Childhood normally fades slowly. Wisps of childhood persist when the boy or girl is a grown man or woman. Childhood returns sometimes by day, more often by night. But it was not so with Lewis Carroll. For some reason… childhood remained in him entire, he could do what no one else has ever been able to do – he could return to that world; he could recreate it, so that we too become children again. — Virginia Woolf
Mathematician, logician, photographer and Victorian clergyman, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was best known to the world by his pen name, Lewis Carroll. Inspired by his real-life friend, seven-year-old Alice Liddell, the bookish Dodgson authored the beloved stories Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Alice Through the Looking-Glass.
Despite Dodgson’s huge success and public recognition, his private life remained a mystery. Though a frequenter of the theatre and the bohemian art scene and reputed to be socially adept, he never married, suffered from a stammer into adulthood, and despite his growing wealth, continued to live at the small and cloistered Christ Church College in Oxford until his death.
Dodgson’s life has been the subject of numerous biographies, speculations and stories. There’s an understandable fascination with the history of this man who, as Virginia Woolf said, let us “become children again.” His books remind us of the power of our childhood memories – how these stories have lodged themselves within us and resurface throughout our lives, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unexpectedly, but ultimately are the scaffolding of who we have become.
And so, in mounting a stage production of Alice Through the Looking-Glass we have asked ourselves to “become children again” – to remember and enfold our childhood selves and stories into the meaning and process of this production.
Every morning at the NAC we began our rehearsal with a physical warm-up, strengthening our arms, legs and core in preparation for the games ahead. (Humpty Dumpty is an upper-body workout, and tap dancing takes tremendous thigh strength!) We skipped rope, danced, taught silly songs to one another and before launching into our scene work each day, one of us would share a story with the group – a tale of childhood discovery from our own lives – a story that has ‘remained in us entire’. We heard stories of surprise performances and puppet shows, disappointed baseball dreams, defiance in the face of elders, pranks on parents and siblings… together we returned to our own seven-and-a-half-year-old selves.
The Alice Through the Looking-Glass you see here today shares the set, costumes, props and sound design with the production that played in Stratford last spring, but it features an entirely different cast – the 2014-2015 Ensemble of actors from across Canada, along with guest artists from Ottawa and across the country. The cast size has also changed, and so too has the story – a perfect response for a looking-glass world!
Through this reconfiguration a new story emerges, one that reflects the experience and interpretation of these artists and your unique response as an audience here at the National Arts Centre Ottawa. This Alice will be unlike any other. And next year, as it travels to other venues including the Confederation Centre for the Arts as part of the Charlottetown Festival, the story will shift and grow again to reflect the new communities it meets.
We are all – performers and audience alike – part of the story of this magical production, all of us calling together to see if our seven-and-half-year-old selves will come out to play.