Who Are You? A Wonderland Reflection
“Who are you?” The infamous question asked by the Caterpillar in Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland poses a question that can be both shallow and deep, literal and philosophical. Two years ago, Wonderland, a modern-day adaptation written by Frank Wildhorn, opened at BYU. It is my largest project that I have worked on to date and the directing project that has probably changed my life the most. When I approached director Tim Threlfall about the job I was very excited about the prospect of working on it. I have always loved the story of Alice in Wonderland and having the chance to not only assistant direct this adaptation, but also approach it as a workshop production and work with Frank Wildhorn himself. As I look back on the pre-production, run of the show, and the two years post-production, there are a couple of things that stick with me.
The first thing that I left the show with is an understanding of how a production works differently in an educational setting rather than community or professional. While a couple of the purposes of putting on a production are expression and to create art, there is also an added layer when it comes to educational theatre. For example, compared to my other production experiences, the process of staging Wonderland included assignments. I got university credit for my work as assistant director and because of that I had to meet up with Tim regularly and talk about how different things worked, what questions I had, and what my jobs were as assistant director. My final for the class wasn’t simply the production, but also a paper with guidelines set by Tim. There were also so many more people on design teams than I’ve experienced in other production settings. All of the student designers were in classes, like me, and had assignments to turn in to their supervisors (teachers). So putting on the show was not simply to make art, or make money, but for many of us to learn how to strengthen our skills and grow in our craft.
Another thing that I took away from Wonderland were relationships. The people that I worked on Wonderland with were all wonderful people and I have worked with many of them on one or even two more projects since the close of Wonderland. I even worked with Tim again on the premiere of Rump last December at BYU. Not only professional relationships but personal relationships as well came out of the rehearsals. I will be honest, I didn’t expect to still be talking to some of the people that I worked with on this project. Wonderland to me was a lot of focusing on the production and not enough of building relationships. I frequently felt like the black sheep of the show. Tim told me he had never worked with an assistant director before, so I don’t feel like he really knew what to do with me (but I don’t blame him for that). The designers and stage managers mostly worked with Tim and the actors. The actors kind of hung out on their own. If not for the one person who introduced themselves to me on the first day of rehearsal and made me feel like I was welcome, I might have quit the show to be honest. Directing just wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. I didn’t feel like it was where I belonged. By the end I felt a little better and had gotten in the groove and found my place, but to this day I’m realizing that I think Wonderland made me realize that directing might not be what I want to do.
I’m so grateful for the Wonderland experience, but at this point in my life I have grown so much in other areas, particularly dramaturgy and arts administration. I will always cherish my experiences with Wonderland, but I don’t know if directing is for me. I will of course keep it on my resume and keep my directing skills dusted off, but for now I will keep my focus on arts administration and set my sights on a different goal.