Producing Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland Poster and Logo

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Performance length: about 2 ½ hours, with an intermission

ACTING: Medium

SET DESIGN: Hard

COSTUME DESIGN: Hard

GENRE: Children; Fantasy

CAST POTENTIAL: The Alice in Wonderland trove of iconic, darkly humorous characters, such as the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts, and the Hatter (just to name a few) will be irresistibly fun and challenging for your cast to fashion in their own image.

You can buy this artwork and use it for your own production of “Alice in Wonderland” click here

CROWD REACTION: The seemingly endless adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s famous story for stage and film speak to its timeless success. From generation to generation, children and adults seek the whimsical escape and haunting adventures in Wonderland.

SUMMARY: Spending an afternoon on a riverbank with her sister, Alice catches the strange sight of a talking White Rabbit. Stunned and amused, she follows the Rabbit down the rabbit hole and into a fantastic world filled with strange and funny, yet often cruel, characters.

Veta attempts to commit Elwood to a sanatorium, but Elwood’s flirtatious personality bewitches the hospital’s staff and Veta gets committed instead. Eventually, the staff realizes that Elwood is the one who is insane, but not before the invisible Harvey starts having an influence on the doctors, too.

CASTING CONSIDERATIONS: Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of the script is finding a cast large enough to play all the characters. Double-casting is often an obvious necessity, depending on the script you choose. Eva Le Gallienne’s adaptation, perhaps the most famous stage-script of Carroll’s story, boasts over 50 different characters. Professional company’s often forge their own version of the play with as few as six actors (such as Andre Gregory’s production with The Manhattan Project). The level of your production, be it high school, community, or regional, should determine the text you use and how many actors you want/need to utilize.

Another consideration, regardless of the size of your cast, is the quality of the characters. Whether you have six actors playing 50 roles, or 50 actors performing a single role each, most of these characters are given mere minutes on stage. Carroll’s fantastic characters may make an impression well-enough on their own, but many stage performance’s fail to fill these characters with enough depth in the time they are allotted. Keep this in mind when choosing or cutting a text. There’s no need to recreate the entire book, so find a text that focuses on the characters you find most important/impactful. Quality over quantity is key.

SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS: The spectacle of Alice and Wonderland almost takes center stage in most productions, and no wonder. Perhaps the greatest temptation to adapt Carroll’s book to stage is to recreate the world of Alice on an immediate and tangible space. Fortunately, beyond Carroll’s text itself, there is a bounty of visual inspirations to pull from, like John Tenniel’s immortal line drawings. Many productions fall somewhere between the charm of the classic 1951 Disney animation or the macabre of the recent reimagining by Tim Burton. Joseph Papp produced a highly lauded performance starring Meryl Streep at the New York Shakespeare Festival on a bare stage with actors in modern dress. I suggest choosing a script that matches your aesthetic goals, be they minimalist, abstract, or ornate.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: Finding a strong text is the first and most important artistic decision you will make if you decide to tackle Alice in Wonderland. Strong artistic impulses are extremely important with this play: do you want to make a “faithful” recreation of the book? Do you wish to recreate the characters and story for a modern age? Are you looking to include a large cast with an elaborate set, a small cast with no set, or an amalgam of the two? Find these answers first before diving in the rabbit hole, searching for that all important text, or you may never leave.

About Matthew McMahan

Matthew McMahan is an actor, writer, and dramaturg, who has worked both in New York and regionally for theatre companies such as the Wooster Group, the Atlantic Theatre Company, the Indiana Repertory Theatre, Young Playwrights, Inc., and the Living Newspaper. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Drama from Tufts University in Medford, MA.
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