Elodie Boal and Chris Batkin of INTO THE WOODS from the Redcliffe Musical Theater

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This week I was able to chat with Elodie Boal, director of the Redcliffe Musical Theatre’s In the woods and Christopher Batkin, the actor who brings the role of the Baker to life in the same production. Here’s what they had to say…

VIRAG: You transformed “Into The Woods” by Sondheim into an immersive and interactive production. What prompted you to make this choice? Was this a project you always dreamed of?

ELODIE: Part of my aesthetic as a director is to build a world in which the public can escape. I really try to create an experience, so when an audience enters a theatrical space, they are transported to another world, and as if they are really embarked on an adventure. This kind of approach works well with Into The Woods, because the storyline and the characters literally do the same thing. It’s a nice synergy between my approach and the piece itself, which seems to blend quite harmoniously.

By using immersive techniques, I find the piece itself can have more impact on the audience. In other words, if you can engage someone’s senses, which I try to do, then the show becomes so much more encompassing. The audience is more likely to feel a certain way, which creates a lasting memory or impression. After all, the senses engage these memories. I’ve found productions I’ve seen that have tried this, they just resonate with me for a lot longer.

Into The Woods was on my bucket list. I’m a huge fan of fractured fairy tales and look at stories from a different perspective. I’m so lucky that the opportunity presented itself when it presented itself. Plus, this piece seems so much darker to do with Sondheim’s recent passing. I just hope we make him proud.

BWW Interview: Elodie Boal and Chris Batkin of INTO THE WOODS from the Redcliffe Musical Theater

VIRAG: I imagine choosing to adapt a very famous work at a time when there is a lot of uncertainty around covid and how it will affect the theater industry can be quite daunting and stressful. Did you find that during this process you have more butterflies than usual in your stomach due to fear of disturbance?

ELODIE: We had an extremely unique rehearsal process, especially with the rise and fall of COVID cases around us. When we auditioned for the show in November 2021 I was returning from Victoria so I got caught up in all the Queensland border closures and waited almost two months for a pass. So from the start it was different because I had to go through audition submissions, while I was in quarantine to go back to Queensland. Then some of our team members caught COVID, so we moved rehearsals online for a significant period of time. Then when we got back into the room we had to maintain social distancing and wearing masks, which is difficult when you’re rehearsing a musical.

Artists in 2022, having lived through devastation over the past two years and these ever-changing circumstances, are resilient. I’m still in awe of everyone’s constant ability to adapt. During this process, I had to think of original ideas to make the most of our rehearsals. For example, we blocked out a lot of the show with interactive maps on Zoom and drawing character tracks and walking routes – it was quite an experience! I think what most don’t realize is that there’s so much more that goes into the rehearsal period of a production now. There are many variables to consider. I won’t stop having butterflies in my stomach until we’re open and the public is watching the show!

BWW Interview: Elodie Boal and Chris Batkin of INTO THE WOODS from the Redcliffe Musical Theater

VIRAG: The old question: Why Into the Woods and why now?

ELODIE: The approach we took for this show makes it relevant to today’s audience. It’s not the classic, traditional approach that many previous Into The Woods productions have taken. We didn’t stray onto the safe path, we ventured onto the one with the scary tree and the dangerous road!

From the start, we wondered what fairy tale characters would look like today? And that concept really provided us with the basis for the whole visual concept. We really explored the truth and reality behind Sondheim’s characters, and why they are who they are. As such, the show is set in a post-apocalyptic world that is out of the ordinary. It begins as if a human had stumbled across the latest fairy tale book and read their stories for the first time. The characters presented are animated by his imagination. So their interpretation stems from what they might like in this dystopian universe ravaged by pandemics and destruction.

Not to mention, there’s also an underlying message in Into The Woods that focuses on wishes and people who wish for more, or for change, or for escape. I feel like a lot of us have done that over the past two years during the coronavirus pandemic, so the key takeaways hit a little harder in this new reimagining.

CHRIS: I mean, as far as “why now” goes, Into the Woods is perhaps the most timeless musical in Sondheim’s oeuvre – it’s set in a world of fantasy tales, using a cast of characters which, thanks to Disney, we have all grown up with and will continue to grow with forever.

But also Into the Woods is very entertaining! It’s fun and funny, and when it starts to approach its darker themes, it still goes through the same lens of fairy tale and magic. It really is a musical for all ages.

BWW Interview: Elodie Boal and Chris Batkin of INTO THE WOODS from the Redcliffe Musical Theater

VIRAG: How is it to bring a Sondheim musical to life so recently after his passing? Do you feel the lyrics, score and characters are more striking?

ELODIE: Sondheim has left such an imprint on this world, and his songs and stories have had such an influence on the lives of all musical theater performers. I’m honored to be able to tackle this work – it’s so intricate and detailed, and Sondheim was pure genius. There are messages in his music, and when you spend as much time with them as we did, they unfold in such words of wisdom. I like to think of him as a Giant in the Sky who despises us artists now. I hope we make him and the fans of his work proud.

CHRIS: It was definitely a surreal experience during the audition process – that morning I sent in my audition tape, congratulated myself on a job well done, then took to social media to learn immediately that Sondheim had succeeded. And as an actor, I feel extra pressure to make sure I do a particularly good job in this performance, because this will almost certainly be Sondheim’s first show that so many in our audience have gotten to see since his death.

But also yes, absolutely, of course this story hits harder, hits differently. Stephen Sondheim, this amazing storyteller crafted this beautiful score about stories, the people who tell them and why, and of course it’s a story of loss and death, but also new life, and how that cycle continues. Hearing Stéphanie, the actress playing the Baker’s Wife, in the last part of our show sing the lines “don’t get upset, nobody’s leaving for good”, was for me a special moment of connection with Sondheim himself- even, and the idea that a person is only really gone when no one remembers (in which case the man will outlive us all!)

VIRAG: (To Chris) How is it to play the narrator of such an iconic piece of musical theatre? Is this a role you always wanted to play? I imagine it must be so enjoyable watching the story unfold both from your eyes as the character and from the eyes of the actors as you watch your cast mates shine on stage

CHRIS: The Baker is a role I’ve always wanted to play, and it was so wonderful to engage in this story that I’ve seen so many times in a number of different interpretations, and to decide for myself -even how this character works. One of the great things about this show is that because of the way the different narratives interact, all of the actors have the chance to play alongside almost everyone at one time or another, and it’s It’s great to be able to play with everyone, both in the small pieces as well as the big crowded stages.

VIRAG: What do you hope the audience will take away from the room?

ELODIE: I really hope they see, hear, feel or smell something that makes them feel or triggers a visceral response. I hope they find something in the series that creates impact and meaning so they will remember for years of production to come. I also want them to know how much they mean to us – we do theater for our audience. Their courage to come out in a pandemic and support us means a lot, especially to the cast and creatives of this show who are the next generation of artists who are going through the other side of a pandemic.

CHRIST: So, for me at least, Into the Woods is ultimately a story about being aware of how our actions impact the world around us. So alongside the catharsis of a well-told story, I hope that mindfulness is what we help encourage our audience members.

Into the Woods runs from February 17 to March 5 at Theater 102, Redcliffe.

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