Based on the 19th century author’s personal experience, the book by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” comes to stage as a play adaptation through the Pierce College drama department on November 6, 7, and 8.
Joshua Potter is a drama teacher and the first year director at Pierce. In fact, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the first production done at Pierce College Puyallup.
“Part of the reason I was hired was to bring a theatre program to the college. I know that there’s a need; there’s a lot of kids who want to be involved in drama at Puyallup,” Potter said.
The particular adaptation being performed, is written by Potter and his co- director Nicole Nicholes. Because it’s a story in the public domain it was easy to get permission without worrying about copyright.
“We started with the story itself and we began breaking it up into what we believed to be kind of natural character divisions,” said Potter. “It’s all written from one perspective but some of the lines lent themselves to different characters that we then created.”
A popular short story read in many literature and English classes, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” has long been an example of the treatment of women in the 19th century who were supposed to be crazy, but suffered from mental conditions, commonly postpartum depression.
A major reason why Potter chose this play, was because he knew many students and faculty members were familiar with the story.
“I have read the story a couple times for different classes I have taken here at Pierce,” Shelby Munson who plays the Narrator character said. “I think I understand [the story] on a whole new level now, I think I’ve connected to that and understand.”
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is made up of a small cast of seven characters. John, Jane and the narrator are the three human characters that carry the weight of the dialogue. The four other actors play the wallpaper that eventually seems to come alive to Jane after she is driven to insanity.
“[John, Jane and the narrator] have most of the dialogue and the simple movements,” said Connor Johnson, who plays Jane’s husband John. “Then there’s the wallpaper section who does the creepy movements, scary poses and very creepy and seldom dialogue.”
As of now, the cast rehearses in two separate groups because of the different roles they play.
Rehearsals consist of warm up exercises along with the actual script. The cast arrives at 5 p.m. and often begins with vocal exercises and stretching to loosen up.
“We do some performance exercises, like we walk around the room and pretend one of your fellow actors is the robber and he’s trying to steal from you and another actor is your cop,” said Johnson “So you have to walk around the room avoiding your robber and staying by your cop.”
Since the beginning of rehearsals, several of the actors who were familiar with the story beforehand have found a change in their perception and understanding of the story by entering into it as characters.
“I think it just makes the story overall more interesting, being in it,” Munson said. “It’s one thing to just read the story and it’s another to almost become the story.”
The character of Jane is portrayed in two characters. The Narrator (played by Munson) is Jane’s future self narrating the experience of her present self (played by Hannah Baldwin.)
“[Jane is] crazy. She’s going psychotic because of all the different things and therapy that they’re putting her through,” Munson said. “Because this is based off of actual things they used to do to women who they thought were crazy… I think understanding what she’s gone through is important and understanding how traumatic that can be basically in solitary confinement for a while.”
While the human characters have much to settle into, the essential characters that work together to play “the wallpaper,” are very movement oriented and have fewer but powerful lines.
“The wallpaper’s require a lot of movement so we focus on what our lines mean and interpreting them with the movement that we do on stage and so it’s very segregated [in rehearsals] between us and the main cast,” said Elijah Alderink, who plays one of the four wallpaper characters.
Unlike many shows, the costumes will remain very simple and the moving of props will be the job of the wallpaper as they remain in their mysterious, creepy character.
“ What I’m most excited for is a chance to just creep out the audience basically…I’m mainly looking forward to having the audience seeing something they may not have seen before in theatre,” Alderink said.
While the three characters of John, Jane and the Narrator are important, the wallpaper, though having less lines, are essential to the performance also in the environment they create.
“The wallpapers role is to disturb and inform the audience of Jane’s messed up mind basically and complex reasoning for her considerations on things like suicide and having children and marriage and just living in general,” Alderink said.
Potter is excited to see the end product of the show, especially since he has witnessed great work from the actors since they began.
He hopes the audience to understand the historical implications of the story further after seeing it and educate them on how doctors treated women’s mental health in the nineteenth century.
“ I want them to be kind of looking at where we have come in terms of treating women in mental health but also I hope that the audience can see how we talk about and think about mental illness after that because I definitely know it’s a major challenge we still face,” Potter said.
The cast of, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” is excited to further their theatrical experience and enjoy the family-like atmosphere that they hope to achieve during the weeks of rehearsal.
“It’s going to be a very creepy but awesome experience,” Connor said. “I’m excited to get to know everyone better and share the experience of this new show.”
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