The Brothers Grimm published their story of Hansel and Gretel in 1812. It has been adapted into an opera (1893), an animated shadow puppet film (1955), and even a Bugs Bunny cartoon (1954). Now, just over two hundred years after the original publication, our troupe of nine playmakers has created a brand new Hansel and Gretel telling, with its roots in the original story but its spirit in the here and now.
In our last week of the project, Hansel has found himself in a cage, Gretel gets him out, and the siblings defeat the Witch and return home. That’s a lot of ground to cover, but our actors were hard at work determining just what kind of an ending we might see onstage this fall.
One of our favorite games to play in this process is one in which the actors show us snapshots of action, speaking only one line of either dialogue or inner thought to tell the story of that single, frozen frame. By doing this, we can see many different aspects of a scene we might not have thought of otherwise.
We see Hansel in the Witch’s awful cage: “Tomorrow awaits,” Zara’s Hansel says. “Hopefully I’ll be out soon.”
We see the Witch preparing to cook the children: “Don’t think,” says MacKenzie’s Gretel, steeling herself, “just do it.” Meanwhile, Aiden’s oven is ready: “Oh, boy,” he exclaims, and even the inside of the oven (played by Charlie and Chloe) is ready to do its job while the Witch (played by Sam) meets an end.
The Witch successfully vanquished, the children gather jewels and run away, seeking the help of a duck to cross a river: “He’s much too weak to carry them across,” thinks Erica’s personified riverbank.
We saw happy endings and sad endings, and even a very kind witch who likes to sing (in a song written by Erica and Charlie) about the awesome things she does on her days off. (Like feed the birds… with poisoned bread. Well, perhaps she isn’t too kind.)
Before we left this part of the process, actors weighed in on just what the playmaking experience was like, most chiming in that, well, “it was fun!” I couldn’t agree more!
“This is like… behind the scenes of behind the scenes,” said Chloe Dearborn. “There’s a lot of different minds thinking of lots of different ideas.”
Sierra Aponte Clarke agreed, “It’s the part of the play that the audience doesn’t see.” And Sam added, “It’s like rehearsal without the play.” They’re right: even though I have compiled over fifty pages of material from the actors, to create the script itself I will have to carefully pick and choose what makes it into the final draft. But there will always be a full story behind the scenes. Rehearsals are always full of discovery as actors and directors figure out how to make actions fit the words… but this was discovery to create the words.
“[The playmaking process] is very open to anything,” MacKenzie Jones said. “You can create whatever you want. You can go with so many different things. It’s cool when it’s a story that you know… but don’t really know: you
can revisit it in a new way.”
This has been such an exciting project! I couldn’t have been more happy to spend the last few weeks with this creative group. Reba and I will be hard at work compiling all the actors’ hard work into a real script over the summer.
What lies in store for Hansel and Gretel? You’ll find out this fall, in our first actor-created mainstage production!
Brittany Cook has been working with the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine since 2011. She has served as Musical Director, scoring and playing
the original music for our mainstage productions, and she has worn many other hats as well! Brittany will direct our fall production of Hansel & Gretel.