“Pippi Longstocking”comes to UNCG

Photo courtsey of Jody Kaizen

Photo courtsey of Jody Kaizen

Mary Windsor
   Staff Writer

The UNCG Theatre Department’s production of “Pippi Longstocking” opens November 13th, starting off with a “pay what you can” preview showing at 7:30 p.m. The performances will run through the 22nd.

Claire Simpson is directing UNCG’s production of “Pippi Longstocking.” Simpson is a UNCG graduate student pursuing her MFA in Theatre for Youth. She is primarily a director and occasionally goes into classrooms to teach drama to young students. This production will be what other departments may label as a “final thesis,” but in Simpson’s department they call it a Master Production.

Simpson began looking at titles of potential plays for the project last spring. She needed to pick a play that would complete the season and be able to stay in tune with production expense requirements and cast size for the UNCG undergraduate theatre students.

“Pippi really appealed to me,” Simpson said as she explained why she chose to direct “Pippi Longstocking.”

“She’s sort of a unique character,” she continued. “She’s unusual and special. She doesn’t buy into adult notions of what a child is supposed to be.”

“Pippi Longstocking” was originally a Swedish novel written by Astrid Lindgren. The UNCG production is Simpson’s and her crew’s adaptation of the novel.

In the play, the main character, Pippi Longstocking, takes a Swedish town by storm. Slowly, the town starts to warm up to her because she is charming and loving.

Simpson was inspired to engage in the art of theatre when a touring high school theatre group came to her classroom when she was in elementary school and performed.

Even though she doesn’t remember what the performance was, she still remembers the feeling it gave her.

“I remember thinking, as a kindergartner, that gosh it looks like they’re having so much fun,” Simpson said.

She went on to become involved in theatre in high school and continued to study theatre for her undergraduate degree at Brenau University in Georgia.

Before coming to UNCG, Simpson was involved in a theatre program called Florida Repertory Theatre. She worked professionally there as the education director and oversaw programs such as classroom programs and conservatory programs for young people, as well as directing the touring programs that would go out into schools during the year.

“Theatre is a small world,” she laughed. “I think everyone says that about their industry. But someone I worked with told me about Greensboro’s Theatre for Young Audiences program. On a whim I came up here, visited and interviewed and was here within the year.”

She is currently in her third semester of four at UNCG, going through an intensive 60 credit hour, two year degree. In April of her first year she was offered a graduate assistantship.

She has directed three shows while at UNCG, starting with a small one-act show two semesters ago and a musical called “Danny Girl” last spring.

Simpson began planning the production of “Pippi Longstocking” with designers before the beginning of the fall semester. The process began with a conversation regarding what the play was about, what they wanted to tell, what they thought was important and how they wanted to portray it on stage.

This is Simpson’s first time working on a show with this big of a budget and human resource component.

“There are a lot of people working very hard, and it’s amazing to see all our sparks and ideas the designers had in their heads come to life,” Simpson said. “It’s a huge undertaking and number of labor hours.”

Simpson is looking forward to getting young children to view the show. The show will be open to adult audiences, but for three days, about 500 children will file in daily to view “Pippi Longstocking.”

“I’m just really looking forward to sharing this with a young audience,” Simpson emphasized. “I think that will be when everything will come full circle, it will all come together – what we’ve created for them. What holds it all together will be the kids that get to see the end product.”

The cast has been preparing “Pippi Longstocking” in rehearsals since Sept. 27. When working with a large crew in theatre, many challenges come into play, such as engaging in constructive disagreements regarding choosing cast members, deciding how to create a moment and exploring different ways a cast member will deliver a scene. The director, cast and crew have had to continuously collaborate with one another to prepare the final product.

As the director, Simpson works with the designers to interpret the script into a visual world.

“As a director, you read the script a lot and decide what it’s saying. From there you move into the rehearsal room,” Simpson explained. “That’s where you shape the cast and where you’ll place them on stage and what that portrays to the audience in a succinct way.”

Simpson wants the audience to know that even though “Pippi Longstocking” was written for young people, this production is meant for anyone to enjoy.

“We’ve all been children before,” Simpson said. “Some part of us on the inside, we’re still children in a lot of ways. Even as adults, a lot of the same conflicts and themes still ring true.”

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Upcoming A&E Events, Visual & Performance

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