By Sophia Monastra
At first glance, the middle school utopian novel “The Giver” doesn’t look like a typical Cedarville theater production. It’s simply written, yet focuses on dark, horrifying implications. “For our fall production, the opening night almost always falls on homecoming weekend,” Professor Stacey Stratton, director of The Giver, said. “We wanted [this theater production] to be something with name recognition…We also wanted it to be something that, if families were here together and wanted to grab a show, would be something that even the middle schoolers could enjoy.”
As a Newbery Award winner and recipient of several book bans, “The Giver” is certainly recognizable. The story follows Jonas, the new Receiver of Memory, as he learns how colorful, unsafe, and varied the world used to be. It’s a simple novel, but the complex themes of choice, individuality, freedom, euthanasia, emotional pain, and isolation make it a difficult yet powerful story.
David McFaddin, who plays the Giver, discovered new themes in the story while preparing for his role. “[When I first read the book,] I was very focused on Jonas, which I think most people are. But this time around, I was very focused on the Giver…There’s a lot of emotions in this story that Jonas receives and feels, but they’re all funneled through the Giver. Without the Giver, Jonas would not feel what he needs to feel for the story to advance.”
This knowledge has helped him with his portrayal of the character. He added, “there are honestly times where I’m so connected to the character that I’m playing, that I feel what he feels in a given situation.”
Physical reactions to memories and being able to observe the reactions of characters made the emotional midpoint beats more powerful. It’s one thing to read the novel. It’s another to see it. And, while I am sworn to secrecy, the multiple multisensory treats helped to make an already stellar play even more amazing.
One of the concerns I had is the fact that “The Giver” relies heavily on third-person narration, a difficult concept to execute in a more visual and dialogue-based stage play. Looking over a physical copy of the script, I noticed the script was less than half the size of the actual novel.
“The script is definitely abbreviated in a lot of ways,” assistant director Sam Acosta mentioned. “The show’s only an hour and a half…A lot of the inner narration isn’t really necessary in this version, and the things that are necessary are transformed into lines and characters.”
Stratton agreed, “It’s hard to condense a novel into an hour and a half. There are holes, and I hope that people who aren’t that familiar with the novel will still get the story.” The story gaps are handled well. Since the novel is already short, not much has been cut away, and the main emotional beats remain.
Scripting and acting are only a third of the challenge. Behind the curtain lurks a myriad of technical surprises and challenges. “There’s a lot of technical elements to [“The Giver”]. Not only is it black and white, we also get to add color in a lot of fun ways,” Acosta said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of things the audience doesn’t know we can do that we’re going to show them that we can do.”
One of the most significant struggles for the cast and crew has been the time crunch. “I think no matter where you are or what show you’re doing or how long you have to get it ready, you always feel like you need more time,” Stratton said. “That’s just the nature of the beast.”
These time constraints also affect elements most people don’t think of. The Giver’s opening night occurs seven weeks into the semester. For a play of this magnitude, that’s very little time, especially to organize technical effects, construct sets, and create costumes.
Janelle Burd, a Junior History Major and costume designer, said, “We’ve only had a month to construct and actually make the costumes, so it’s been crazy busy back [in the costume shop], especially since we’ve been making a lot of the costumes by hand. Typically we tend to reuse costumes…but we haven’t really done anything that’s a utopian grayscale show before.”
“Although the show may seem shorter [than other Cedarville plays], and even though it’s based off of a kid’s book, it’s complex to produce because it’s all in gray,” Burd added. “And that doesn’t just apply to the set, it’s also going to extend to the hair and make-up and everything else.”
The cast and crew worked through the time crunch and the complexity of the technical elements, resulting in a stunning final product. The play runs straight through for an hour and a half, with no curtain. Transitions are signaled by movement to certain stage zones and consequent lighting, a stylistic choice that tightens the narrative and grants connection between scenes.
Still, I wondered why, out of the many plays available, Cedarville’s theater program chose a speculative dystopian.
It turns out that “The Giver” speaks to many issues we face. The privilege of choice is important and worth fighting for. Our ability to make choices comes from God. “We could have had a God who created us to have to worship and love him, but he let us decide,” Professor Stratton said. “Just like the society that we see, there may be people who think that those [choices] aren’t good things, but how gracious He is with us.” As something God has given us stewardship over, it is our responsibility to make good, intentional choices.
Acosta agreed. “I’d love people to walk away from this show thinking more about their choices, both how much of a blessing the ability to choose is and also how important it is to be very intentional with those choices. There are some people in the world who don’t get those choices. So, the fact we [have choices] here is a blessing, but also a great responsibility.”
Cedarville’s production of “The Giver,” adapted by Eric Coble will run from September 29-October 1 to October 6-9.
Sophia Monastra is a freshman environmental science major and writer for Cedars’ Arts and Entertainment section. She lives in mortal fear of longboards and enjoys reading comics, writing fiction, and experiencing deep emotions about teenage mutant turtles.
Photos courtesy of Scott Huck