Off the Shelf: Read “The Giver,” and see MLC production

I was a latecomer to the young adult book “The Giver” by Lois Lowry, and I checked it out only because Sue O. wouldn’t stop talking about it when we worked together. Once I started it, I couldn’t put it down, and I sure knew why Sue was raving. Beautiful writing, compelling characters, enough suspense to keep a reader guessing – all wrapped up in a dystopian setting. And Lowry published the book in 1993, long before dystopia became cool.

So I read “The Giver” last year, thought it was great, moved on to the next book on my pile, and didn’t give it much thought again until I heard that Martin Luther College Forum was planning to present the stage version. Actually, I got an e-mail from the play’s producer, Kristi Koelpin, wondering whether the library would partner on a program. We quickly agreed on an event that would provide a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a play. We called it Backstage Pass, and it happened last week.

Not too many people showed up for the program, but those of us who did had a fantastic experience. We learned about the sound system and how the sound technician pulled together effects that were approved by the director. And how the sound and light technicians have coordinated to bring Jonas’s visions to life. The heartbeat effect was particularly inspired.

Our next stop was the set, and the set managers shared how they worked with Kristi’s ideas to develop three areas on the stage. My favorite was the Giver’s office, which had loads of books all over the floor and a giant bookcase that was being painted by talented MLC students.

We saw the green room, which seemed to be the hangout for the cast and crew. Lots of chairs, a beat-up couch – it was so cozy and inviting I got a little nostalgic for my college days. There’s work done in the green room, though, because that’s where hair and makeup reside. I had no idea actors use white makeup on their eyelids to make their eyes pop. And props also are located in the green room, which is how I found out that all those books on stage actually were boxed up in the prop area.

Finally, we went back to the stage and met most of the actors. There were freshmen and seniors, novices and veterans represented, and I think all of them had read “The Giver” before they auditioned. The director and three of the actors worked on a scene, so we saw some of the stage directions. And then the director let the actors finish the scene – teasing me just enough that I can’t wait to see the full production.

I was amazed by the professionalism of the cast and crew and by their willingness to spend time presenting Backstage Pass. The production is entirely student-run, so these gifted young people are preparing a fantastic play while working as full-time students. And they all seemed as genuinely pleased to present this behind-the-scenes event as we were to attend. I hope this is only the first of many Backstage Pass collaborations.

I’ll be in the audience this weekend (the schedule is Friday, Feb. 21 and Saturday, Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 23 at 2 p.m.) enjoying the show and knowing just how much thought, time, and effort went into the production.

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