While it will be awhile before the popular novel Wildwood appears on a movie screen or a professional stage, you can see this Northwest fantasy enacted by local kids this weekend at Seattle Public Theater. All the performances are free, although the theater is happy to accept donations to support their youth program.
Throughout the summer, the SPT offers local teens and children a chance to experience what it is like to “put on a show.” The majority of programs have veered to the classics such as The Importance of Being Earnest and Twelfth Night. But director Kaya Wynn decided to give her young cast a slightly different experience by adapting (with permission) the novel by Colin Meloy.
In a recent interview, she talked about putting on this fantasy with the youth ensemble (ages 11 to 18) and how they knew more about Meloy’s career in the Decemberists than her.
While I was living in New York a friend of mine recommended that I read Wildwood. I was missing home and looking for a new book to read, so got myself a copy and started reading. I couldn’t stop. The story held such a piece of home: adventure through the Pacific Northwest wilderness, which I was missing in my Brooklyn apartment.
The story has all those classic elements, including a little girl looking to rescue her little brother after he is kidnapped by crows.
The book held the adventure I’d experienced in two of my favorite childhood series: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and Brian Jaques’ Redwall. Wildwood has adventure, talking animals, and follows two young people as they discover, not only a new world hiding right in front of them, but themselves. I love bringing adventure to the stage, so when Shana Bestock (SPT’s artistic director) asked me what I wanted to direct at the Bathhouse this summer, I knew I wanted to do Wildwood.
Had you heard of Meloy before this?
Other than occasionally listening to the Decemberists (which, I’m ashamed to say, I did not know Colin Meloy was the lead singer of until recently…). However, my students are much cooler than me and are having fun putting references to the band into the show. Keep an eye and ear open!
It’s unusual for a popular novel like this to show up in what’s essentially a summer stock program for kids. How did you secure the rights to perform it?
We contacted the writer’s agents and explained our program, and that our adaptation would be strictly limited to our education program. The final performance is part of the education program – theater is about communication and telling a story to an audience, so it’s important that students get that final performance experience, but the process is just as important. The official rights remain wrapped up for movie deals and whatnot; our final sharing is simply an expression of the kids’ growth and development.
What does it mean to the young actors to be able to journey into Wildwood’s world?
I asked my students why they chose to sign up for Wildwood. While some of them read the book prior to signing up, others signed up because SPT’s Youth Ensemble has become a safe space to express themselves. Ultimately, they said they were attracted to the story because it is magical, adventurous, and wondrous, while also being quirky and fun! Many of them were excited to see the book they had enjoyed so much pulled off the pages and put onto the stage. Furthermore, the protagonists are their age, a rare opportunity in youth theater.
The youth program provides a variety of entertainments over the summer. How does Wildwood fit in with Dracula, Shakespeare, and classic comedies like You Can’t Take it With You?
The SPT summer season provides a multitude of opportunities for youth to come take over the stage. When choosing plays for our summer season, we look at what stories will give our youth the best opportunity to grow as actors and which story will be best received by each age group.
Do the same kids appear in every production or is it a new cast each time?
While we do get a lot of repeat students in each of our shows, it is a fresh cast for each production.
Wildwood will be performed July 26 through 28 at the Bathhouse Theater. Upcoming free shows in the SPT youth program include The Government Inspector, You Can’t Take It With You, Tartuffe, and Comedy of Errors.