WAVE Productions’ ‘Fun Home’ centers identity, queerness and family


Sonya Dymova/The Daily Northwestern

“Fun Home” is a musical following Alison Bechdel’s path to understanding her dysfunctional family and embracing her sexuality, pain and joy.

Maya Slaughter, Reporter

WAVE Productions will debut “Fun Home” this weekend at Norris University Center’s Louis Room. Based on Alison Bechdel’s memoir of the same name, the musical follows the journey of Bechdel’s life, capturing her identity and relationships as a child, an adolescent and an adult.

Director and Communication junior Tessa Kim said the show feels important to share. She said that, as college students, audiences will connect with 19-year-old Medium Alison, who explores the transformation and freedom she experiences in college. 

“I came out of the closet when I was a freshman in school, just like Alison,” Kim said. “That change just came with so much more growth, and that’s a feeling that’s captured in ‘Fun Home.’”

Kim added that having college-aged actors portraying characters ranging from 6 years old to mid 40s is something that makes the show special, as it allows people to resonate with 19-year-old Alison, relive life as a child and imagine what life looks like at older ages.

Communication sophomore Ella Gatlin portrays Alison at 43 years old. She watches her 10-year-old and 19-year-old counterparts, which gives her the space to notice and reflect on transformative moments from her younger years. 

“Alison, at each of those ages, is dealing with the same struggles throughout but is still changing and growing in really important ways,” Gatlin said. “‘Fun Home’ forces us to look back a lot as well as be scared of the future a little bit.” 

Kim added that, at 43, Alison is now as old as her father was in her childhood, which is an important relationship explored in the show. Watching the youngest Alison, she starts to notice little things about her dad that she accepted without questioning just because he was an adult. 

The performance utilizes theatre-in-the-round-style seating, which means that adult Alison often sits in the audience as she watches the younger versions of herself. According to producer and Communication junior Ryan Nguyen, any seat in the house will provide a unique experience and perspective, meaning that choosing another seat will allow audiences to view the show in a whole different light. 

“Theatre-in-the-round really encloses the space and allows for a lot of empathy, excitement, energy and motion to build up,” Nguyen said. 

Nguyen also mentioned feeling a strong sense of community, which is something the production team worked hard to build. He said the team of more than 40 members is made up of diverse, dedicated and passionate undergraduate designers, actors, musicians and production team members.

Nguyen said working with Kim has been a highlight of the process. 

“Tessa, who is the director, is genuinely my best friend in the entire world,” he said. “It’s just been great working on this with her and seeing all of her artistic visions come to light.”

Gatlin said the show utilized a different rehearsal schedule than most student theatre productions. By adding more weeks of rehearsals, the actors spent fewer hours each week working on the show. 

This schedule was more sustainable, Gatlin said. 

“I’m feeling a lot more relaxed as I go into tech week than I think I have in the past with shows that are longer rehearsals over a shorter period of time,” Gatlin said.

The team is also introducing an access guide which includes content warnings and sensory packs to make the show accessible. Nguyen reached out to members of the Rainbow Alliance and organized a local high school’s field trip to see the show so the story could reach as many people as possible.

Nguyen said he hopes people leave the show inspired by the themes of coming out, identity development and being true to yourself. 

Gatlin emphasized how powerful the message of “Fun Home” is. 

“It’s not just what I call fluff musical theatre,” Gatlin said. “You’re not just going to be sitting passively taking it in. It’s something you’re going to want to think about.”

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