Artistic Director, Diane Crews, knew that the biggest challenge in mounting DreamWrights’ next play, The Secret Garden, would be the number of scenes and locations needed. So, instead of the traditional proscenium seating configuration, Crews and her crew felt that this production would lend itself best to an alley configuration, a form of theatrical staging in which the stage is surrounded on two sides by the audience. Crews explains, “Alley staging will allow for the action to take place on both ends [of the alley] and up and down and in the middle of the audience. There will be five different acting areas including a home in India, the interior of the Manor in England, the Manor’s front garden, outside of the British home, the village, the moor, and of course the secret garden.”
Crews is excited. “It’s a wonderful format that lets the audience use their imaginations right along with the actors. We can all see the wall around the garden, and at the same time be able to see right through it.” But, when Crews first pitched the alley staging idea to Guest Set Designer, Allen Brenner, he wasn’t sold. Brenner explains, “Alley staging presents several challenges. One is the sightline. With the set in this configuration, I have to try to do as much dimensional stuff as possible and it has to be low profile.” Even the blocking can be a challenge, he says. “You have to consider what audiences can see, what you want them to see, then make sure that they can actually see it.”
But after some consideration and in brainstorming with Crews, Brenner agreed that with all of the different and faraway scenes in the play, alley is a great option. “Alley provides separate locals for the audience so it gives the feel of different places.” For example, Brenner reveals that on one end of the alley will be the scene of the English manor and the other end of the alley will be scenes in India. “Alley staging gives me a lot of territory to work with. It makes it a lot of fun.” Brenner also points out that it will require the audience to participate more in the action, as they will feel the movement from one end of the corridor to the other and in between.
DreamWrights is pleased to have the talents of Guest Set Designer, Allen Brenner, for this production. Brenner’s design hasn’t appeared at DreamWrights since The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 2010, and it will beautifully transform the audience to faraway lands including the fascinating secret garden. According to Brenner, alley staging is less common than the traditional proscenium. It has rarely been done before at DreamWrights, and as far as he knows, possibly never elsewhere in York.You can count on The Secret Garden to be a unique experience. Call it an adventure, one that will take you from India to England to a secret garden. You won’t want to miss it.