Sugar plum fairies, giant mouse armies, and beautifully sculpted dance numbers: put those three components together and many people’s minds quickly jump to the much-loved story, The Nutcracker. However, rarely has this classic story – most often portrayed as a ballet – been improvised or changed. That is, until Martin Andrucki, a director and Charles A. Dana Professor of Theater here at Bates, decided to put his spin on it. This fall semester, Andrucki is revamping this classic into a theatrical work entitled: Marie and the Nutcracker.
While Andrucki is a seasoned playwright, literary advisor, and dramaturge, this is his first time creating an adaptation. With an adaptation, Andrucki noted in an interview that there is “an armature to wrap your writing around,” whereas within an original work a writer “always has to keep wondering what’s coming next or if something is coming next.” To start out his creative process, he compared E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King to the Russian ballet version and found many discrepancies between the two. Andrucki put together his own version, read the story multiple times, and accomplished several stage readings. Andrucki then found himself “thinking in terms of stage images and stage actions,” thus “wanting to get the production up on its feet.” This show needed to be a fluid and moving entity, one that begged to speak in addition to dance.
Most of the research Andrucki utilized was the text itself. However, reading other stories by Hoffmann helped the professor understand the author’s “sensibility”; he strived to understand the original author’s style in order to compliment it with his own play. Andrucki did use one supplementary material: Jennifer Fischer’s book, Nutcracker Nation. In this book, Fischer underscores the prevalence of The Nutcracker in Western culture, especially at Christmas time.
Andrucki noted that he did not conduct copious outside research because “much of what I was looking for was contained in the story, and the rest would come out of my imagination.” In this instance, delving deep into the meaning of the work itself yielded fruitful character development, which lead to a rich play.
Through his many reads and re-workings, Andrucki’s adaptation took its own shape. Instead of setting the production in the traditional time period, Andrucki ushered the story into contemporary times. For costume designer Professor Chris McDowell this meant findind a way to bridge the gap between times. McDowell noted she wanted to find an “aesthetic category that was very much grounded in reality, yet fully embraced elements of fantasy, and would appeal to college-age students.” Ultimately, she met those guidelines in the vivid styles of Steampunk and Japanese Lolita. Both of these aesthetics feature some stereotypical Victorian archetypes, such as corsets and full skirts, while still remaining fresh and fantastical enough to grab the viewers’ attention.
Furthermore, Andrucki also adjusted the themes to make them relevant to today’s person. The main character, Marie, is not the one-dimensional character she is in the ballet. Here, there is a large character development; Marie starts as a self-centered young girl, but as the play progresses, she evolves to be more empathetic and mature. Jumping off of Fischer’s book, Andrucki’s play has a large commentary on the degradation of Christmas. In his play Andrucki noted the Nutcracker itself is “a figure that represents a kind of Christmas past” as opposed to the more materialist bent that this holiday holds in current culture.
In order to set the stage for Marie, Professor Michael Reidy, the technical and lighting director, notes that he has to create two separate worlds with one set of scenery, as there will be no set changes in this production. Instead, Reidy said he “needed to change the look of the environment to suggest that we are in some other world.” This is accomplished with clever “saturated lighting” choices, which the audience will learn to equate with different locations.
There is nothing better than seeing a beloved classic with a new purpose. Andrucki pointed out that our culture is in desperate need of “a second Christmas play, and there is a chance this production could mature into that.”