Fairytales are fun as hell. But we rarely access the kind of childhood innocence that allows us to immerse our world completely in someone else’s. Theatre practitioner Mary Zimmerman taps into this potency in collaboration with the famous ensemble-based company, Lookingglass. The product is Secret in the Wings, which strips down six relatively obscure and decidedly strange European fairytales and jam-packs them into a script that forces its actors into highly physicalized ensemble gymnastics. Performing and Media Arts and Government double major Brian Murphy ’16 is the daredevil of a director who found this play, which, at least in terms of normative narrative structure, presents itself as a hot mess of a script. The fairytales quickly intertwine and dig deep as the process of navigating the structure of the play becomes more and more enjoyable.
Actor Max Joh-Carnella ’16 thinks the cast has embraced the psychic space of childhood throughout the process. “The whole cast brings a sense of childness not in a simplicity sort of way — wide eyed exploration — in a way that only a child can explore the things that we take to be true,” he said. This acute sensitivity in engaging with rehearsals is Murphy’s ambition. Mirroring Lookingglass’ original creation process, Murphy blew up the traditional rehearsal framework. He introduced a number of ensemble building exercises before they even got to the text, just to build trust and chemistry between the actors as they explored the script.
Actor Siobhan Brandman ’17 enjoyed the diverse structure of rehearsals. “The first rehearsal was a Lego building exercise and the rest was a mix of collective staging and winging it. Brandman identifies the one caveat — “We started out everyday writing ideas and stuff on the blackboard Mad Libs style,” she noted. If you’re still unconvinced that the generative process was atypical, actor Jazlin Gomez ’16 accounts her favorite evening so far: “We spent an entire rehearsal just trying to get Siobhan to laugh. A jersey shore character telling knock-knock jokes finally did it. So did a stripper unicorn.” Stripper unicorns. I honestly don’t know what more you could ask for.
Murphy is pleased with how openly the cast has embraced the avant-garde process. His hope was to get as close to from-scratch devised theatre as possible while still starting with a script. So he approached the show as a co-collaborator as much as a director. “I saw my job as someone to provide as much creative input as I could and some scaffolding for everyone else to put their art in,” Murphy said. It certainly struck a chord for sophomore actor Irving Torres, who said his favorite part was “feeling that my input mattered. Everyone really wanted to know what I thought about things.”
This production is not like anything you have seen at Cornell — and the process behind the product is equally as unique. The script, rehearsals and final performance have a dangerous and innovative feel that is often lost on main stage season shows. In Murphy’s own words, “We are making a different kind of theatre than what people are used to at the Schwartz Center.” And let me tell you, I could not be more excited. This weekend at the Black Box Theatre, theatrical absurdity meets childhood. Don’t miss it.
Secret in the Wings will be performed Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Schwartz Center’s Black Box Theatre. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased online.
Sam Morrison is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.