COFAP students take fractured fairy tale on the road
By Janie Magruder
GCU News Bureau
Turns out we may have been wrong about Hansel and Gretel’s “evil” stepmother.
What if she was unfairly pegged as a child-dumping shrew in the 1853 revision of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, rather than as a woman of simple means who tried her darnedest to manage her woodcutter husband’s thieving, sarcastic, hateful offspring? Is it conceivable those wicked, growly terrors ran off into the woods and were not abandoned by their parents to die? Don’t we need more facts here?
Students in the Grand Canyon University’s College of Fine Arts and Production raised those possibilities among pupils at five elementary schools this week by performing a fun twist on “Hansel and Gretel.” “The (Almost) Totally True Story of Hansel and Gretel,” by playwright Steph DeFerie, was this semester’s Ethington Theatre student-run “second series.” Usually performed on campus, the series is designed to create more opportunities for GCU students. For the first time, the series was taken on the road Monday and Tuesday.
Under the direction of senior theatre education major Bertha Ordonez-Cortes, 16 COFAP students rehearsed for four weeks — some while learning parts in the main stage production in November of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and all while studying for finals.
“It was a lot of fun seeing the kids’ reactions,” Ordonez-Cortes said Tuesday after the hour-long show for 50 second- through sixth-graders, plus teachers and Principal Andrew Sielaff, at Atonement Lutheran School in Glendale. “And I’ve learned a lot, too, about how a director should take care of her actors.”
The play began with another popular fairy tale, Snow White, and involved a hilarious physical and verbal tug-of-war over who actually is the fairest of them all — a Shrek-like ogre played brilliantly by De’Onte Lemons or the non-green beauty played by Marija Petovic. But soon, the audience was moved into the lives of poor “Hansel and Gretel,” whose terrible stepmother and spineless father, played respectively by Petovic and Kit Boyette, plot to ditch the kids. One thing leads to another and, well, you know how it goes, the wicked witch is lighting her stove to roast the plumped-up Hansel.
That is, until the cops show up to raise the notion that the two adolescents are not the innocents they appear to be. Rather, disgusted that their widowed father remarries a nice lady instead of an heiress who can better their pitiful lives, they run away. Along the way, they frighten the three bears (after stealing cookies from Goldilocks), plant in the mind of the big, bad wolf the idea to eat Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, and trick Jack in the Beanstalk into believing one can grow cows by planting cookies in dirt. Adding insult to injury, Gretel tosses away the glass slipper offered by Prince Charming.
Everyone’s pretty mad at the pair by now, and the fairy Godmother (real name: Streptocuccus), played with relish by Kayana Sweeney, is called upon to cast a spell that will make them confess their deeds. But she has wand problems and instead performs magic that results in everyone on stage telling the truth. It’s a hilarious scene that elicits belly-giggles from the viewers (one of the three little pigs confesses to loving pork fried rice).
Fairy Godmother gets it right in the end, and the cops haul Hansel and Gretel off to the pokey.
After the play, COFAP students introduced themselves and chatted with the children assembled on the floor about, among other topics, the story’s moral. “Don’t be as bad as Hansel and Gretel,” one audience member offered.
It was the first time GCU student actors had been on the Atonement campus, said Sielaff, who called it a fanastic experience for his students.
Bill Symington, assistant dean of theatre and dance, said COFAP students have an exceptional entrepreneurial spirit that makes them want to create art that affects people by teaching them or evoking emotion in them. An example is Cortes, who began her GCU career as a stage manager in the ArtsJam! series and helped expand the number of performances, creating an audition process, rehearsal schedule and program system along the way. As a result of her work, Symington said, ArtsJam! has become a showcase for the college.
“She also wasn’t satisfied with doing the bare minimum as a student but rather created another opportunity to share what we do here, value-based theatre, a message of kindness and inclusion, to children around the Valley,” he said. “This elementary theatre tour of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ was a fantastic way to introduce GCU theatre to Valley students. The smiles on the faces of the kids, the appreciative nods of the administrators made it clear that we were fulfilling a need.”
The college worked with Leigh Critchley, executive director of GCU’s Strategic Educational Alliances K-12 pathways program, to set up the performances. In addition to Atonement Lutheran, they included St. John Vianney Catholic School and West Valley Christian School, both in Goodyear, and Phoenix Christian Elementary School and St. Agnes Catholic School, in Phoenix.
Contact Janie Magruder at 602-639-8018 or firstname.lastname@example.org.