Stevens High School players dive into history and fantasy in ‘Jabberwock Asylum’ | Education

When students at Stevens High School perform “Jabberwock Asylum” this week, they’ll immerse themselves in the fantastical, dreamlike imagination of Lewis Carroll. They will also explore a seemingly different realm: the historical world of asylums in the late 1800s.

“The way I was writing it is very mirror-like,” said Stephen Farruggia, theater director for Stevens High School – and author of the play. “Wonderland is one side of it; Jabberwock Asylum is what I would consider a darker reflection of the same.

Stevens will host two home shows, at 7 p.m. at the Milo Winter Theater at Stevens High School this Monday and Tuesday. Tickets are $3 for K-12 students and $5 for adults. They will be sold at the door.

The play, involving more than 50 students on and off stage, will be part of the South Dakota High School Activities Association’s State One Act Play Festival entries, to be held Feb. 3, 4, and 5 at Rapid City Central High. School. His scheduled performance time for the festival is at 4:15 p.m. on Saturday, February 5.

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The asylum that Farruggia creates in the play is rooted in history. Farruggia researched asylums in the 1880s – this one is in England – and based most of his characters on historical fact. Somehow he did it while winking at the fantasy world that lit up Lewis Carroll’s mind.

“Jabberwock Asylum” is set in 1888, with Alice grown up – and committed to an asylum after a difficult journey through her young adult life. She also tries to figure out how real what she remembers of her childhood experiences in Wonderland might be.

The play sent the cast of Stevens High School in various directions of preparation, listening to audio tracks of works such as Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, or reading these works from printed texts.

Ansley Eddy Senior plays the Cheshire Cat. Ahead of a recent rehearsal, Eddy talked about reading Carroll’s writing, reading the script, and drawing inspiration from Farruggia’s direction.

“I kind of figured out that the Cheshire Cat isn’t exactly friendly all the time,” she said.

Eddy worked hard on movement, dancing to practice walking like a cat and studying his own cat to absorb some subtle feline traits.

Kenna Stewart, a senior playing Alice, said she enjoyed immersing herself in such a challenging play — something, she said, high school actors don’t always get the chance to do. Alice, suggested Stewart, leads the audience down a disturbing path.

“I think she makes people worried and also sad,” Stewart said. “One of the things she does for the show is to walk the audience through the plot – and through her interactions with other characters, you realize how scary everyone is. She’s a bit like the treadmill.

Noah Westergaard plays Dr. Carroll, Alice’s childhood doctor who helps her try to reconstruct her past. And the character’s name, Farruggia noted, pays homage to Lewis Carroll.

“Throughout the play, she talks about wanting to go back to Wonderland,” said Westergaard, an elderly person. “Her being here bothers her because (Wonderland) is where she found peace.”

Westergaard also noted that Alice sees connections between the patients of the asylum and the characters she remembers from Wonderland – connections that make the asylum all the more unsettling for her.

Tae Swanson plays Dr. Scarlett, head of the asylum. Swanson said she was struck by the historical parallels between this fictional asylum and the real ones that existed at the time. Swanson, an elderly person, said she had done extensive research on asylums and the people who populated them.

“A lot of times it wasn’t the people who were really crazy,” she said. “They were immigrants, they were poor – or people who talked too much.”

Reflecting on that history, Swanson said, is unsettling.

“That’s what scares me,” she said. “It happened to a lot of people a long time ago. To think that it could actually happen to someone not just on stage but in real life is very scary.

This historic connection is something Farruggia has worked hard to develop.

“There are correlations between the real people who lived during that time” and many characters, he said. “It really is a fictional-historical weave. There is a lot of history that is wrapped up. And for one of the characters, his name is derived from a real historical (figure) who, oddly enough, looked so much like a character from Wonderland that it was just weird and kinda weird.

Farruggia also noted how asylums were used to confine people who created trouble or discomfort.

“If there were girls who were too bratty or outspoken and (their fathers) just didn’t want to take care of them anymore, they might have them committed and forgotten about,” he said. “It was a place to put people and forget them.”

With “Jabberwock Asylum” on stage, they may become a little harder to forget.

“Jabberwock Asylum” was first produced in 2016-2017 by Seraphim Theatrical Entertainment, Rapid City, described on its website as “the joint creation of the dynamic duo Husband and Wife, Bridgett J. Farruggia and Stephen Farruggia”.

Those looking for information on the production of Stevens High School can visit stevenshightheatre.com.

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