By Natasha Kautsky - Apr 1, 2014
Rehearsals are well under way at Oregon Children's Theatre for The Giver, opening April 26th at The Winningstad Theatre. Based on Lois Lowry's popular, and critically acclaimed, young adult novel, The Giver takes place in a society which is perfect. There is no pain or fear or struggle. But this peaceful existence comes at an enormous cost. When the main character Jonas turns twelve, he is selected to train with The Giver, the keeper of the entire community’s memories, both good and bad. Now Jonas must learn the harsh truths of what it means to live a life of sameness.
We caught up with The Giver director Matthew Zrebski - who also directed OCT's popular production of The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe - to discuss his vision for this production.
OCT: Did you see the original OCT production of The Giver? What are you doing differently with the script, sets, and overall approach?
MZ: I did not see the first production. I have seen some beautiful stills from the show, and wish I had! But given I did not; I have deliberately stayed away from it as much as possible so as not to be too influenced. I think it’s important to approach it with a fresh eye, and to offer the public a different interpretation.
We are using extensive video in this show, as well as intense sound, and stunning stage imagery to illustrate the psychological journey Jonas goes on. But it’s also quite simple with a fairly static set that allows the actors to move from scene to scene seamlessly. I am a minimalist at heart, and believe in allowing the imagination of the audience to take flight. I hope to offer just enough literal imagery so that the mental imagery is most intense. A big focus is keeping these people “real human beings” as opposed to “symbols of dystopia”. The human need is a part of every conversation in every rehearsal - and not just that of Jonas, but of all the characters. This is not just about Jonas, but about how the events impact the entire community.
OCT: It must be challenging to convey Jonas' astonishment as he experiences such basic elements of life as seeing in color, snow falling or a sleigh ride for the first time. Have you given Tristan (actor Tristan Comella who plays Jonas) specific imagery to think of at the moments when the Giver shares these experiences? How will the video work to support the emotions we observe in the actor?
MZ: I have not dictated any specific imagery to Tristan. It is every actor’s job to develop what is best for his/her process…on his/her own. But I have certainly asked him to create such imagery – and to always find the internal visuals that most affect him emotionally. I am pushing him to go to emotional/psychological extremes. Tristan is an amazing young actor and is doing beautifully. In working with the designer, Jeff Kurihara, the video creations are being developed with the idea of “synapses firing”. We will be using a lot of flash imagery and quick cut sequences. The idea is not to literally represent everything, but to get the “feeling of it.” It will be a mix of realism and metaphor/symbol.
OCT: The Giver is being released as a major motion picture this summer. How do you think OCT's live staged experience of the story will compare with watching the film? Are there elements of the story that can be communicated more effectively on stage vs. film and vice versa?
MZ: In watching the trailer and shots of the film, I can say that the OCT version is MUCH closer to the story of the beloved novel. The film looks like an action blockbuster, and though that may be terrific fun, what the stage can do is offer a more intimate story, one where we follow Jonas from moment to moment as he discovers his truth. Playwright Eric Coble has done a marvelous job of adapting the play so that we may do just that.
OCT: Do you have a favorite(s) moment in the show?
MZ: I certainly do not have a “favorite” moment. But I am very excited by how we are handling the “playing war” scene, where all the kids of the community pretend to shoot each other and Jonas, not knowing what war is, is deeply affected by it. As someone passionate about how easily we ignore violence in our culture, I think this moment is relevant in so many ways.
The Giver opens April 26th. Click HERE for tickets and show times. High School students can purchase tickets for just $10. Details HERE.
Pictures in this blog were taken during The Giver rehearsal with director Matt Zrebski and include: OCT Young Professional Actors Tristan Comella as Jonas, Nate Gardner as Asher, and Hannah Baggs as Fiona; and adult actors April Magnusson as the Chief Elder, Cecily Overman as Jonas' mother, and Andres Alcala as The Giver.
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