Chicago Shakespeare Theater has presented abridged Shakespeare productions since the early 1990s, and the Family Series has been a part of CST’s offerings since the Theater moved to Navy Pier. Rick Boynton, CST’s Creative Producer, oversees the programming, which features abridged Shakespeare productions, most recently Short Shakespeare! The Taming of the Shrew, Short Shakespeare! Romeo and Juliet, and Short Shakespeare! A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In addition, presentations of classic stories, fables and fairy tales have introduced countless young people to the performing arts. Recent productions include Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, How Can You Run with a Shell on Your Back?, a new musical based on Aesop’s fables, and Seussical! The Musical. Mr. Boynton met with members of the CST Education Department at the end of March to discuss the Family Series and CST's production of Disney’s Aladdin.
Rick Boynton, Creative Producer
CST: What’s the idea behind CST’s Family Programs?
Rick Boynton: We want to bring students and children to the words of William Shakespeare in performance. As an extension of that, our summer program is geared towards younger children, opening those eyes to the magic, the excitement and thrill of the theater. This summer, we will present Disney’s Aladdin, a story very familiar to many children. Kids who know it as a movie and as a book will be introduced to it through a live, theater experience—all at once familiar yet new with the excitement of the Theater’s intimacy and immediacy.
CST: What appeals to you about Aladdin?
RB: It has a beautiful score by Alan Menken, including the songs “A Whole New World” and “Friend Like Me.” The incredibly melodic and soaring score also has a great deal of humor that both kids and adults will like. It’s a lot of fun. The story is timeless. And it’s good storytelling—an hour long, engaging, and draws you into a colorful world. The characters are well delineated and endearing—funny when they need to be funny, menacing when they need to be menacing—the makings of good children’s theater. Most important, the storytelling is clear and compelling. There’s the magic of the times—going to a faraway place that you know little about, where carpets can fly and genies come out of lamps. Our hope is to make the story flow ... like a magic carpet.
CST: How do you make a magic carpet fly in the theater?
RB: We try to capture the excitement and surprise and wow factor, but with a theatrical device that may not be as literal as it appears to be in an animated film. How you do that is the creative, artistic point of entry that is really exciting. As we talk about concept, we talk about how we will approach the magic. Because in theater, you have those artistic choices: you can be very literal and try to actually make something disappear or something magically fly, or you can use the depths of creativity and what the mind brings to a live experience that allow the audience to fill in the blanks—and allow kids to use their imaginations. So, for example, as something lifts off the stage and buildings move behind it, the audience can sense flying. The audience sees the moment through the eyes of the actors and experiences what they are experiencing. We do want to deliver on expectations, because there’s a tremendous amount of recognition with the Disney movie. And yet, at the same time, we want to make it a uniquely theatrical event.
CST: You have brought Devanand Janki on to direct the production.
RB: I think he’s a perfect fit. He’s a joyous human being, very smart, and a wonderful choreographer. Dev has extensive movement background and is very clever conceptually, not only moving people on stage, but with a tremendous fluidity of storytelling and character-driven stagecraft. He creates connective tissue that makes the musical feel seamless. He is also incredibly playful, and brings a great deal of excitement.
CST: The production will be in the Courtyard Theater. How will that affect the experience?
RB: With the nature of the thrust stage, everyone is watching others watch the show. The courtyard is exciting, especially for children’s theater. Children watching children watching the show creates an immediate, communal experience. Everyone is aware that we’re all experiencing this particular show at the same time—just these people, in this room, at this place and time. And the proximity adds to the immediacy—the actors feel very accessible.