A quest begins! Dragons lurk in caves. Diabolic beasts wait around nearly every twist and turn of the trail. But, if the heroes are brave and loyal, a triumphant ending is in store. Fantasy has long since delighted young and old alike. Although this very visual genre offers a great many challenges to a director, it can be a very fulfilling experience to both the audience and the artists.
The following plays are some of the most popular fantasy stories in the history of children’s literature. With the right elements, each of these stage adaptations can be transformed into a top-notch production.
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
Many artistic mediums have brought the world of Narnia to life. Literature, radio, television, animation, and film have each interpreted C.S. Lewis’ work. Yet the stage play adaptation of this fantasy classic possesses immense charm and sincerity.
Production Challenges: Lots of fantastical set pieces and imaginative costumes make this a difficult show to perform without an extravagant budget (or a very forgiving audience!)
Production Advantages: This highly moral story of good versus evil offers a wide range of characters for actors of various ages. Performers get the rare opportunity of playing intelligent animals, enchanted creatures, and heroic children.
Casting Advice: It’s a plus if the children can pull off a British accent. It’s an even bigger plus if they can reverently gasp “Aslan!” on a continual basis! Much of the believability depends on how the child actors respond to the magical creatures. If they are genuinely in awe, the audience will feel that same sense of wonder.
Script available at Dramatic Publishing.
Adapted by Edward Mast, this prequel to Lord of the Rings captures the essence of this magical quest—though it does skip a few parts of the book. J.R.R. Tolkien spins the wondrous tale of Bilbo Baggins, the unlikely hero who learns that there is more to life than relaxing in the Shire. The stage play is simple enough that it could be performed by junior high students. Yet, the themes are sophisticated enough to warrant a professional production.
Production Challenges: The large cast consists almost entirely of male characters. If this is performed by a school or children’s theater, the many young actresses who audition may be disappointed to find themselves cast as a beard-clad dwarf!
Production Advantages: The sets can consist of a number of fantasy forest and cave backdrops. The look can also be enhanced with a skilled lighting and sound designer.
Casting Advice: With the right cast, this can be a fun play to use both child actors (as dwarves and hobbits) and adults (as Gandalf, Goblins, and Gollum). More faithful productions have cast adults in all parts, selecting shorter actors for the “vertically-challenged” characters.
The Reluctant Dragon
So many fantasy stories end with a dragon being slain. Imaginary-animal activists will be happy to know that at least one show is sympathetic to the plight of these endangered magical beasts. Though a tale of fantasy, this version by Mary Hall Surface teaches a valuable lesson of the dangers of prejudice.
Production Challenges: Some creative costuming is required to make the title character look dragon-like. Other than that, this is a very easy to produce play.
Production Advantages: The script is short, sweet, and to the point. It runs about sixty minutes, and sports a small cast of eight players.
Not all fantasies contain wizards and monsters. Some of the best imaginary tales present a single magical element. In the case of Tuck Everlasting, a family drinks from a supernatural spring and attains eternal life, for better or for worse.
Production Disadvantages: Mark Frattaroli’s adaptation of Natalie Babbitt’s beloved novel is not yet available through publishing companies. However, since 1991, it has been performed at several regional theaters such as the Magic Theatre Company.
Production Advantages: If a playhouse manages to get the rights to Tuck Everlasting, the Chicago Playworks company has created a very handy guide for drama teachers and students.