directing and design approach
Based on the story of Cinderella, Wertenbaker's play uses a classic story to examine modern-day otherness and the pursuit of one's dreams. “True Love,” in this play and in contrast to most fairy-tale depictions, is not instant and everlasting. It takes work. Most Cinderella stories feature work, mostly Cinderella’s having to slave away for her stepmother and stepsisters. Here Ashgirl chooses work as a way of staving off the crushing depression she’s experienced since her father abandoned the family. But the stepsisters and the stepmother also work as well: as the stepmother tells her daughters, “One of you will marry the prince, but you’ll have to work at it.” Their work is essentially the advice that's featured every day on the front pages of real-life magazines like Cosmopolitan: “Look Sexy Now: Make Them Obsessed With You”. In the play, this is contrasted with the actual work required for True Love: Ashgirl and the Prince both have to overcome the othering they've experienced before they can find each other as equals. Wertenbaker even calls forever happiness into question, opening up new possibilities for how such great stories can interpret our lives.
Staging the play is tremendously challenging: not only does it feature a large cast, it also requires multiple locations, lots of spectacular happenings for the magical transformations performed by the Fairy, and dancing and some fighting. I had a limited team to work with, and carried a far heavier load with this show than I had planned (even winding up doing the scenic design and painting in the end). The final production was beautiful and wonderfully-acted, and the children who came to see it were truly mesmerized.
The Ash Girl is a retelling of Cinderella, and the play requires three main locations: Cinderella's family cottage, the forest, and the Prince's castle. As the play jumps frequently between these locations, I needed the set change easily and efficiently. I designed a neutral setting featuring a series of platforms and various elements that could fly in or be quickly set to shift locations. For the cottage, a bank of windows flew in onto the platforms and a hearth panel was slid into place along side a table and a couple of benches. The setting for the forest utilized the neutral set with specific lighting and some projections on the upstage fabrics. For the palace, I created a small library space that was sufficient for the majority of the scenes, using the full stage only for the ball. Generally the fabrics were only lit in the forest scenes but always somewhat in view, giving the desired impression in the cottage and the palace that the forest was always in the background of the characters' lives, looming and threatening. The use of projections on the fabrics was intended for nearly all of the locations, but proved impractical due to budget and time constraints, so was only used in some forest scenes.