Childrens theater hopes for Giant success
- Eric Bartels
- Portland Tribune - Features
Audience is foremost for cast and crew of Roald Dahl classic
Some in the local theater community thought the Oregon Children's Theatre used technical wizardry to steal the 2003 Drammy for best production with 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.'
Greg Tamblyn, who directs the company's upcoming treatment of Roald Dahl's 'The BFG (Big Friendly Giant)' begs to differ. The play, he insists, is the thing.
'I've seen shows that have spent thousands and thousands and are horrible,' Tamblyn says. 'I've seen shows that have spent hardly any money that are incredible. It all starts with the script and the cast and the team that puts it together.'
Of course, OCT's team on the new production includes most of the all-stars from last year's award-winning machine. Tamblyn, who himself won a Drammy for best director, will rejoin set designer Glenn Gauer, costume designer Margaret Chapman and Drammy-winning light-design specialist Gene Dent.
'The BFG' will entertain as many as 30,000 local schoolchildren during two weeks of performances at the nearly 3,000-seat Keller Auditorium.
But eye-popping costumes, sets and lighting are are only part of what Tamblyn seeks to offer audiences Ñ young and old alike.
'Theater is about taking the audience and going on a journey with them,' he says. 'So much of TV isn't about message, it's just about entertaining. The goal of the Oregon Children's Theatre is to entertain and educate. In any great form of entertainment, you hope to inspire somebody.
'We didn't let the lion's fur and the witch's wand and all that be the show. It doesn't matter how much money you spent on scenery. Ultimately, what you walk away with is 'Were people touched?' '
Tamblyn, who has been associated with OCT for 15 years, previously directed another Dahl work, 'James and the Giant Peach.' The new production, he says, places its young protagonist in circumstances familiar to fans of the late Norwegian author.
'Sophie's an orphan and goes into a strange world and through the journey comes out with an incredible friend and a change of life. Sophie and the giant are very much the same. He himself is a runt and an outcast from his own group. They're misfits in their own world.'
Madeleine Rogers, a fifth-grader at Sunnyside Environmental School in Southeast Portland, plays Sophie, who must overcome her initial fear of the titular giant, played by Tony St. Clair.
'Madeleine's great,' St. Clair says. 'She's so smart. She had the script memorized the first day of rehearsal.' Even at 11, he says, 'she does all those natural actor things that you just take for granted.'
Tamblyn says the onstage confidence of the young Madeleine, who recently appeared in the Oregon Ballet Theatre's 'Nutcracker,' will be crucial to the show's success.
'You're going to have kids that age watching the show,' he says. 'What engages them the most is watching one of their contemporaries onstage. We want them to think, 'This is happening to somebody our age. Maybe it can happen to me.' '
St. Clair, who won a 2003 Drammy for best actor in Profile Theatre's 'Seascape,' says he was tabbed to play the giant in part because of his experience as a comic actor.
'(BFG)'s an intimidating character at first glance,' he says. 'I think they wanted somebody who could cut away that intimidating level very quickly and find those human qualities in the character.'
Kids make the call
Tamblyn says that when OCT artistic director Stan Foote approached him about directing the play, the decision was practically made for him.
'Stan called up. I'm driving in the car with my daughters and my niece. They were like, 'Oh, Dad, that's great! We read that in school.' '
The 47-year-old Tamblyn says he owes part of his vision to daughters Ariel, 10, and Aurora, 5.
'The way I direct shows changed drastically when I had children,' he says. 'You start looking at things through their eyes. I know what scares them, what makes them sad, what makes them laugh. Instead of trying to imagine what things would be like, you can see what they're like.
'We have a huge responsibility. A lot of these people are coming with images in their head. Hopefully, when they leave, they'll go, 'That's exactly right. That's how I thought it was.' '
St. Clair, the giant, agrees. 'This is a really beloved character, so you have to respect the character and the story. Kids are the toughest critics. They will know instantly if your character hits a false note.
'You absolutely feel an obligation to present what you're doing in the best possible light. For a lot of kids, it may be their first exposure to this type of theater. Those type of events stick with you for the rest of your life.'