by Thomas Prosser
ECT’s current production Curious Conversations opened Friday, May 29th. The program ties eight short plays by resident and guest writers inspired by Lewis Carroll’s works, Alice’s Adventure’s In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass. Rochelle Perry is the co-producer and one of the contributing playwrights in this delightful program with her very punny piece, Quit While You’re A Head. I sat down this past week and chatted with her about the show.
Tell us a bit about how you came to this project, Curious Conversations.I had taken a 3-year hiatus from theatre (and writing in general), when I read Lewis Carroll’s original Alice stories. I immediately fell in love with his wordplay, his quirky sense of humor, and his charming characters. Oh, the characters! They inspired me to write and ultimately produce again. I knew from the beginning it was an ambitious project to stage. The costumes and set alone were an undertaking that both attracted me and scared me at the same time, but I welcomed this project as an incredible opportunity for my love of visual arts and my love of theatre to merge. Since working in the animation industry for over a decade, it’s no “wonder” that this whimsical tale coupled with my passion for storytelling would escalate to what we know as Curious Conversations today. I wrote my first Alice play in Lisa Soland’s playwright workshop last year. There, I met some wonderfully supportive playwrights who helped me workshop that first play and while I have since discarded that atrocity into a pile of other rubbish I wrote, I wrote this play, Quit While You’re A Head, in a couple hours, because deadlines are important. But so are headlines, aren’t they? I wanted to write something worthy of other people’s time in writing about a topic that inspired them and captivated them as I was. A few of the playwrights in that workshop enthusiastically threw themselves at this project, and I thank them for helping me make this happen and for being a part of it. While I searched for a home for Curious Conversations, I happened across the Eclectic Company Theatre, and for the past 8 months that I have been here, I’ve been amazed by the people and their dedication to keeping theatre alive in Los Angeles. “This is a place to produce your passion project,” I heard someone say during the first meeting I attended. My ears perked up; I was intrigued. I joined right away, and I am so fortunate to the people and this theatre for giving me this chance to dive back into that little piece of my soul and just make this happen. There’s something magical about seeing your words come to life onstage. And really, who doesn’t love Wonderland?
So what is Curious Conversations about?
There is eight different plays written by eight different writers, so each play (roughly 10-‐minutes each in length) tells a new tale in each writer’s unique voice. Being a writer myself, I wanted to give other writers an opportunity to write something based on these beloved characters.
Is there a connecting theme that running through the eight mini plays?
The connecting theme is showing an older Alice returning to Wonderland rewinding to show her child-‐like wonder of Wonderland, and also the madness involved. Reality and what is in the mind blends together. The fine line between sanity and madness is but one theme one could draw from these plays.
How does Curious Conversations differ from Alice In Wonderland?
This is a new spin on the classic characters. It’s sort of like a sit-‐com, where we see what happens one day in the life of the Hatter, Walrus and the Carpenter after their poem. Think of it as a sequel.
What are some of the characters appearing in the plays?
Many are characters we know and love like the Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, White Rabbit, the Tweedles, the Caterpillars, and of course Alice herself. One play steps out of Wonderland for a moment (or does it?) with Film Noir detective, Sam Spade.
Do you think today’s political landscape is similar to the insanity about what Lewis Carroll wrote about?Although women and minorities have come a long way since his time, there is still much oppression in the world. I think there always will be a degree of insane politics, and like everything else they change with time. A couple of these plays focus on Alice, now a woman, struggling with which role to play in society (much like when she played different roles in chess, through the looking glass.) Is she to play the typical role of a woman -‐ a domesticated and obedient wife? Alice is a strong woman, fighting the norms of society whether she is ridiculed or not. And even though the role of a woman today is blurred with the freedom to choose who she wants to be (at least here in America) she still face obstacles, and she still isn’t entirely equal to man. With so many extra duties women have taken on, it’s no wonder why she would want to leave it all, if even for a moment. But at least she does have her mind to choose to go to Wonderland, or to stay in the real world, harsh as it is.
Talk about costumes in play.
Our talented Tsebahat Fiseha and Becky van Cleve created the costumes. They are both professionals working in the industry. They each referenced different Alice films and books, especially Tenniel’s drawings, but made them their own. The costumers were prudent in considering the character first while designing them. They are colorful and fun, and pay tribute to characters we know and love.
What is the take away you’d like audiences to have after seeing show?
I’d like the audience to “experience” going through the rabbit hole, and taking them into Wonderland and behind the Looking Glass. There will be artwork by animation artists on the walls, and when they sit down to watch, they will be entertained by the wonder of Wonderland, from the costumes, to the set, to the very characters themselves. I’d hope that they take away the wonder and delight that is in their own lives (not merely their imaginations), and I hope they’d want to return to see it again and share this experience with their friends.
For generations people have created their own rendition of Lewis Carroll’s tales, so why couldn’t I? I put a call out to writers around the country, chose the 8 best plays with the literary committee, workshopped these plays with a staged reading, rewrote and polished them. I saw my own play evolving from a comedic play with 2 characters to a darkly comedic play with 6 characters. I am happy with the outcome, and proud to have produced such a collection of plays in such limited time with such talented people. Huge thanks to all those who have encouraged me with this project over the last few months, even when I wanted to “quit while I was ahead (or behind).” And to the theatre, cast and crew of this production, my wonderful friends who have shared their talents to help make this a reality, my husband Patrick, my family, and to those of you for coming to see the fruits of our labor: May you always remember that childlike wonder you once had, and never stop following your dreams. We hope you enjoy your journey through Wonderland and behind the Looking Glass!
Thomas Prosser heads ECT Group Sales and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org