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Brothers put the 'Grimm' in tales

KEVIN B. KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
"Grimm Tales" - Theatre arts junior Maria Alburtus, left, and senior Ashley Rubin watch as sophomore Aaron Sosa, right, plays the part of the mother's spirit during the Tuesday night's dress rehearsal for Grimm Tales. The production opens March 5 and runs through March 8 in Drama 116.
By Elizabeth Thompson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, March 3, 2005
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What if the term "fairytale wedding" meant the bride and groom dressed up as witches and shoved each other into ovens? What if your parents had read you stories featuring self-mutilation before tucking you in at night?

Starting today, the School of Theatre Arts Workshop Series will be performing "Grimm Tales," a collection of eight short plays based on the stories written by Wilhelem and Jakob Grimm, and erasing our notions of what our favorite fairy tales like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast were really about.

"Grimm Tales" director, Michael Swanson, said the Grimm's stories, like Cinderella, originally titled "Ashputtle," were written by the brothers more as folk tales than as the glittery fantasies meant to lull children into sweet dreams at bedtime they have become.

"The original stories were written in 1812 by the Grimms as a way of preserving the oral traditions of northern Europe," Swanson said.

He said it's speculated that the brutal, gloomy world of the original collection of stories were sweetened by the brothers in the later 1850s when they realized their books were mainly being purchased to scare children into behaving.

In the original version of "Ashputtle," a wicked stepsister tries cutting off her toes to try to fit into the famed slipper that's too tight to fit anyone but the soot-smeared heroine.

"They might have started to clean up some of it when they realized the stories weren't being used primarily by librarians and folklorists, as they had originally intended," Swanson said. "Some of their stories can be brutal as well as sexual and scatological, but there's always an other-worldliness to the stories, a sort of dream world with the possibility of nightmare, which I'm really intrigued by."

Swanson said the production is done in the story theater format. This means the play will rely heavily on miming and narration with an ensemble cast, so that many actors will perform several roles throughout the production.

"Story theater allows us to focus more on the story than on characters or design," Swanson said. "Actors are playing multiple roles and some of the characters in the Grimms' stories were very similar. It's up to the actors to figure out how to make them different."

Theatre arts freshman Kristien Olson, who plays, amongst several roles, the witch in "Hansel and Gretel," and a goat in "The Magic Table, the Gold-Donkey, and the Cudgel in the Sack," said she was pleased with the challenge of working in an ensemble cast.

"This is my first production in the department, and it's been so intense to play all these roles in one play," Olson said. " I play a goat and I play a boy and one of Ashputtle's evil stepsisters all in one play. I've never done anything like this before, but I like the twist."

Swanson also said the story theater format of "Grimm Tales" has allowed the production to experiment with environmental theater, in which the audience members are actually on stage with the actors.

For Grimm Tales, a set with a winding forest path was created which, through the help of environmental theater, will be used as additional seating for the audience.

"Half of the audience will be seated as usual, and the other half will actually be sitting in the forest with the actors," Swanson said. "All of the stories have some sort of journey through a forest in them and the audience will get to become part of that journey."

Chad Ramsey, theatre arts junior, said he likes the idea of stepping around audience members while doing a scene.

"Environmental theater is really in your face," Ramsey said. "It's totally different because you can interact with the audience and play off of their reactions. You get to put them on the spot."

Swanson said although the Grimm brothers' stories have become ingrained into the canon of children's literature, he hopes people don't simply brush the play aside as a collection of bedtime stories.

"'Grimm Tales' isn't only for kids," Swanson said. "These stories have things in them that adults see in their dreams and that are still heavily felt in our culture. Look at the movie 'Pretty Woman,' it's a version of Cinderella and folklore. These stories are still felt, they're still here."

"Grimm Tales" will be performed at 8 p.m. today through Saturday in the Theater Arts Directing Studio, Room 116 and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $4.

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