One of the most beloved children’s stories of the last century-and-a half is Alice in Wonderland, published in 1865. The author was a thirty-year old scholar at Christ Church College at Oxford. He is probably one of the least likely persons to have written such a perennially favorite fantasy.
Lewis Carroll, whose given name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was a professor of mathematics, a brilliant logician, a master of algebra and geometry, as well as an inventor, and a philosopher. He excelled in puzzle-making, and created ‘syzygies’, puzzles of logic and word play. His facility with words made him a natural author of a dozen books on mathematics and mathematical thinking; it also inspired him to write poetry and satire.
His life was challenging. He suffered from chronic migraines, originally diagnosed as epilepsy. He had a life-long stammer, deafness in one ear, and what is now thought to be ADHD. His interest in science caused him to obtain a microscope, through which he watched organisms travel on his slides at ‘railway’ speed. That may also have led to his interest in photography, which he considered making his profession. His well-known portrait photographs of such notable figures as Alfred Lord Tennyson caused him to consider opening a studio and giving up the teaching of mathematics.
On July 4, 1862, during a Thames River outing he first related his ‘story’ to the young daughters of Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church College. Alice and her sisters Lorina and Edith were entranced by the tale, and Alice is reputed to have asked him to write it down for her. He eventually did, and presented her with a manuscript in November of 1864. Since its general publication the following year it has never been out-of-print.
This weekend The Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theater will be presenting Alice in Wonderland by the 2018 Playmakers. These 36 young thespians-in-training, led by an incredibly talented staff of directors, coaches, and assistants, have been working for four weeks, not only learning lines but also the mechanics of every aspect of theater production. They have had a hand in set design and creation, costume making, make-up application, and choreography. Their ongoing education in stagecraft really does allow them to participate in every part of their production.
Playmakers is a massive undertaking. The players themselves range in age from 8-15, and some of the assistants are as young as 16. There is as much choreography in leading this diverse group as there is in what you will see on the stage by the actors themselves. I have watched in awe and admiration as the ‘organized chaos’ has morphed into a credible theatrical experience. I suspect that the leaders – Tess Hogans, Catherine Bushby, and Bryan Betley – sleep very well at night, their patience and energy totally drained by the end of each day.
Many of the younger players are having their first experience of theater, while some of the older ones have been participants for many years. The assistants are very familiar with the process, some of them having only ‘aged out’ of the acting program since last summer. Their enthusiasm for the theater is contagious, and their young charges have caught it.
Lewis Carroll wrote his children’s books to entertain and delight children rather than to teach them the moral lessons that were the purpose for the other books that were published and marketed for children at that time. An annotated edition of Alice in Wonderland will introduce adult readers to a great many ‘hidden’ aspects of the story and its characters, but for the sheer entertainment of it, I hope you will visit the Garfield this weekend. Performances Friday and Saturday evenings at 7 and a Sunday matinee at 3 are all free, so treat your inner child and your children and grandchildren to a delightful theater experience.
Alice in Wonderland is sponsored by the United Way of Kent County, The Clifton Foundation, PNC Bank and The Foundation for Tomorrow. The Garfield Center for the Arts is located at 210 High Street in Chestertown and can be reached by calling the box office at 410-810-2060 or by email at email@example.com.