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A journey to Middle Earth

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PAC pro-am production of 'The Hobbit' on stage this weekend

By Becca Owsley

Since J.R.R. Tolkien originally published the book “The Hobbit” in 1937, it has captivated readers and sent them on an adventure with 13 dwarfs, a wizard and a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins.

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The adventure unfolds live onstage this weekend at the Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center at John Hardin High School.

For the show’s cast and crew, bringing Middle Earth to the stage has been its own creative adventure.

PAC director Bart Lovins said with any piece of theater, it can’t be done like it’s been done before without putting a unique stamp on it. As with any production, it has its own challenges.

“The hurdles in this one are the vastness of the storytelling and the number of characters,” Lovins said. “Everything about it is bigger than life.”

The history behind the story, its characters, effects and journey all are larger than life, he said. The challenge is figuring out how to scale the scenes to fit the space and to fit the artistic development of the cast and crew, he said.

Lovins said he first found a script he liked and then started working with technical director Aaron Taylor to see what they could do with it.

As the show was cast and more came on board with the production, the pieces fell into place.

At first, the famous giant spiders used in the book were only going to be a PowerPoint animation and webs. After bringing Michael Chann on board, his puppetry experience was used to create a giant spider on stage.

The original concept was to have a spider that rolled on and off stage on a cart.

“That just won’t do,” Chann said.

He designed a spider that could come out of the pit and move around on stage on a backpack frame.

The music was another piece to the puzzle.

After auditions, Jeff Curtis was chosen as composer and musical director. He wrote music to the poetic songs in the original story and many other pieces that flow throughout the show.

The local production uses 27 musical pieces and 12 are songs.

It’s not a musical though, Curtis said, because in a musical, the story is being told through songs. In this production, songs enhance the story.

The “Misty Mountains” theme sung by the dwarfs is a continuing song throughout the show until the end of the journey, he said.

For Cann, the music brought the script alive and helped him imagine the mystical realm.

Taylor said the music was the first part of the production that helped them understand the world they wanted to present on stage.

For costumes, Lovins had the cast read the novel and come back with notes on what their characters looked like and who they thought they were.

Cast members were tasked in coming up with their own costumes under the supervision of costume master Catt Fitzgerald.

When many come into costuming, they think about making a cool outfit, Fitzgerald said. She helped them realize they needed to create a costume that fit into the environment, seeing the importance in little details and how it helps tell the story.

The children playing dwarfs made their own beards out of thick yarn. There also are a lot of prosthetic elf ears and a few hobbit feet, she said.

Fitzgerald stressed they were making their own world and not recreating a version of Middle Earth that was seen before.

After those pieces came together, Taylor set the rest of the look by dressing the stage in with lighting.

Originally, the thought was to create several set pieces. But Taylor said the novel’s scope was much too big considering the time it would take to build them and the busy schedule of the PAC.

So Lovins and Taylor tried to decide how they would scale back. After going through several plans that once included cut outs based on original drawings from the book, it was decided to use a PowerPoint system to project images as the set design and lighting to set the scene, Taylor said.

A lot of trust is being placed in the audience to let them fill in gaps with their imagination and see things such as dragons through the lights and sounds on stage, Lovins said.

With no big pieces or long blackout periods onstage for set changes, the transitions are more fluid, almost like turning the pages of a book, Taylor said.

Taylor said they developed some techniques that grew from last year’s performance of “Macbeth.”

Through costumes, music, puppets and lighting, the production will bring Tolkien’s Middle Earth to life on stage, Taylor said.

Becca Owsley can be reached at 270-505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.