Our latest blog post is of courtesy of Tripp Burton who is directing our production of The Sparrow. Take it away, Tripp…
When I first read The Sparrow last year, it took me about halfway through the script to really get scared. That moment came in Scene 19. It is the end of Act I, so it is a climactic moment where we have to wrap up the first part of the story, move the characters into the next part of the story and keep the audience enthralled enough that they won’t get in their cars during intermission and take off. This is how the scene reads:
Emily retreats to the cornfields to be safe and alone with her happiness. She flies in elation.
That is it. No dialogue, no other characters, no obvious conflict, no real action. Just two simple sentences that do nothing except bring up a whole list of question, both logistic and creative:
Does she actually fly?
Can we put an actor up in the air on wire, like Peter Pan?
Is there actually a cornfield?
How does an actor convey feeling safe?
Wait, she flies?
How do I feel about trampolines?
What happened to the other actors in the play?
How do you build a cornfield on stage that doesn’t look like Oklahoma!?
Does she fly like a bird, or like Superman, or like a flying squirrel, or like an airplane?
Is this just symbolism, or is it real?
Is it too expensive to build a zip line through the Cattell Theatre?
How good is our insurance policy?
Why is she happy when she didn’t seem that way half a page ago?
How do you show “alone with her happiness” in a play?
Are teenagers strong enough to lift up Emily like Swan Lake?
Wait a minute, she has to fly?
What you have to do is throw out everything you know about putting on a play and build your own set of rules for the world of this play. You have to not think realistically about getting from A to B to C to D, but instead use every creative muscle in your body to find a new way to get there, but may involved skipping C altogether, or going from A to E and back to D. Then, once you have created this set of rules and laid out your new vocabulary for your play, you have to find a way to make in meaningful for an audience, and make sure they are seeing the same story you want to tell. None of this is easy, but our High School Repertory Company is always up for a grand challenge and they have stepped up to it this time in a big way. The Sparrow is a big play, emotionally, physically and intellectually. They have discovered that when you are given a scene like this, and a play that lets your recreate the boundaries of reality, you are given a great gift of a play to work on. The Sparrow is one of the most exciting pieces of theatre you will see, and if it takes a little extra work on the part of the audience to fill in the gaps from A to D, it is worth that effort.
As to how we managed to get scene 19 to work, it took a lot of experimenting and stretching to get it to the place it had to be…and you have to come see the show to find out what we did. I promise you won’t want to sneak out to your car afterwards!
The Sparrow runs November 11-20, 2011 at The Theatre of Western Springs. For tickets or additional information, call our box office at 708-246-3380.