School of Drama reinvents Alice
Re-engineering Lewis Carroll’s classic tale Alice in Wonderland, the final play of the School of Drama’s 2010–11 season, The Alice Project, debuted last Thursday, April 14, at the Philip Chosky Theater. The Alice Project thrusts the timeless story of Alice in Wonderland into the spotlight of twenty-first century technology. In this twisted marriage of art and machinery, Alice explores what it is to be human in a world that is a far stretch from Victorian England.
The Alice Project ponders the existential question: Who is Alice? The play leaves that up for question. At one point, Alice even forgets her own identity, before remembering that she is, in fact, a human girl. As Alice moves from square to square in attempt to become a queen, different characters perceive her in different ways. However, no one way seems to correctly identify who she is.
A play within a play, the story begins with the writers of The Alice Project interviewing Alice in an attempt to discover her personality and motives. While Alice says that she is home-schooled, has a governess, and appears to live in Pittsburgh, there is an ethereal quality about her that suggests otherwise. As one of the writers begins to read aloud from a book about Alice, the story changes to follow the narrative and suddenly the audience is watching the story of Alice herself, as she tumbles through Wonderland. Alice is played by four different actors: senior drama students Krista Marie Yu, Sara Trapnell, Evan Barron, and Tess Primack, who are able to act almost interchangeably, through the exchange of Alice’s iconic hair-ribbon, as the “real” Alice throughout the production.
The juxtaposition of man and machine was an integral part of the performance. Notably, instead of a pit orchestra, there was a tech crew seated beneath the stage, orchestrating the complex visuals in each scene. Offsetting the changing digital backgrounds, the story used a three-tiered, metal, chess-like stage set in order to loosely tie together the story arcs. As Alice navigates from one square to the next, the story also progresses in different directions.
The combination of acting and live-action recording via the video cameras onstage produced a novel storytelling effect. Depending on one’s opinion, it created either a connection or a barrier for the characters, many of whom spoke primarily into video cameras in order to interact with the different characters onstage on different squares.
Trapnell, one of the Alices in the performance, spoke about The Alice Project after the show. “It’s been a really cool and interesting process,” Trapnell said. “Working on The Alice Project was challenging in a good way. We had to learn how to act with the cameras as if we were acting to someone. Physically it was also challenging, because there was a lot of climbing around the sets in practice. The Alice Project was a lot of fun to prepare and it is so exciting to see it all come together now onstage.”