- By gentleguide
- On Sat 13 apr 2019
Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre loves introducing the adventure of theatre to new performers and audiences. Their production of Treasure Island (beginning next week at the Stoner Studio Theatre) opens the classic Robert Louis Stevenson pirate adventure to young women, complete with a female lead character and a completely female design team. But it’s not just about the fact that “Girls need adventure too!” It’s just as much about family and connection.
Director Susanna Douthit is the perfect person to help bring this new adaptation to life. With years of experience in professional theatre, her life and family has brought her here to Des Moines and involvement with both DMYAT and Pyramid Theatre Company. “I was a history and English major and I wrote my thesis and subsequently a play about Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Robert Louis Stevenson lived and died while she was fighting for equal rights for women. It was Susan B. Anthony’s Quaker influence that kept Stanton from advocating violent measures in America. I had no trouble imagining women of that era being angry, violent or desperate for adventure.”
“I take great pleasure in presenting another side of the story and I had an impressively talented, deeply committed team to work with telling this tale. The fact that we are all women is secondary. And on that note I want to point out that we have a father and daughter in the cast and my son who had no interest in being part of the production team was sweet to help out as a fencing coach. We encourage family participation at DMYAT.”
Douthit’s Assistant Director is Claire Guderjahn, a recent graduate of UNI. Claire’s mother is Shari Hrdina, who is onstage in Treasure Island playing Grandma Hawkins. It’s the first time the two have worked together this way. “This show has brought my mother and I together in a more complete manner. I grew up doing extensive theater and telling my mom about rehearsals each night. Last season, my mom was in I Never Saw Another Butterfly. Hearing her side of rehearsals was nostalgic and exciting. Now, we get the ultimate ideal by being able to experience the rehearsal together and discuss it later. The moments that spark her interest may have gone unnoticed by me and vice versa. What a fun, new opportunity!”
Hrdina is excited about Treasure Island, both for her own part and for getting to share this with her daughter. “After many years and miles of driving, dropping off, and picking up Claire at her theater practices when she was growing up, I am beyond thrilled to be involved at this level in the same show together. Especially with her as Assistant Director, I am privileged to see her in action: witnessing her high energy and wit in leading group exercises, the life she brings to a character when stepping in during an actor's absence, her astute critique of a performance and her small adjustments which improve it. I also feel a warmness in my heart when she publicly calls me ‘Mom’ during the practices.”
“Part of the DMYAT mission is: ‘introducing students and their families to the transformative power of live theatre and the arts’. What better way of introducing the families than by having them involved with the production too! I encourage all parents to be involved, even if it is ushering or helping for a couple hours of tech, to see into their child's world. Although as a parent, I know what a commitment it is to simply be the chauffeur.”
Michael Meggison and his daughter Tess are both in the ensemble for the show, and encourage other families to try the theatre adventure together. “There is no place like the theater because the context of the play is simply jumping off a cliff together every performance and preparing to do so. You have to trust and be vulnerable and what an incredible honor to get to do that with my favorite daughter.”
“This is our second play together (both at DMYAT and both ensembles) and you just get to rarified air to completely fall in love with your kid all over again when you get to see them in action and really make lifelong friends who dive off a cliff together ten or fifteen shows. So many creative lenses—every family ought to take the leap.”
Tess loved bringing her father into this world. “I love DMYAT so much, they always make casts feel like family, and in my case, sometimes they are. It really means a lot to me to have my dad enter my world like this. I’ve been doing theatre since I was 8, and to have him try to do it with me is something really special. I think that you’ll find theatre is an experience for the whole family!”
New experiences for Treasure Island include designing and developing the pirate world, and the all-female design team has been working hard to transform the Stoner theatre into a magical new place. Director Douthit has an extensive background in costume work, and she is being assisted by Stephanie Wilber, who has worked on design for all of DMYAT’s shows so far this season. And Wilber continues the family theme, as her daughter Alayna is playing the role of Red Ruth in Treasure Island.
Stephanie says, “One of my favorite things that Susanna says when I show her a costume is, ‘I can make that fit him!’ We are working to create a world for our heroes and our pirates that is as authentic as thrifting, budget, and time will allow. I hope people will notice the details and the thought that is behind each costume.”
“As far as the space at the Stoner, I am hoping to be surprised. I have been to every production meeting so far and since I don’t understand everything that happens with set design. Diagrams are not my thing. I know that it is going to be something special and quite elaborate. I’m glad that there are others on this team who have that vision and ability. They are super excited about it, so I guess we will just wait and see! Tech week is going to be wild!”
Wild adventure is what audiences need too, and they’ll find it when they attend Treasure Island, opening Friday April 19 and running for two weekends. Performances are at the Stoner Studio Theatre at the Civic Center, and tickets are available through the Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre website or through the Civic Center at DMPA.org.