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A “strange” twist on The Turn of the Screw

If you’re looking for a bit of sinister psychological drama to round out your week, the Colwell Playhouse at Krannert Center is where you want to be this evening. The Builder’s Association, an experimental theater company out of New York, will be bringing their adaptation of Henry James’ 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw to the stage at Krannert. The novella was originally published as a weekly serial in Collier’s Weekly, and since that publication it’s been adapted in numerous ways for both stage and screen, maybe most notably as The Innocents, the 1961 film adaptation. It’s a classic Gothic ghost story set in a remote English country manor with just a few central characters, namely a governess and her two charges, who’s lives become entangled with ghosts haunting the grounds. The Builder’s Association will be stretching the boundaries of the story with their production STRANGE WINDOW.

From their website: “The company uses the richness of new and old tools to extend the boundaries of theater. Based on innovative collaborations, Builders’ productions blend stage performance, text, video, sound, and architecture to tell stories about human experience in the 21st century.” And they’ve been doing so in collaboration with Krannert over a number of years. This particular work was co-commissioned by Krannert, and this will be it’s premiere. Director Marianne Weems spoke to the long-standing relationship between the two entities.

“Our relationship to the Krannert Center has been central to the life of the company. Under the leadership of Mike Ross, the Krannert Center has become known nationally as an advocate for this kind of adventurous art and their support both on the stage and behind the scenes has been so important to our last several productions.” Their production CONTINUOUS CITY, which included a collaboration with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, premiered at Krannert in 2008, and since then there have been several long residencies here. Weem continues, “We love working in the Colwell Playhouse and at this point it’s become a kind of second home.” She adds that Mike Ross is known as “Saint Mike” across the American theater scene.

So what makes the work of The Builder’s Association experimental? Weems elaborates on what sets them apart. “Rather than beginning with an existing script and faithfully reproducing that on the stage, experimental theater innovates form and content to create a new reading. Our work experiments in several ways — the impact of the technology involved in our performances often is considered a nontraditional approach and creates a stage picture that is half digital and half theater. I like to think of it as a contemporary reflection of the world we are living in.” 

This is not the first time they’ve used existing text to develop a new production. It falls in line with previous endeavors: HOUSE/DIVIDED, a “mashup of The Grapes of Wrath with the 2008 mortgage-backed securities crisis,” and THE ELEMENTS OF OZ, which “examined the many constituencies which have taken possession of that story and created allegories from it.” According to James Gibbs, writer and dramaturg, “the company is interested in new possibilities for staging stories and ideas, and, in a way, beginning with a known story is a great laboratory for this work; when the audience already has a sense of the body of a story, our ‘surgeries’ on that body are more legible. All of that said, we want to begin with compelling stories that lend themselves to further investigation and study and which might create some resonance with contemporary issues.” This particular adaptation of The Turn of the Screw draws inspiration from the aforementioned film The Innocents, and will use film and photography to help recreate its creepy, Gothic feel.

While The Builder’s Association is based out of New York, they have pulled in local talent for this particular production. Seven year old Finley Tarr and 12 year old Joe Solava will portray Flora and Miles, the two young children in the story. According to Weems, “they have both been highly professional and a complete joy to have in theater.”
After the premiere this evening, the production travels to UC Santa Cruz and then will have it’s New York City premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in December.

STRANGE WINDOW premieres tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Krannert’s Colwell Playhouse. There are still a few tickets available, which you can purchase here.

Photos from Krannert Center and The Builder’s Association Facebook page

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