Into the Woods Like You’ve Never Seen
A baker and his wife long for the child they cannot have. A young girl ventures into the forest to deliver food to her ailing granny. An impoverished young man takes his beloved cow to market in a desperate attempt to put food on the table. We know these fairy and folk tales as parables for children, designed to teach them about love, loss, sacrifice, and courage.
In the musical Into the Woods, the late great Stephen Sondheim found new narratives in these age-old tales, expressing through musical theater the what-ifs and what-nows that materialize after wishes come true and evils are vanquished.
Into the Woods is a theatrical and quintessentially human re-imagining of life after ever-after. Wild Imaginings aims to push that reckoning further by staging a modernized adaptation of Sonheim’s iconic musical for Waco audiences. Into the Woods debuts Thursday, April 28, at the Lee Lockwood Library and Museum and runs through Sunday, May 1.
Modern-Day Fairy Tales
Into the Woods is the most mainstream production Wild Imaginings has put on to date. But under the direction of Trent Sutton, founder and artistic director of Wild Imaginings, there are some twists that will pull the characters’ stories out of the land of make-believe and into the here-and-now.
Instead of medieval costumes and fanciful sets twinkling with fairy lights, Sutton’s artistic direction sets the musical in modern times.
“It’s the characters you know and love,” says Sutton, “but it brings them into the contemporary world a bit more. By pulling it out of the fairytale context a little bit, it makes it darker in some ways but then brighter in other ways. Because really, how the musical is set up, it looks like a happy ending in act one, and then act two comes along and just destroys you. And so when you are less in this happily-ever-after fairytale land in act one, act two feels less shocking because you’ve already been living real life in act one.”
Even some of the original characters are re-cast to lend a new perspective to familiar tropes.
“Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t have to be accosted by a wolf,” says Sutton. “It can be a girl on her way, accosted by a man who has no business being there. Rapunzel doesn’t have to be this maiden locked in a tower with princes trying to rescue her. She’s a teenage girl with an overbearing mother and men objectifying her, and she’s going from one place to the next where she’s not truly appreciated.”
To Sutton, these interpretations not only make sense, they are already in the subtext of the tales themselves.
“All of these stories, why people love them, is because they’re real and they’re true. So we’re simply letting them be what they are, instead of cloaking them in quite so much fairytale magic.”
His minimalist set design is intended to direct the audience’s full attention to the music, overseen by musical director Kelly MacGregor, and the actors, an ensemble cast of Baylor students and local talent.
“The cast is truly phenomenal,” says Sutton. “Mackenzie Nelson, who plays the witch, is one of those people who, when she sings, she’s all that exists in the world. Caleb Howard, who plays the baker, is gob-smakingly talented. And Faith Featherstone, the little nine year-old girl playing Milky White the cow, is the cutest thing that ever existed.”
Wild Imaginings’ Transformational Theater
Wild Imaginings is the brainchild of Trent Sutton, an Austinite who made Waco his home after completing a master’s degree at Baylor’s Truett Seminary. A life-long fan of theater, Sutton worked in nonprofits and ran the Jubilee Theater before he had the opportunity to found Wild Imaginings in 2019.
At the age of twenty-seven, Sutton has over forty theatrical productions under his belt, and he’s just getting started. His goal is to push the boundaries of Waco theatergoers by bringing original and diverse artworks to the stage.
“The diversity of what we do is deeply important. I think that the stories we tell should be diverse in a way that’s representative of the community that they’re performed in,” says Sutton. “Not only which stories we’re telling, but whose story we’re telling, and I think that’s something that often gets overlooked. A lot of shows that are ‘diverse’ are othering or tokening in their own way, and that’s why it’s important who is writing them.”
With that in mind, Sutton hosts the annual Epiphanies New Works Festival where local playwrights can see their works performed for a live audience.
“We have an incredible diversity of playwrights we present. In the last year, we’ve had LGBTQ writers, African American writers, and a Native American writer.”
Last year Wild Imaginings performed Jesus and Valium, the work of a local LGBTQ playwright and coauthored by Sutton, in which a cis-gendered young woman struggles to introduce her family to her new boyfriend. The twist? In the world of Jesus and Valium, homosexuality is normative and heterosexuality is marginalized.
“We really do shows that are going to make people think,” says Sutton, “that are going to confront them with the reality of who they are and where they live, both the beauty and ugliness that are associated with that.”
And Sutton is no stranger to controversy.
“I am an openly gay man who has a seminary degree. I’m used to being not the one looked upon with favor,” he chuckles. “The type of subjects that we deal with are uncomfortable, and a lot of them have multiple sides. But these are conversations the community needs to have in order to grow and do better.”
Sometimes Sutton’s productions elicit criticism from community members, but he isn’t phased: “I always tell my actors and people who I work with that frankly, if we haven’t ticked a few people off, we probably didn’t choose the right show.”
“We’re here to do good work about important things, and we’ve had a really incredible response from a lot of people,” says Sutton. “Waco is a special place and there’s a lot of potential and capacity here. Waco is somewhere that I truly believe is moving in the direction of being able to support full-time theater professionals. I’m able to be a torch-bearer in the Waco community to prove that’s possible. One of the goals of Wild Imaginings is to help make Waco a place where artists can live and work.”
Wild Imaginings’ production of Into the Woods debuts Thursday, April 28, at the Lee Lockwood Library and Museum, and tickets are still available. For full details—the show runs through Sunday, May 1—and to purchase tickets, visit the Wild Imaginings website.
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