Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday Feature: Connie Manfredi and Ryan Segal on Into the Woods at Master Playwright Festival

Laura Olofson (Witch) and Mackenzie Wojcik (Narrator) (photo credit: Mairen Kops)

Sondheim's Freudian Forrest
by Connie Manfredi and Ryan Segal

Producing Sondheim is no easy feat, so when the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre announced that Stephen Sondheim would be the Master Playwright of choice for 2013, we were thrilled if not a bit apprehensive.

There is a lot to say about Sondheim, and a lot of individuals who are far more intelligent than us have written and spoken at length about his work. Truthfully, we are just mere admirers, but we could not pass up the opportunity to delve into musical theatre so rich and well crafted.

We didn’t choose this musical because of its familiarity, but primarily because of the multitude of opportunities the musical provides for creative interpretation. 

As a relatively new company, District Theatre Collective has a very flexible mandate – with no set season to program we are fortunate to be able to produce work we are excited by – whether that is Avenue Q or The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, we look for theatre that will provoke, delight and excite ourselves and our audience.

So why Into the Woods? Over the next few weeks Winnipeg audiences will get the chance to be fully immersed in the work of a musical theatre legend and Into the Woods may be one of Sondheim’s most well-known properties. We didn’t choose this musical because of its familiarity, but primarily because of the multitude of opportunities the musical provides for creative interpretation. While traditionally it is staged in a lavish fairy-tale setting, we knew from the very beginning that this was not the way we wanted to tell the story.

At the same time, however, we wanted to honour the work that Sondheim and Lapine carefully crafted. Our goal in the end was to simplify as much as possible – to tell the story with as little means as we could, to strip away all artifice and ornament and rely on the fundamental magic of theatre.

As we continue to explore this sensibility through the remainder of the rehearsal process, we have kept one question firmly in our minds: How do we protect our children and can we actually protect them? Using this as our axis point, we have made a conscious decision to focus on the role family plays in each of the character’s lives, and by extension, our lives.

With the most important relationship in the show being between parent and child, we decided to stray from the traditional narration of Into the Woods and  tell the story through the eyes and imagination of a 10-year old boy, who plays our Narrator. The stories of The Baker, Cinderella, Jack, Rapunzel, Little Red Ridinghood and The Witch have begun to take on new meaning as we imagine them stemming from the mind of a child. A child’s wishes, dreams and fears are much more innocent – less changed by life experience, pain and knowledge of the world.

Using this perspective has helped us understand the responsibility that we as adults have to the next generation and having a young boy lead our characters through their journey has added such a rich dimension to the story, a constant reminder of the reason we are presenting this piece in the first place. Children listen.

Connie Manfredi, Director, and Ryan Segal, Producer, are co-founders of District Theatre Collective. Into the Woods runs from January 29 – February 2, 2013 at the Gas Station Arts Centre as part of the 2013 Master Playwright Festival. You can find them online at and @districttheatre

About the Master Playwright Festival:
Every winter, the Master Playwright Festival in Winnipeg, Manitoba celebrates the life and work of a significant playwright. Proudly presented by Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, the 18 day festival features productions by both professional and emerging artists, readings, film screenings, special events and a free lecture series. In 2013, the festival honours composer and lyricist Steven Sondheim, focusing on musical theatre for the first time. For more information, visit

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.