LICENSE CARRIE THE MUSICAL
I've always been interested in taking on CARRIE THE MUSICAL. It has all the right ingredients to really engage and affect a teenage audience: a story about teenagers and peer pressure and bullying, parental pressure and protection. The rites of passage; change from girl to woman and the stirrings of passion and love and the extra zing of the possibility of the supernatural as manifest in Carrie's telekinesis. Add to this formula the truly beautiful and timeless songs and I knew that this was a recipe for success. The new grungy manifestation of the introductory number “In” was a genius touch and really put the show back in touch with zeitgeist feelings of isolation, angst and identity that have been clearly explored in wonderful new work like Spring Awakening and the play Columbinus. I met Dean Pitchford at an education conference in San Diego in 2012 and I knew then that I needed to try and tell this story.
My concept for the show was centered on HOPE and being inside Carrie's mind. I understand that it is a retrospective by Sue Snell (and I used a small zombie student group to interrogate her and be an ever-present reminder to the audience how students had died, that the story was over and the ending settled), but I really felt I wanted to tell a story that could have ended differently.
- Chadwick School – CARRIE THE MUSICAL
Most people know the general outline of the story from either the book, the classic original movie or the new movie. I wanted to make what was familiar to them feel strange. What Brecht would call “verfremdungseffect.” I really wanted the audience to feel that Carrie could make it and that she was not her mother, or going to be oppressed by her mother. I wanted them to think instead that she was her own girl who would find a way (prompted by Ms Gardner) to break free. I wanted the audience to feel the same things that I see when I watch a great production of The Crucible and just hope that John Proctor will tell the truth at the end, instead of lying for his wife, and that all will be all right.
The idea of hope and being inside Carrie's mind really opened up the ensemble nature of the show. Not only could I use the larger ensemble to populate the school scenes, but now they could be a part of Carrie's sung soliloquys. Carrie's songs became realizations of what her life could be and that numbers like “Carrie” and “Why Not Me?” can be incredibly powerful ensemble songs.
I wasn't always sure that this would work, and was always afraid that the intimacy of our relationship with Carrie would be compromised and lost by doing this. Fortunately, this idea of Carrie dreaming of a better life actually made her an incredibly sympathetic character in our show.
There are also other numbers that allow a larger cast to flourish. We had a hugely powerful angelic choir in “Open Your Heart.” I used the ensemble on the bleachers to choreographically egg on and comment on the two pairs in “Do Me a Favor.” I used the zombie group as observers in perhaps my favorite so ng, “Once You See.” I also kept Carrie on stage during this song and it became a conversation between Sue and Carrie (in Sue's mind) and was truly moving and poignant.
Design wise, I opted for a very large and slightly raked and flat floor, built-in receding perspective lines, all bordered by disproportionately large school lockers. We are in Sue's mind, so I wanted a surreal, nightmarish quality at all times. The zombies often stood on top of these lockers in their omnipresent role, and made their entrances and exits via the lockers. I wanted the space to be big enough to take 40 students, flexible enough to become all our locations and yet—in a Greek theater style—be open and uncluttered enough to make those simple, intimate scenes of mother and daughter incredibly exposed and vulnerable (in the way the simple white box did in the original 1988 Stratford production). The whole set was distressed and fire-damaged, again supporting the notion of a story told in retrospect. We used six plain, wooden benches to become everything needed in the classroom, bleachers or a party. We used a simple wooden table and two chairs to impart the frugal and simple way of life of Carrie and her mother.
I thought about many ways of creating the important moments of telekinesis. Initially, I explored getting the zombies to move objects and using people as ghosts, but it wasn't working for me. I felt the flashes of telekinesis need to be powerful and magical. I chose for Carrie to levitate the chair in her house, move the books of the table in the library and levitate her own mother at the end of Act 1 as the ultimate sign of her new power and control. These were simple, but well-lit tricks that were totally convincing. The chair was levitated by fishing gut. We placed an upside down remote control car underneath false books, so they shot off the table. The Act I levitation was created by a flying company we brought in to train us: SFX. We also had Billy be hanged during the prom, while Chris and Tommy were lifted and thrown offstage with dynamic tumbling as they left by the flying company. These were “audience gasp moments.”
The most audible gasp of the night came when Margaret entered, holding Carrie's cardigan which concealed a knife in the song “Carrie (reprise).” I tried a further trick here in that I wanted the knife in Margaret's hand to somehow pay homage to the film moment and fly away. I tried attaching gut to it and having it reeled in to the roof grid on fishing tackle, but it just wasn't working and became dangerous. In the end, the knife was thrown to the floor and I paid more attention to Margaret's heart being crushed. To do this, we had the actress playing Margaret collapse a sandwich bag full of blood against her chest. That moment, along with the blood being dropped during the prom, caused a huge gasp night after night.
The background projections were an integral part of the show. We used scene locators for each scene, but there were some wonderful specialties, including the giant light bulb during the interrogation scenes and the huge, unfocused image of Carrie with bloody hands oppressing Sue Snell. I took the theme of a burnt yearbook and all the projections were set at obtuse angles and were framed with a scorched border. They tell their own narrative story and had some poignant moments, like the burning of the page in the yearbook with the students’ photos. The projections also allowed the “Destruction” to be fully immersive as animated flames covered the walls of the theater. It also set up the final scene in the graveyard during the Epilogue.
I had the whole cast return to the stage for the final moments. I created a secret, concealed trap door downstage. During “Epilogue,” we used dry ice to drag a wooden grave framed with foam—to imply new earth—covered with mulch and, of course, a gravestone in the style of the movie.
The grave was placed over the trapdoor and a stage hand waited in the trapdoor wearing a pink prom glove. There were three feet of clearance under the trapdoor and the hand shot up and dragged Sue Snell down. It was an extremely special moment and a lovely homage to the movie.
The other thing that I want to tell you was that using a diverse and age-appropriate cast made the story extremely authentic. The young cast really related to the characters and issues and imparted a truthfulness and immediacy to the story.
- Chadwick School – CARRIE THE MUSICAL
I think this is the most wonderful high school story with music and songs that are vibrant, relevant and mesmeric. We are a well-resourced school with a beautiful space and I have a wonderful team of musicians and technicians around me, but I think the heart of this story is the characters, relationships and the dialogue spoken and sung between them.
I have to say that as we rehearsed in the dance studio without the benefit of lighting, set or staging trickery, the story itself held true and was totally engaging. A school can perform these wonderful words and create these charismatic and authentic characters in a hall without anything and the story will still engage and astound. In many respects, I feel we created two different shows: one with and without technical support. In some respects, I almost prefer the stripped-down tale of a young, ordinary girl with extraordinary powers and a parent distraught over losing her daughter to growing up. Many of us have been there.