Young actors bring The Giver to life on stage
By Erin Hunsader
The absence of a bad memory may sound like a gift, but imagine a world where painful memories have been erased, along with any emotion that goes along with them and where everyone is the same in order to avoid any conflict.
Such is the case in Lois Lowry’s book, The Giver. The story follows a community of people who have erased painful memories of history from their society in an effort to form a utopia. Pills are taken daily to avoid dreaming and careers are assigned. Only one person – the Giver – has access to memories of events of the past. The main character, Jonas, is appointed this role, and must apprentice with the current Giver.
When Jonas starts his studies, his eyes are opened to the truth and, though he struggles with the pain of the memories, he is also given the gift of experiencing all of the joy his world was devoid of as well, including love, light and nature. His world of gray begins to fill with color – literally.
Lowry reportedly came up with the idea for the book after visiting her father who was dealing with the loss of his short-term memory.
The story, translated into play form by Eric Coble, can soon be seen on stage performed by Evergreen Young Actors Productions at Saint Norbert College in the Webb theatre under the direction of Caroyln Silverberg.
Silverberg, who has spent a lot of time on stage herself has directed Evergreen Young Actor productions before. She said she loves to challenge the young thespians.
“I like doing the Young Actor productions with Evergreen,” Silverberg said. “I really like being able to provide a challenge for our young actors. Being able to share my knowledge and passion with them, especially when I get to do shows like The Giver that are just a little bit extra challenging, is really fulfilling to me.”
With challenging material and themes included in the story like euthenasia, Silverberg said she was careful how she approached the material and the rehearsal process.
“I had to make sure that it was a safe space and (the cast) felt comfortable to ask questions because the content can get so heavy,” Silverberg said. “I even made sure that, if people were going to drop into rehearsal like designers or parents that they would give me a heads up so that the kids wouldn’t be involved in talking about euthenasia and then having people just show up and having that safe space kind of shattered.”
With the cast ranging in age from 10-17, she also said Lowry’s story is set up in such a way that it makes the subject matter more accessible for students.
“Open communication is really important but also just knowing that, yea, these are real issues, but also that it’s set up (the story) in a very kind of fantastical way, which I think makes it more understandable for the kids without the reality that we would get from the news,” Silverberg said.
She said some of the themes in the story appear utopian, but as the story progresses and audiences learn along with Jonas what’s happening, that it really is a dystopian society.
“One of the biggest themes in the book and the play, is how great it might be to live without warfare, without hunger, without poverty, but unfortunately we have to have those things in order to experience the good things and that whole dichotomy,” she said. “It can get really philosophical but the way that (Lowry) writes it out, and lays it out is so simple that everyone is able to grasp it.”
And she said the kids really are grasping the subject matter during rehearsals.
“(The kids in the cast) understand it, which makes my job a lot easier and they’re making connections to things,” Silverberg said.
Her approach, she said, is to encourage the cast to ask questions in rehearsals to help them make those connections.
“Even though they’re kids, I always want to make sure that there’s collaboration there,” Silverberg said. “I want to make sure that they’re heard and they’re comfortable. I don’t want to just tell them ‘go here and do this,’ because that’s not going to help them understand what the play is about.”
Bringing the story to life on stage made for other challenges, Silverberg said. One of those challenges included the moment Jonas starts to see color in their colorless world, which, she said, is created on stage with one crucial design element – lights.
She also said the set and the costumes are in various shades of gray, which really helps the color pop on stage and is true to the text in Lowry’s story. Lights for the show were designed by Jesse Cotteman and Michael Gegare did the set design.
Silverberg also said the cast is made up of students with the exception of one adult – the Giver, played by Lyle Becker.
“There’s just a special dynamic that happens with having an adult play the Giver,” Silverberg said.
The show opens Friday, Feb. 11. For ticket information check out Evergreen Theater’s website at evergreentheater.org
Erin Hunsader is the Editor of Green Bay City Pages. She can be reached via email at [email protected]