Adventure And Swashbuckling Fun Coming Up With WonderQuest's Production Of SOPHIE AND THE PIRATES

Adventure And Swashbuckling Fun Coming Up With WonderQuest's Production Of SOPHIE AND THE PIRATESSet sail for adventure and swashbuckling fun with WonderQuest's production of Sophie and the Pirates

Setting sail this week, Sophie and the Pirates is a bold romp through the high seas, presented by WonderQuest, the Gainesville Theatre Alliance's theatre for young audiences. The show will cast off from Brenau University's historic Pearce Auditorium, 500 Washington Street SE, Gainesville, beginning Sept. 28.

Sophie Delamare is a young girl who longs for adventure on the open ocean. When a group of wacky buccaneers scoops her up, she learns how to sail a ship, chase (and fight) a villainous lady pirate, lead a crew... and, most important, that the greatest adventure she'll ever go on is finding herself. The show is chock full of quirky characters, jaw-dropping sword fights, and even a real pirate ship, right onstage.

WonderQuest is a recipient of the South Eastern Theater Conference's Sara Spencer Award for Excellence in Child Drama, and its parent organization the Gainesville Theater Alliance is nationally acclaimed collaboration between the University of North Georgia, Brenau University, theatre professionals, and the northeast Georgia community.

Sophie and the Pirates is an original story, conceived by playwright and director, Gay Hammond. It was inspired by tales of fictional and real pirates, including Alvida the Terrible, a mad pirate-Viking, and the villain of the production.

"I read a lot of pirate lore in my research," Hammond explained. "(And this script) focuses on images of both our expectations of pirates and the more humorous or loving 'mythology' of pirates, since real pirates were actually dangerous, murdering thieves-not exactly appropriate for a young audiences play!"

Sophie, slated as "Alice in Wonderland at sea", hopes to tell a more positive, non-violent story that preserves the pirate-y spirit of adventure.

The show isn't just for children, though. According to Hammond; "WonderQuest is never just for young audiences! Like the finest traditions of TYA [Theater for Young Audiences], we calibrate our shows so that there is something in them for all- some jokes or poignant moments are only for the adults watching, others only for seven year olds-but all of it is enjoyable and enriching."

Featuring both poignant poetry and the "argh"-filled dialogue we've come to expect from pirate tales, Sophie tells its story with plenty of wit, intelligence, and humor. The show features a bevy of hilarious pirates, including amputation-obsessed Dr. Leech; Boy, the pirate girl; and Peg Leg, who got the name from his father (who didn't have a peg leg, either). "I want the audience to feel that each person is uniquely interesting," says Hammond, "gifted-- often in surprising ways-and that it's okay to explore those gifts."

A few patrons may remember that GTA did Sophie and the Pirates 13 years ago.

"I love this script and the original production so much, I stayed away from it fearing I wouldn't allow new designers and actors to create something new," Hammond said. "But I'm ready, and no production is the same, because the designers bring fresh insight, the cast has a completely different take on the story, and the audiences are always new. That's why theatre is so lovely. It's ephemeral, changing in nature; its gift to us is in the moment, in the shared breath of each unique performance."

This production features a real pirate ship onstage, upon which the actors will run, jump, climb and even sword-fight. Designed by Nicholas Hilliard, a guest artist and GTA alum, this ship isn't a dirty, stinky one, but rather a fun, colorful fantasy land.

The costumes are also designed by a guest artist and 2006 Brenau GTA alum from the GTA training program, William Mellette, whose work has appeared at The La Jolla Playhouse and in Off-Broadway and National Tours, among others. Mellette cites paintings by N.C. Wyeth as his main source of inspiration for the show's costumes, as the team is going for a more romanticized image of pirates. Mellette took inspiration from the tales of Sinbad and Treasure Island, choosing to steer away from the traditional, Captain Hook-ish buccaneer that audiences have become so used to.

"The program has grown so much since I left," Mellette explaimed. "There's a fully functioning costume shop! When I was here... there was no costume person and the designers were changing all the time. There was no costume professor. Now we've got (Brenau's Costume Shop Supervisor) Aimee Johnson and (Brenau Professor and GTA Resident Costume Designer) Pamela Workman. There were six in my graduating class and now the department has grown to two-hundred people!"

Hammond and Mellette also indicated a desire to feature pirates of all nationalities on the stage, with characters of Persian, French and Viking origin playing predominant roles in the show. "What's the point of doing a story if you can't have everyone you want in it?" says Hammond. "Pirates came from all walks of life, educated people and peasants, but they represented the rebels of their society. They represented freedom (from societal laws), and that was the thing they had in common."

With so many different pirates running about (and swashbuckling) on the stage, Hammond cites the biggest challenge of the show as: "Having a pirate ship onstage, and finding new and interesting ways to move about it..." This, however, she says is also the most exciting part of the show.

"Usually those aspects of a show which challenge us the most are also the most exciting, because they stretch our creativity and ingenuity, honing our skills (and even creating new ones). I love pirate stories, and I love stories about girls who want adventure -- SOPHIE has all of these things."

Family performances for Sophie and the Pirates begin at 7:30 pm, Sept. 28, and run on Sept. 29, and Oct. 5 & 6, with a 2:30pm matinee on Sept. 30. There are special events associated with many of the performances, including several meet-the-actors receptions and a workshop for "young buccaneers." Details of these events and tickets are available at the GTA website: www.gainesvilleTHEATREalliance.org. Tickets are $10-12 for adults and $7-8 for children and students, depending on seat location and patrons can select and purchase seats on the website, by calling the GTA Box Office at 678-717-3624, Monday through Friday from 10am to 4pm.

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