NarniaWeb Interviews Prince Caspian Director Nicole Stratton
If you have the opportunity to attend a performance of Prince Caspian at the Logos Theatre, I highly recommend also getting a backstage pass. The cast and crew take the time to talk about their experiences, and they also demonstrate some of the tricks they used for the effects. And they encourage everyone to take a selfie with Aslan.
Nicole Stratton, who is the writer and director as well as playing the Nurse, graciously stayed after the backstage pass was finished to talk with me.
Approximately ⅓ of the people working on Prince Caspian are either staff or students at the Academy of Arts ministry. Others are from all over. John Harrett (Trumpkin) flew in from California. He said the character is a lot of fun.
Jeremiah Johnson (Peter) started with the Academy of Arts and Logos Theatre when he was five years old. He said he had known a little about Narnia before he got the role, but didn’t look at the movies.
“I read Prince Caspian to learn about Peter,” Jeremiah Johnson said.
Reading the book was an ongoing theme throughout most of the conversations. Sam Singleton (Caspian) said that he had pulled as little from the movie as possible.
“We care about the books too,” Zachary Johnson (Doctor Cornelius) said when he learned I was from NarniaWeb.
“I made a very strong point not to look at [the movie] or think on it or pay any attention to it,” said Stratton. “I just felt like the book was sufficient and if I could just get inside the book and really allow the book and what Lewis was saying in the book to touch my heart and let it speak then I would be fine. The books are pretty awesome.”
Another topic that everyone talked about was working directly with Douglas Gresham.
“I did not expect to get to Gresham,” Stratton said. “Because I was writing the script, I sent it, I was first dealing with a secretary, and then apparently I think he got a look at the script and started to be the one to vet it.”
They raised money to bring him over for the first three performances.
“I started talking to him more and more, we were talking and talking and then he said he would really love to see it on stage and I kind of took that as a little bit of a sign. I invited him, I was like ‘Lord, give me grace, I’m going to invite this man,’” Stratton said.
Gresham spent an entire week promoting the play and talking with the cast and crew. He also arm-wrestled some of the kids.
“I’m left-handed, so I beat him with my left, but he beat me right-handed,” Jeremiah Johnson said with a grin on his face.
There were many challenges bringing Prince Caspian to the stage, one of which was the story itself. Stratton had to determine what changes were going to be made and then get Gresham’s approval.
“At first they weren’t going to let me write any Telmarines that weren’t mentioned in the book, but I was really wanting to connect you somehow to the person who has to be sent through. So I did a rewrite again, and I sent it with Jaco in there and Anwen and I was like, please. And he really loved it, so I was glad that he let me keep that in there,” said Stratton.
When asked what was the most important thing to get right, Stratton responded without much hesitation.
“I think for me the most important thing has been Aslan through all of it, that we portray him accurately, that we give him that respect that he so deserves, that majesty that you feel, that feeling when they say that he’s not a tame lion, that he’s good. So you feel the sense of awe, but you also feel the calmness. So when he comes, and what I really wanted to get across in the story was what the story taught me, was being willing first off, to follow Aslan, eyes on him, following alone and be willing to follow alone, and when hardships come not feeling like he’s abandoned you, that he’s always there, and that even if we can’t see him or hear him he’s with us,” Stratton said.
And then Stratton mentioned all the other things that were important to her.
“And I also really wanted to get right, there were so many things I wanted to get right, the whole book, I was like ‘oh, the whole book I want to get it right!’” Stratton said.
Trumpkin and Aslan meeting was another important part.
“I just, I felt like in the movie it did not show what it feels like when you have not believed at all, and then when you come face to face with the truth is he’s real. And then Trumpkin comes, and then when Aslan says so beautifully, ‘shall we be friends?’ you know? [laughs] It’s wonderful to show his love. His love in this book, his love for individuals. It was really important for me to show how he individually cared and spoke and taught each one of the four and Trumpkin and how he cares,” Stratton said.
Another addition that Stratton hoped Gresham would let her keep is the expanded role of the Nurse.
“[Gresham] let me keep my locket idea too, to give you that little emotional tie there. To let her know, to let people know that I think it’s hard when you’re a parent and you’re trying to raise up your children, some people have only a little bit of time . . . and those times that you’ve had it’s not a waste and God was in it. He’s with them, and so it’s important I think for the nurse to know that her investment in what they did even in the little bit of time that they had together it lasted. It’s eternal, it never ends,” said Stratton.
One of the structural changes Stratton made is beginning the play with the Telmarine backstory.
“I read the book a lot, and then I listened to the audio, and I was working in my kitchen one day and I heard ‘many years ago, in a world far from Narnia’. You know, when it gets to the end of the book and I said ‘ah, that’s the beginning’,” Stratton said.
Why have the nurse tell it?
“To try to tell [Caspian] where he came from, his heritage, how important it is, how he can be different if he follows Aslan,” Stratton said.
Another structural challenge was balancing the duel and the romp, which occur within the same time-frame in the book, but are divided into separate chapters.
“So when they’re in the middle of fighting, you see the girls coming out, I’m trying to say these two things are happening at the same time, and then I also wanted to say to my audience that even though Peter can’t see Aslan, Aslan is with him. So that’s why I put Aslan in the exact same spot where Peter and Miraz were dueling,” Stratton said.
In addition to the story itself, there were also several technical challenges the production crew had to figure out. Some of the pieces, such as the Aslan puppet, were reused from the Logos Theatre’s production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but other pieces were brand new, and nearly everything was made in-house.
One of the new pieces is the Destrier puppet, which weighs over 100 lbs and is operated by three puppeteers.
A few of the most challenging special effects were the Telmarine disappearing through the door, the ocean that the Pevensies play in, and Beruna’s Bridge.
“I think the bridge was very challenging, because not only does it have to break apart it has to break apart every time and go back together,” Stratton said.
The production crew had several brainstorming sessions to throw around ideas about how they could make it all work.
“That’s how it all starts. It starts with an idea,” said Joe Hainsworth, who is the set designer and plays Sopespian.
Another challenging effect was Reepicheep’s tail growing back. Stratton explained to me how they made it work, but insisted Narnia fans would have to come and see it for themselves.
What’s up next at Logos?
Hainsworth confirmed that they are planning on doing The Magician’s Nephew next. It might not be next year, but according to Stratton, “It’s going good.”
“Magician’s Nephew, I’m trying to be patient, I know I’ve got to take my time doing it, but we’re going to run Prince Caspian a little longer just to give people more time to spread the word and come see it but then we’ll move on. I want to end up doing all the books,” Stratton said.
Why not The Voyage of the Dawn Treader next?
“Our stage isn’t big enough to do Voyage yet. The ship I have in my head needs to be a lot taller. We really need a new building” said Stratton.
Stratton said her goal is to eventually have a large theater that’s solely doing full-scale productions of C.S. Lewis’ works, but they don’t have the money for that yet.
“We know the Lord’s going to, you know, do it if He’s going to do it, and if not we’re just going to stay faithful where He has us and we’re loving what He’s having us do right now, so we’re just going to keep moving as He provides,” Stratton said.
In the meantime, Narnia fans can look forward to a documentary about the making of Prince Caspian, which will be available to buy online. According to Hainsworth they’re trying to have it done before the end of this summer’s run.