Performance of ‘The Secret Garden’ focuses on acting, features limited stage design


Sophie Mann/The Daily Northwestern

Cast members rehearse for Wave’s upcoming production of “The Secret Garden.” The musical will only include two chairs, a bench and two instruments.

Sophie Mann, Reporter


A minimalistic version of the elaborate musical “The Secret Garden” will premiere this weekend as the first musical in Wave Production’s studio slot, which features shows focused on performances with limited design elements.

The spot was created four years ago to reduce financial burdens by cutting costs through the use of smaller sets, less elaborate costumes and fewer team members, said director Michael Herwitz, a Communication sophomore.

He added that the cast is made up of only 11 actors. In the production, which will take place at Shanley Pavilion, the usual intricate scenery and orchestra that make up “The Secret Garden” will be cut down to two chairs, a bench and two instruments, Herwitz said.

Producer Vatsala Kumar, a Communication junior, said the set, which is almost entirely made of cardboard, is more basic than other full-scale productions of “The Secret Garden.” She added that she hopes this simplistic design showcases how powerful the story is at its core.

We want to tell the most epic story on the smallest possible scale and use that as a challenge to spark (the audience’s) imagination,” Herwitz said. “We were looking for stories that were big. Doing a musical and telling this huge story is special to (Wave) and special to us.”

Theater shows at Northwestern are often very intense, Kumar said. She said although “The Secret Garden” has strong themes and meanings, the point of presenting it was also to encourage audiences to relax.

“One thing we’re really excited about is that, hopefully the weather will get warmer later this week, and ‘The Secret Garden’ will go up as the flowers are blooming and be a really happy start to Spring Quarter,” Kumar said.

Kumar and Herwitz both emphasized that they want audience members to take away a message of empathy from the show by witnessing the themes through the eyes of the main character, Mary Lennox, who loses her parents to cholera. Herwitz said no matter where audience members come from, they are likely to connect to the themes in some way.

Communication junior Tessa Dettman, who plays the character of Lennox, said she chose to be a part of the show because of Herwitz, who she has worked with before.

In addition to enjoying working with Herwitz, Dettman said she sees the show as an opportunity to make a big spectacle into more of an intimate portrayal of people.

“There’s nothing really to hide behind (with this production),” Dettman said. “There are no big dance numbers; it’s just about portraying these people as they are.”

Communication freshman Emma Franklin, the stage manager, said she was also drawn to the project for its focus on storytelling and audience connection. She said the show has fewer technical aspects than what she is used to.

Herwitz said he wants audience members to really experience the characters and the story they tell, especially in the intimate setting of Shanley Pavilion. In this setting, the audience has little separation from the action, making it easier for them to walk away with a memorable experience, he said.

Both Kumar and Herwitz said they ultimately want individuals who see the show to connect with the message about loss it presents.

“It has a lot of heart and has darker themes, but it’s not as much a social agenda as much as it is a story about human beings grappling with loss,” Herwitz said. “If we can move people, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

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