I am Jonathan Zautner, a Directing Intern for the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's upcoming production of William Inge's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Picnic. This blog will take you through the complex and a bit mysterious process of mounting this piece from the moment it was just a twinkle in Director C. Michael Wright's eye right up to its exciting Opening Night. Along the way, I'll also introduce you to the people whose talents and elbow grease will mingle to create the finished product that the audiences will view.
So, back to that twinkle. It would be natural to quizzically ask yourself where a person would even begin to get a production of this sort off the ground. To jump-start this process, several key concepts were considered by the Director to get the creative forces flowing. These include a look into the dramatic life of the playwright: William Inge, the location of the play: small town Kansas, the year that the action takes place: 1953, and the time of year that the play is set: Labor Day. These four details provide a plethora of powerful microscopic springboards that will steer the course of all the pre-production planning, ideas ricocheting through the air at terminal velocity.
It's quite dramatic. For instance, by understanding the life, the depth, and very tortured fiber of Inge, and the way each character represents a part of him, certain character choices taken from the script begin to make sense. Also by examining what life in small town Kansas, particularly in 1953, was like influences many creative choices that will find their way onto the stage. Everything from dialect to the makeup of society, music, costume, commerce, and class will be considered. Collectible Life magazines will be perused to understand the colors and designs that were popular in this era, and everything will be contemplated from the style of bicycle to yes, the delectable Lady Baltimore cake, to remain authentic.
Since the play takes place on Labor Day and the day after, this holiday will have great significance on the tone of the production as well. I think that everyone probably feels a little sense of dread when Labor Day arrives and the carefree, lazy, and long days of summer begin to come to an end. After Labor Day, schedules seem to get busier and days shorter, and the realities and responsibilities of daily life are a bit more apparent. Some of the drama we'll examine in Picnic is due to these startling realizations.
The calendar has officially marked the season as Autumn and the leaves have already begun to turn. With Picnic, it is refreshing to go against nature and spend a few more weeks enjoying the heat and reckless joys that occur before the sun finally goes down on a seemingly endless Summer.