YouTheatre’s ‘Wind in the Willows’ more than just a play
The Egyptian Theatre’s YouTheatre has always been a program where children can learn the inner workings of the theater, from acting, singing and dancing to stage managing and lighting, costume and set design.
In the past year, the group’s winter performances have shied away from the big musical productions, said YouTheatre Program Director Jamie Wilcox.
"I’m trying to switch things up a bit and present some nonmusicals in our winter spot," Wilcox told The Park Record. "We did this with ‘Pippi Longstocking’ last year and it worked out well."
This weekend, YouTheatre will present another nonmusical, "The Wind in the Willows," a play based on the children’s novel by Kenneth Graham, at the Egyptian Theatre.
The comedy follows three creatures — Rat, Mole and Badger — who are constantly rescuing their other friend, Toad, from killing himself with the latest Industrial-era contraption.’
The play is directed by husband-and-wife team Mary Anderson Bailey and J. Michael Bailey, who are well known in the Utah theater community.
"I like to hire instructors who walk the walk and talk the talk and these two work on many productions," Wilcox said. "They are so good with the kids and have so much experience."
While "The Wind in the Willows" isn’t a musical, it is a stylized production that allowed the Baileys to get creative with the characters.
"We decided early on that we would split the duties," Mary Bailey said. "So Mike has been working with the four principals who play Toad, Badger, Mole and Rat and I took on the rest of the cast who are Wild Wooders and did some different things with them."
Mary made the Wild Wooders into a Greek chorus, which helps direct the narrative throughout the play.
"I taught them this and other theatrical devices that they haven’t used, yet, and it’s been fun to see them catch on," she said.
On his end, J. Michael worked closely with the four main characters on their roles as well.
"We wanted to give them a challenge and this did it right off the bat," he said. "We didn’t want the characters to rely on animalistic actions or songs and dancing. They had to learn a more-formal language and tell the story of the animals in an entirely different way of acting and approaching the script."
To facilitate that, the Baileys worked with a steampunk element for the four leads.
"We’re using the steampunk attributes because we’re blending two different eras — Victorian and Industrial — and reflecting that in the story," J. Michael said. "That allows us to keep the dark moments dark, but also keep in the redeeming qualities."
When approaching the 13 Wild Wooders, Mary took a totally different approach.
"We went more aboriginal with them," she said. "We did quit a bit of research about different indigenous tribes and cultures from other countries."
In doing so, Mary displayed pictures of different cultures around the room.
"We also put on different types of music that would allow the kids to physically explore different movements and get a taste of what it is like to not be themselves, which are white Utahns," she said. "They learned that there was a lot they can do creatively once they get out of their comfort zones."
The Baileys also feel that this play is important for the kids to learn because it contains inherent lessons that will help them in their future.
"The heart of the story itself is reflective of the society of the time it was written, in terms of the Industrial Revolution and other happenings, including dirtying and polluting the Earth and air," J. Michael said. "One of the other things that I think is important is that the play does contain elements of things that are happening currently.
"This is an opportunity to show these kids that the political and social things that are going on have the ability to pull society apart, but all have something that is relative to each other," he said. "They can learn about unity and growing together by looking at those things. And that’s been cool to see kids who come from different backgrounds working together and adapting to each other on a project."
Wilcox said the Baileys have been doing a great job as a directing team.
"When I sit in on rehearsals, I get chills, because I doubt that any of the kids in YouTheatre have been taught these techniques before," Wilcox said. "I love the fact that we chose not to do a musical, but selected a play that was just as stylized. I think the kids are learning some things that will stick with them and make them better performers."
YouTheatre will present "The Wind in the Willows" at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., on Friday, Dec. 12, and Saturday, Dec. 13. Evening curtain for both nights is 7 p.m. There will also be a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. The play, based on the novel by Kenneth Graham, follows the adventures of anthropomorphic animals Mole, Rat, Badger, Toad, and their friends. Tickets are $9 and $14 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com .
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