Saturday, January 31, 2015

How do you get to Wonderland?

How do you get to Wonderland? Over the hill and under the land, and then swim through an Ocean of tears - well, if you're Alice, that is! Here in Suzhou, Wonderland came to us - 2 evenings in a row at the Dulwich College Theatre!! That's right - the Junior School Production this year - drumroll, please - Alice in Wonderland!!

The front cover of the program

Year 3 and Year 4 - Annie and Aladdin - Manasi has been on stage both years, and she really wanted to do Production this year, too. I was, however, a bit reluctant - it is a huge commitment of time, homework suffers, weekends are gone, and school lessons are missed - seems like too much to be just part of the chorus. I know, I wasn't being much of a sport - and if every parent felt the way I did, there would be no production at all - I just felt like she had paid her dues, and that it was time to concentrate on something else. So, we reached a compromise - I told Manasi she could do it if she was able to land a speaking part!

My little one always dreams big - love her for that - so she auditioned for the plum role of Queen of Hearts. She practiced non-stop - we could hear 'Silence!!!' and 'Off with her head!!' thundering through the house at all odd hours - I was really ready for the auditions to be done with. She didn't get the Queen, but she did get the role of the Dodo Bird, the Admiral of the Queen's Navy - 2 songs, 4 scenes, about 10 lines of dialogue - there was nothing left for me to do but say yes. So there she was, a part of the 'Main Cast'!! Interestingly, this year, our director Ms SS, announced there would be 2 Main Casts, one for each night of the performance. Seemed like a lot of extra work for her - but would also let more kids get 'important' roles!!

'Alice in Wonderland' is wonderfully complicated - a host of quirky characters, exotic backdrops and an absolutely nonsensical plot! Alice changes sizes - that is taken care of on the stage by having Alice played by 3 girls - Little Alice, Medium Alice and Large Alice. In addition to the 3 Alices, the Main Cast comprises of the White Rabbit and Queen if Hearts, of course, and then the Cheshire Cat (also played by 3 kids, Head, Body & Tail), the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Tweedles, the Caterpillar, Flowers, King of Hearts, the Doorknob and the Dodo bird. And yes, 2 sets of all these characters!! Most of Manasi's friends were also in the Main Cast - right here in GL, we had 2 White Rabbits, a Little Alice, a pair of Tweedles, a Flower and of course my Dodo (absolutely not a pun!).

Rehearsals were in full swing all the way up to the Christmas break. I did think that the rehearsals were a lot lesser than they had been the preceding years. Only Saturday mornings, instead of all day on Saturday and Sunday - and the kids weren't being pulled out of class either. But everyone seemed pretty confident!! Then the 3 week break - I'm sure the teachers were agonizing that all the kids were going to forget everything - and that they would be back to square one with barely 4 weeks left before the show. That didn't happen - although, a very different problem did arise over the Christmas break - something totally unexpected!!

While on vacation in Europe, Ms SS's bag was stolen - along with her passport, computer and everything else!! Sounds like one of those hoax emails going around, doesn't it - except this time, it was true! Poor thing, she was stranded - had to get an emergency passport and then the Chinese visa processed - not to mention all the stress!! She finally made it back to Suzhou a full 2 weeks after school started - and while her very able team had kept rehearsals going, it was quite a setback to have her gone for so long. As the week of the show approached, still no all-day rehearsals - quite mystifying, really!! But they did manage to rally magnificently!!

The dress rehearsals were nerve-racking - the kids seemed a bit shaky, and the stage managers a bit frazzled - but they still had one more day to work out the kinks!! And as always, the night of the show, the kids rose to the occasion and performed magnificently!!! Sure, there were a few forgotten dialogues and a few missed cues - but it is incredible how much these kids can achieve! Under the arc-lights on the stage, dressed in full costume and make-up, facing a packed auditorium - it is miraculous that they neither falter nor stumble, and sing and dance with a grace that many adults would find impossible - me included, put me on a stage and I turn into a blubbering idiot!! Here are some pictures from the show...

Dodo Bird

The very sassy flowers!


Cheshire Cat

Monarch of the seas!

The hilarious Tweedles

Golden Afternoon

Simon says...

The three Alices

I was a little more involved in the show this year - helped with the costumes, and then backstage helping the kids get dresses. As can be seen from the pictures, the costumes were pretty elaborate - and while some were easy enough to buy, many had to be made - intrepid parents with nimble fingers to the rescue - no, no, absolutely not me! One of the friends, MW, is an absolute genius when it comes to designing and creating costumes - and my help was limited to cutting and glueing (unskilled labor!) under her supervision! The Mad Hatter, March Hare and the White Rabbit costumes were made by her - and so were costumes for lobsters, fish and the irresistible bird wings and helmets!! The Flower dresses were made by another parent, and they turned out to be amazing too!! The gorgeous costumes were definitely a highlight of the show!!

And helping out backstage - how much fun was that!! Exhausting, true - but just so much fun!! Handing out the costumes, helping the kids into them, running around trying to locate a spare white shirt - that was just the start. The dress rehearsal helped calm my nerves a bit - at least I knew what to expect on the night of the performance! Obviously, I watched the show with Manasi in it, and helped the second night! But even as part of the audience, I was constantly watching - did everyone make it on stage in time, do all the cards have white makeup, ooh the caterpillar's hood fell off - just couldn't switch it off!! There were a couple of really, really quick costume changes that had all us 'helpers' on tenterhooks - but fortunately, everything went smoothly on both nights, no slip-ups! Whew!!

It was definitely an eye-opener to be backstage - unbelievable how much activity takes place behind the scenes - an organized chaos of sorts - and then the complete contrast on stage, where everything is bright and shiny and perfect!! Was really gratifying to see all that hard work pay off - and I think Manasi was delighted that I was around - that alone was worth everything! It is all about the kids, isn't it?? And I know I should be more dignified about this - but I was thrilled to see my name in the program - don't judge, this is a first for me, so it's kind of a big deal!! The beautiful flowers were a nice surprise, too!!

It is a huge undertaking to put on this kind of show - and it is our wonderful Dulwich staff that makes it happen year after year, better every year!! All their hard work, working with the kids, bringing out their best - requires a lot of patience and dedication, and these teachers give it their all!! I was very happy to be a part of the team and see first-hand the amount of effort put in - simply amazing!! Rumor has it that next year will see Lion King on stage at Dulwich - but for now, I'm still lost in Wonderland!! 

No comments:

Post a Comment