors and audience members, and the puppeteers will all be wearing masks when backstage,” Griffiths said. “The only interactions that will happen will be with your tour guides and those you are seeing the show with.”
The technical elements of “Jabberwocky” also lend themselves well to touring off campus. Normally, every fall the cast of the children’s show will perform for a period of about two months for over 3,000 students bused in from the area, but this year the theatre department decided to send out members of the cast in pairs or small groups to perform the show to individual classrooms next semester.
Showtimes and ticket information can be found at www.nwciowa.edu/theatre/current-season.