Remember when you were a little kid, ready to go to bed, and one of your parents tucked you in. Before you could go to sleep though, you had to hear a story. So as you drifted off to sleep, images of optimistic train engines and wild things filled your head. What if you could return to that place of wonder and imagination with the stories you loved?
Unbound, Vassar’s experimental student theatre group, is producing “Goodnight Moon,” a devised piece inspired by Margaret Wise Brown’s classic 1947 children’s book. Facilitated by Colby Byrne ’18 and Delphine Douglas ’18, this special event will explore the world of that beloved story in the Kenyon Club Room on May 6 at 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. The show will be around 30 minutes long and audience members are encouraged to bring blankets and pillows.
“The process they went through to adapt a children’s book into a devised piece of theatre was very exploratory, with each member of the production investigating the text closely,” Byrne added in an emailed statement. “It started out by looking through the book, thinking about things that have struck us or are interesting. Then we had projects and assignments for each of the cast members that people would present that were relating to these topics. Two weeks ago Delphine and I wrote the final script, and we’ve been cleaning that up and making changes/rehearsing ever since.”
Practically every student theatre organization allows for special event proposals. Different from full-lengths, special events have looser guidelines and a smaller budget. Additionally, anybody can submit a proposal for a special event throughout the whole semester, as opposed to the strict deadlines for full-lengths.
Byrne, an executive board member for Unbound, expanded on the organization’s approach to special events. “[The amount of special events] depends really on how many people propose each semester. This semester there have probably been around three or four. But pretty much you have to fill out the same application and talk to the Unbound board in the same way. One difference though is that you can propose at any point during the semester instead of just the beginning of the year.”
And so Byrne and Douglas seized that opportunity to devise this project. “Unbound was really flexible and easy to work with. We knew they would understand our vision. Unbound really let us do what we wanted, which was great,” Douglas said about how their ideas worked best with Unbound specifically. “This is a very loose adaptation. We tried to take certain elements, including some characters and some elements of the setting from ‘Goodnight Moon,’ but we tried to do something different with the plot.”
Brown wrote “Goodnight Moon” in 1947 and is also known as the author of another well-known children’s classic, “The Runaway Bunny.” For all of her famous books, her illustrations were by Clement Hurd. Since publication, “Goodnight Moon” has sold over 14 million copies, making it one of the most successful children’s books. Brown and Hurd continued the bunny characters in another book after “Goodnight Moon,” titled “My World,” and the original book has become a staple in pop culture, receiving many parodies and pastiches since publication.
“As for the book itself, I absolutely love ‘Goodnight Moon’ and so I jumped on the opportunity to work on a show based off of a story I have such fond associations with,” cast member Daisy Walker ’18 described what originally interested her to get involved.
Having also been involved with several full-length productions this semester, working on a devised special event has provided a more lenient process. She elaborated, “The first major difference between this and any full-lengths I’ve worked on has been the fact that it’s devised and we have no script, but I know that doesn’t have much to do with the nature of being a special event. Other than that, the timeline has been similar to a full-length, but with a more relaxed rehearsal schedule at the beginning. And for agency in the devising process, Colby and Delphine have been very inclusive and great facilitators.”
Unbound is known for their devised pieces of works that tend to be very experimental in nature. Other shows this semester included the original show “Hystrion Part 1: The Ink Ossuary,” a design-showcasing play written by Jimmy Pavlick ’18 and “The Poundcake Family Band,” a devised piece written by Elizabeth Snyderman ’17 and Caitlan Moore ’16. Many of the plays have also occurred in unusual settings, like Raymond Basement, where their production “Feed” took place last fall.
All of the student theatre organizations try to get as many people involved as they can. It’s a chance to develop a piece in an environment where the stakes are relatively low. The application process is very simple and once someone has submitted the form, they will go through a simple interview process to discuss how the production will materialize.
Most organizations are not taking proposals this season, but plans are being made for next semester’s shows. Usually within the first couple weeks of a semester, an organization will send the forms in an email.
Despite it being a shortened production process, the cast and crew have still managed to have a fulfilling experience devising the show. Douglas elaborated, “All of the people involved are really talented and amazing to work with. I hope the audience can tell that we had a lot of fun creating this.”