Thursday, October 22, 2009

New Victory Scottish Festival: HANSEL & GRETEL

A Conversation with Gill Robertson, Artistic Director of Catherine Wheels Theatre Company

Why did you choose the story of Hansel and Gretel to re-imagine? I was asked by the National Theatre of Scotland in 2006 to be one of the directors to create their ten inaugural shows that would be performed in different locations throughout Scotland each inspired by the word “home.” At the beginning I had no idea of what to do so I gathered four female neighbors and we discussed what home meant to them. Family, security, a place to relax and truly be yourself, and a place of love and refuge were discussed. We also talked about the importance of mealtimes and the daily routine of providing food to feed your family. I left that first discussion inspired and knowing one thing for sure - a huge table had to be at the heart of the piece. However, one idea does not make a show so I began to consider the classic fairy tales as many have family and family relationships at their heart. It was then that the idea of Hansel and Gretel came into my head and it seemed perfect. Here was a family but completely dysfunctional, home was at the heart of the story but it was a home which was the opposite of the warm loving refuge my neighbors and I had discussed.

What inspired you to stage the piece as a "promenade" production? I wanted the audience to be fully engaged in the story of Hansel and Gretel and this meant that they needed to be in the heart of the action. For me the audience are Hansel and Gretel, and I wanted them to experience everything that the unlucky brother and sister feel. The first production of Hansel and Gretel (called HOME East Lothian) was set in an old mining museum. We had been looking at different locations we knew that this environment would be perfect especially as it had a woodland area where the audience could follow Hansel and Gretel and get lost in the forest just as they do.

What are some of the challenges of staging site-specific theater and, more specifically, this piece? Site specific theatre is more challenging but can also be much more satisfying than creating a show for stage. The environment becomes a main character in the production and helps shape the way the show is created. It also makes you consider the audience more than in stage shows as you are constantly sensitive to where the audience will be and what they will be viewing.

The New Victory run is the first time we are transforming a traditional theatre into the world of Hansel and Gretel and using every part of it. It gives the creative team a chance to look at the show afresh and make it even better! But, a lot of work has to happen in a short time! Because we do not have unlimited time to turn the New Victory into a 70’s living room, a spooky forest and a Sweetie House that transforms into a witch's den, we need to work hard and fast. But we have got a great team of people who are passionate about the show and are keen to make it the best experience ever for an American audience. I think performing in the New Victory will make the best version of the show ever!

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