UI theater brings ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to stage


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Tan sand slips through David Hanzal’s fingers and lands on the ground in front of him. The pile of sand is suddenly shaped into a castle, guarding the princess and the world of fantasy that live in it and in the sandbox.

Hanzal, a University of Iowa graduate student, draws inspiration from his day job last year as a preschool teacher. He remembers his childhood and the endless possibilities of creativity as he sits in a sandbox and watches the kids create something out of nothing.

“Working with 4- and 5-year-olds, you can play in a sandbox for five hours and have nothing but the human body and the empty space around you and create magic,” Hanzal said. “That’s kind of the concept behind [the production of ‘Alice in Wonderland’].”

The 25-year-old is the director of the Graduate Directors Festival production of “Alice in Wonderland.” The play will début at 8 p.m. today and continue through Saturday in the Theater Building’s Theatre B. Admission is free for students with valid UI IDs and $5 for nonstudents.

“Alice in Wonderland” is a play written by Andre Gregory based on Lewis Carroll’s books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

The play tells the story of a girl, Alice, who falls down a rabbit hole into an alternative dream world in which many odd, fantastic creatures exist and help her understand her identity and her purpose in life as she moves out of adolescence.

Hanzal said the primary theme of this production focuses on Alice’s transition from child to adult and her inevitable loss of innocence — in Wonderland, she is forced to question her identity, her purpose, and even her existence.

At the end of the show, Alice, played by Megan Renner, does an interpretive dance showcasing her growth into womanhood.

“The dance is about Alice letting go of her childhood and becoming an adult physically, mentally, and emotionally,” Renner said.

The eight-person cast worked together under Hanzal’s guidance to create original stage directions for the production. In addition to the characters Alice and Carroll, the play is made up of six ensemble members. They each dress in white, playing numerous characters and using small props to distinguish among the different roles.

The actors also play a variety of objects throughout the show, including doors, a rabbit hole, and teardrops. They also create sounds of water droplets, door knocks, bird chirps, among others.

“We started from scratch, creating our own physical and visual world with the goal of re-creating the imagination and wonder that children have when they are in their house using the objects around them to create a magical universe,” Hanzal said.

UI student and ensemble member Britteny Swensen said working under Hanzal’s direction was unlike any other acting experience.

“[Hanzal] lets us play, and he’s not afraid to let us generate part of the show and let us have our own creative process,” she said.

Fellow ensemble member Emily Larson agreed, and she said the cast achieved the initial goal to make it a one-of-a-kind production.

“I feel like we’ve had a pretty extraordinary amount of input as artists in terms of having an ability to leave our own footprint on the work that we are doing,” she said.

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