Venturing ‘Into the Woods’: a backstage pass to the making of the show

Audiences who view theater productions at Northwestern State University regularly get the chance to appreciate the arts in a performance setting. While each show differs, it’s clear a lot of time, resources and passion go toward what is presented on stage.

For this year’s production of “Into the Woods,” the process from concept to stage has been unknown to the general public, and the effort shouldn’t go unnoticed.

“Into the Woods” is a Tony Award-winning musical based off a combination of fairy tales with music and lyrics by well-known composer Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine.

The show stars a colorful cast with an irresolute Cinderella, a vicious Little Red Ridinghood, a flirtatious Prince Charming and a witch who raps. It shows the characters trying to find happiness and the struggles they encounter along the way. While the first act is lighthearted, the second is not for the timid.

NSU’s Department of Theatre and Dance dedicates many resources and countless hours to each production; this includes stage and prop building, costume design and lighting effects in addition to the on-stage cast.

Freshman Syndey Ryder prepares Rapunzel’s wig for “Into the Woods.” Photos by Jasmine Johnson

Pia Wyatt is the director and choreographer, and musical direction is provided by Dr. Corey Trahan. Robert Richoux, Paul Pharris and Mary Rogers designed the set, lighting and costumes, respectively.

Beyond faculty and staff, some students take the lead and apply skills to the show more than what people would expect.

Assistant Costume Designer Elizabeth Gui explained the process of creating the mask and claws of the wolf. She created both a rehearsal and show mask.

For the show mask, the actor laid down on a table and was covered in plastic and then plaster bandages. This all must be done with the actor keeping still. Then, Gui covered each hole and crevice in glue and began detailing with paper clay. She had to mold the eyes, ears, snout and the face all by hand.

This was a difficult task, as during the process the ears started to look like those of a cat, the snout appeared pig-like, and the face shape caused some problems.

“I have never had to look at so many pictures of wolves for references in my entire life,” Gui exclaims.

The final touches came when she painted the mask with white, black and brown and added a “fur-like” stroke for extra effect.

When it comes to the performers, the actors have rehearsed four hours, six days a week since the second week of classes this semester. Events like spring break, trips to New York and the Southeastern Theatre Conference have left some rehearsals without the full cast.

Even so, the actors must prioritize health at all times. Musical Director Dr. Corey Trahan helps the cast maintain vocal health and balance their demanding schedules.

“If I notice someone is struggling, I often pull them aside and we talk about ways they can manage their time better,” Trahan says. “If they are getting sick or run down, it’s crucial to address it immediately so they do not become bedridden and worse, infect the rest of the cast.”

Both Trahan and Wyatt have wanted to do the show for years, since it’s filled with many memorable characters. When faculty agreed on this production, they were excited to “put on a fairy tale.”

“I enjoy doing theater that has a message or overriding thought,” Wyatt says. “We need to be ok with the fact that there are bumps, witches and giants in order to gain the tools to get through that. That’s why we are presented with forests to cross.”

Trahan’s favorite song in the Sondheim musical is “No More,” sung by the Baker and the Mysterious Man, because of its parallels to reality.

“The melody is beautiful, but the lyrics have a personal meaning for me,” he says. “The character is at the end of his rope and has to make a decision of what’s next.”

“Into the Woods” will raise its curtains April 20-22 and April 25-27 in the A.A. Fredericks Auditorium. Performance times are 7:30 p.m each day, except for April 22 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for children and seniors. NSU, BPCC and LSMSA students are admitted free with a valid student ID.

Anthony Renteria

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