The Arden Theatre Company’s latest work of art follows one of the most famous stories in the world, “Treasure Island.” But this adaptation takes a different approach to the beloved Robert Louis Stevenson tale. The story follows Emily, a young girl who has a vivid imagination and takes audiences on a swashbuckling ride to her very own Treasure Island. Doug Hara directs this fun, upbeat and unique take on the classic story. He sat down with Metro to give us the scoop on what to expect.
The show is based on the famous story by Robert Louis Stevenson. How closely does the show follow the book?
Most of the major characters are in there, and most of the characters do behave like the characters in the book. But I would say that there’s a lot more explicit violence [in the book] than we have in the show. The show has a lot more humor in it than the book itself, sort of hewing to a more comic telling of the story. And of course, we have different songs. In terms of adaptation, we have more women onstage. The book is basically all men. Jim’s mother shows up at the beginning, and that’s pretty much the only female character in the telling of the novel. It’s certainly not appealing to a storyteller right now to hew to that convention. So my lead is played by a female actress and we have other female parts. Those are just some of the differences.
What type of audience is this show aimed toward?
It’s part of a children’s series, and I’ve been a part of a lot of children’s shows for many years onstage and in the director’s chair. One of the really great things about what it does is that they really do use the same rigorous storytelling that they would use for any play. The way the kids and the scenes are shown, they are incredibly observant and they scrutinize the story in front of them. We just put a lot of care into them and make sure we’re treating them with the same respect and rigor and welcome-ness as we do for the theater we make for grown-ups.
Is the show interactive?
There are some interactive moments, in the form of direct address with Emily. We follow her journey through the story. She speaks directly to the audience a lot, and there’s at least one great big audience-interaction moment that we have planned that I won’t give away. Hopefully it will be a surprise.
Since the story is set smack-dab in the middle of the imagination of a young girl, what went into creating the set and all the visual aspects?
We start off in Emily’s room. She’s a young girl who’s practicing her violin and while she’s talking to us, through her imagination, we break open her room and enter into this world of storytelling. But we definitely ask the kids to use their imagination as we bring them through the story. Like, all the swords that we create, some of them are made out of old wooden school rulers. And the oars that they use on the boat are shovels and brooms. So we’re storytelling to the audience, or indicating to the audience that in the same way that kids use objects around the house when they play pretend, we’re using the objects that we find in this environment to create all the things that we need to create. If all the kids have to pile into a boat, we’re going to make that boat out of boxes and crates and benches.
Was it difficult creating a show that is entertaining for children and for parents?
I don’t think so. Even if I’m creating a show for kids, if I’m the decision-maker, which I’ve had the privilege of being a couple of times, I want to create a show that I want to see and I want to create a show that would entertain me. When I’m directing a scene or working with actors or collaborating with them on things that are funny or on things that are dramatic, I’m trying to create a story that I was going to watch myself. I want to create a piece of theater that I would want to sit and watch. So in that sense, it’s really easy. I would say we have had a lot of success in creating a show that’s entertaining for the kids but also isn’t pandering to them or being a fluffy spectacle. That’s the kind of children’s theater that I don’t enjoy, so I don’t want to make that kind of theater.
Do you have a favorite part in the show?
There’s a part where the cast makes a really simple boat out of very simple props, and then suddenly it’s pushed off and moving. One of the most satisfying things we did this week was make this boat and row it to shore and have it look really amazing with very simple things in the rehearsal room.
Overall, what can Philly audiences expect to get from the show?
Just fun adventure, exciting music and an exciting story.
“Treasure Island” is onstage now at the Arden Theatre Company at 40 N. 2nd St.