A behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating Cedarville’s impressive stage productions
by Nathan Robertson
As an audience, it can be easy to forget all the work it takes to put on a theater performance. Before any of the actors or set pieces ever get in front of a crowd, the entire production must go through an extensive process.
All of the shows Cedarville performs are determined the previous academic year.
“When looking at our season selection for this current year, we had specific genres that we were looking at, and children’s theatre or fantasy was one of those,” said Assistant Professor of Theatre, Rebekah Priebe. “‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ was a suggestion and everyone was very excited about that and got on board pretty quickly with that idea.”
“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis has been a staple in literature collections for decades. It’s a story that not only creates an entirely new world, but presents a story of redemption and saving grace that not even the youngest of children could miss. The book is fueled by its visuals, from the pure white of never-ending winter, to the green of the grass that is slowly revealed as Aslan makes his return. These visuals were at the forefront of Cedarville’s production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
The faculty decided on a children’s theater version of the show that was dramatized by Joseph Robinette. The script is relatively short with a runtime well under two hours.
However the spectacle and set expectations are far from simple. The set design for this show involved a built-in turntable, as well as multiple moving set pieces such as massive stone pillars and the famous stone table. Perhaps the most impressive piece created by the shop crew was the Aslan puppet, which is operated by three actors.
While the Aslan puppet is an impressive feat, its quality is matched by the creative work of Priebe, who also serves as the head of the costume department, and the rest of the costume shop. Each character in the show had their own unique look that made it feel as though C.S. Lewis’ classic book had come to life.
“It can be challenging to work with a piece of literature that is so familiar to so many people, but still make it fresh and new,” Priebe said. “And then of course working with characters that you wouldn’t necessarily come across in this world, such as fauns and unicorns and talking animals.”
However, these challenges are well worth it, Priebe said.
“I think it’s been rewarding to see all the designs come together because we have made so many of the pieces rather than just going out and purchasing or renting,” she said.
A majority of the costumes featured in the show were created by the costume shop, based on designs created by Priebe. From wolf claws made out of tin foil and masking tape, to human-sized beaver tails, the costumes are products of an immense amount of hard work.
While the costumes are impressive, they don’t mean much if there’s nobody to fill them. This past October, the theater department held auditions for “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Over 60 students from different majors and varying levels of experience arrived at Alford Auditorium looking forward to the possibility of a callback.
The audition experience is often a daunting one. For this show in particular, the production team, including stage manager Brie Bauman, were looking for actors they knew would be dedicated to their roles.
“In the casting process we were very focused on determining someone’s character and how comfortable they were with being all-in for a production like this,” Bauman said. “A lot of magic needs to be created through the actors. A lot of that dedication and joy with the story is something that the director looked for.”
At callbacks, each person read from selected excerpts from the script. Some students were put into groups and asked to come up with an impromptu, choreographed lion movement. After a few hours, everyone was sent home to spend the night in anticipation as the wait began for the cast list that would be posted the next day.
The day the cast list was announced was the same day of the first rehearsal. The first rehearsal is typically a readthrough of the script, while the remaining rehearsals cover blocking and workshopping scenes.
All of the rehearsals lead up to a faculty preview, where the show is put on in its current state. After the preview, the theater faculty decide whether the production is ready to be put on the main stage.
Following faculty preview is show week. During this time, dress rehearsals begin, and all elements including costume, sound, lighting and all other technical aspect are incorporated.
“The most difficult part has really been bringing all of the tech things together that have very much been new for our program,” Bauman said. “Things that we haven’t tried before, and just working with those and being creative and having those be implemented in different ways each night.”
The technical elements of the show are helped by the fact that Lewis’ story comes to life all on its own. The production team behind the show wants to be sure that the message of the show is spoken loud and clear.
“Overall, the message is very much what Lewis intended I believe, which is first to tell a good story but then of course to have that story be used to instruct young people — especially on what redemption and grace are,” Bauman said.
The story has stood the test of time since its original release in October of 1950. Many children grew up on “The Chronicles of Narnia,” including Jeremy Smith, the dramaturg for Cedarville’s production of the play.
The dramaturg does research about the show in order to give the cast and audiences a deeper look into the history behind the story.
The director’s concept for the show is fueled by the idea that C.S. Lewis wrote each of the Narnia books as a representation of each of the seven planets in medieval cosmology.
“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is said to have been based off the planet Jupiter, or Jove.
Jupiter represents joy, especially for the end of winter and the beginning of spring. This joy was the central metaphor behind the show.
“That’s the theme of this return of the king, this overarching joviality and happiness and joy that comes along with winter ending and the king returning,” Smith said. “It’s why I think that the first book in particular resonates with so many people.”
This story carries a message of redemption and sacrifice that is known for being symbolic of Jesus Christ’s saving work on the cross. However, this story is much more than a series of Christian motifs. This story is a lesson in creativity and love that is made available to people of all ages.
The Cedarville production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” dedicated countless hours of rehearsal, set building and costume creating, in order to take this story of grace, and truly bring it to life. The process was a unique one, since this show contained so many new and exciting technical elements.
Putting on a show is never easy, and it’s a lot of hard work. However, Cedarville’s theatre program understands that no matter how difficult the process may be, ultimately the most important thing is telling a good story.
Nathan Robertson is a junior broadcasting and digital media major and a writer for Cedars. He is an avid film watcher, an open-minded music lover, and a devoted Netflix binger.