We went down the rabbit hole as Children’s Theatre worked out the magic for its new “Alice in Wonderland.”
Peter Brosius had a problem.
Brows knitted, the usually ebullient Children’s Theatre artistic director stood on the semi-lit stage and peered into a coffin-sized trap door that serves as the rabbit hole in “Alice in Wonderland,” opening Friday at CTC.
Brandon Brooks, a teenager who plays the leaping White Rabbit, had come perilously close to hitting the edges of the trap door as he dove feet-first off a seesaw toward a “crash pad” positioned beneath the stage.
“He’s gonna clip his elbows and get hurt,” said Brosius, shaking his head. “We can’t have that.”
While fight choreographer Annie Enneking showed Brooks how to make himself more compact, actor Reed Sigmund pulled back the seesaw, which he anchors while Brooks jumps.
Then it was time to run the scene again. Alice (Anna Evans) spots the White Rabbit and chases him until he falls down the hole and she follows.
It’s just one of many details to be worked out during a 12-hour technical rehearsal for “Alice” — one of the company’s biggest shows in recent years, both in terms of cast (30 actors) and ambition. A Children’s Theatre favorite first staged there in the 1960s, it is being directed by Brosius for the first time.
For Brosius, his cast and his creative team, the balance is in “creating the illusion of danger so that it feels real to our audience but making sure that everybody is 100 percent safe,” he said. “That means that we spend an hour and a half on a scene that lasts 46 seconds.
“We have to get the mechanics down so that we can have the magic.”
Getting the mechanics down
Those mechanics are legion. Puppet designer Eric Van Wyk has created parts of the Cheshire Cat that come together to form a giant feline, then disassemble into pieces that can be used for other elements.
Composer Victor Zupanc provides a live atmospheric sound score that sets up light or scary moments and generally maintains the adventurous mood of “Alice.”
And scenic and costume designer G.W. “Skip” Mercier has created a stark, black-and-white palette of checkerboard floors and striped, Victorian-style costumes that provide contrast to Alice’s colorful interludes.
“Because I’m designing both costumes and the set, I get a chance to create a world that morphs between a drab reality and something much more fantastical,” he said.
Children’s Theatre has done something novel to its stage, as well. It took out a main supporting beam and built a large elevator trap — in addition to the rabbit hole, which the production team calls “the sunroof” — to convey props and characters to the stage, including the Mad Hatter’s party.
It’s a permanent addition. “For a long time, people have wanted to do something like that,” said the company’s technical director, Adriane Heflin, who designed and oversaw the construction. “The problems in the past have been time and money. We said, ‘Why not?’ ”
The queen mum
Having so many people in the cast creates technical issues of its own, including how to route all that traffic backstage. But there is one pending entrance that has the cast positively excited.
Longtime company member Autumn Ness, who plays the Queen of Hearts, is seven months pregnant with her second child.
“My character is quite a card,” she said jovially as she and her understudy Mo Perry, who plays Tweedledum, put on wigs in their shared dressing room.
Ness’ due date is June 9 — a week before “Alice” closes.
“When we were cast, Skip wanted to go tall and put me on stilts,” said Ness, who is married to cast member Reed Sigmund. “But then Reed and I went in to let Peter know [about their baby news]. Skip didn’t miss a beat. Instead of being tall, my costume now goes wide. So now I’m double wide.”
Ness does not want to exit mid-performance, as CTC actor Dean Holt did several years ago when his wife went into labor.
“When that announcement was made, the audience just erupted,” said Ness. “I like applause, but I can wait.”
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390