St. Olaf brings ‘Big Fish’ to life with support of arts grant
The St. Olaf College Theater Department will use integrated computer technology to bring the Broadway musical Big Fish to life this week.
That technology, along with training from Minnesota Opera choreographer Heidi Spesard-Noble and special matinee performances for high school students, was made possible through an institutional Arts and Cultural Heritage Grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council.
The Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council exists to encourage, promote, and assist regional arts development by providing leadership, outreach, advocacy, mentorship, grants, and services.
The Big Fish production is based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, which was made into a major motion picture in 2003 and later into a Broadway musical.
Big Fish tells the larger-than-life story of Edward Bloom, whose tales of his life include witches, mermaids, and giants. His son, Will, is searching for what it means to be a parent, and attempts to make sense of these narratives from his father’s life. When Edward’s health declines, Will must decide what kind of relationship he wants to have with his father, and what kind of father he wants to be himself.
“It is a wonderful, imaginative storytelling adventure, and this is what really drew me to the piece,” says St. Olaf Professor of Theater Karen Peterson Wilson ’77, who is directing the production. “The music is magnificent, there is a fabulous range of dances, and the characters are beautifully written.”
Joining the cast of St. Olaf students is Northfield sixth-grader Peder Lindell, who plays the young Will Bloom. The 25 college actor/dancers and Lindell worked with Spesard-Noble to learn some seldom-performed dances, including country western clogging, the “Alabama Stomp,” and a “USO” tap dance.
In addition to the unique choreography, the production incorporates a level of technology that has never been used by the St. Olaf Theater Department.
“We are tremendously excited to try this new integration of technology and to experiment with how it interacts with actor/dancers,” Wilson says. “The resulting computer enhancement to the scenery will symbolize Edward Bloom’s imagination, helping to create a magical, storytelling atmosphere.”
The production schedule includes special matinee performances for southeastern Minnesota high school students to help bring the theater to life for them and allow them to see the inner workings of the show. The 320 visiting students from up to 15 area high schools will have the opportunity to ask questions of the cast, crews, designers, director, and choreographer; tour the backstage and the theater; and see some of the behind-the-scenes processes of the computer integration used in the show.
“In this age when theater audiences tend to be composed of older individuals, it is imperative that we draw younger audiences to live theater with interesting productions,” Wilson says.
The regular performance schedule includes shows at 7:30 p.m. on April 9, 10, and 11; a 2 p.m. show on April 11; and a 1 p.m. show on April 12.
A “talk back” session will be offered after the 2 p.m. performance on April 11 to give audience members an opportunity to learn about the technology used and the behind-the-scenes efforts that make the show possible.