Lessons Learned from Charlotte’s Web

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.”

13335687_1365841793442384_6711348846788566165_nThis is one of the most famous lines from the show, and for good reason. This is how Charlotte expresses her gratitude for Wilbur letting her into his life, and now I would like to use it to thank all of you for letting us involved with the show into your life.

Working on this show has helped me to see the important things in life: the friendships we make and how they change us for the better. At the beginning, Wilbur is so concerned about living a long and happy life. He only thinks of himself and the things he may miss out on. However, once he makes friends with Charlotte and the other animals, he sees that the life he has already lived was great. There is more to life than just living a nice, comfortable life. His friends teach him that, and soon he begins to look outside of himself.

Wilbur becomes a better animal because of Charlotte and the barn animals. They teach him selflessness, cooperation, kindness, and inclusion. He heart is marked with their lessons and it helps him to see the importance in life. That is what makes Charlotte’s Web so special: we get to see Wilbur go on this incredible journey, and by the end he is a completely different pig from who we see at the beginning of the play. At first, Wilbur laments about wanting someone to love him, and by the time the show ends he is ready to extend love to others, which he learned from his friends.

The relationships that have been formed because of this show alone would make E.B. White smile. Friendships have been forged within the cast, the design team, the crew, and with you. That truly is an amazing thing, and hopefully that helped you to understand the themes of the play a little better. Continue reading

A Lobby Display Fit For a Pig

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

E.B. White’s tale about a pig and a spider has lasted for generations. But why? In my opinion, it is because the beauty the lies within the simplicity of the story. There is no fanfare, just a straightforward story that warms the heart.

What impressed me the most with Shawnda and Bradley’s concept for the show was how they were able to capture this simplicity– yet it was still able to encapsulate White’s timeless tone. On the stage stands the basic construction of a barn, with a fence on the side and a few small crates scattered around. Nothing much, but it is just right to convey this special story of Wilbur and Charlotte.

For my lobby display, I wanted to convey a timeless barn that would introduce the audience into Wilbur’s world. The items chosen for the display are all of this classic farm ideal that I have had in my head since I was small. Good, old fashioned tools and items that Zuckerman could use or Wilbur would find in his home were the types of things I used.

IMG_3953I wanted audiences to already feel like they are at the farm before they even see the Zuckerman barn. These things are what I imagined Lurvy and Homer would use whenever they go about their general work on the farm–and things Wilbur would use as a scratching post! It’s simple, but that is what Charlotte’s Web is all about after all! IMG_3947When you walk into the lobby, explore the display! Immerse yourself in the different things that could be found on a farm. What types of things are included in the displays that you already knew could be seen on a farm? What are some items that surprised you? Could you see our beloved characters working with or living among these simple tools? Continue reading

Salutations! Meet the Cast Part 3

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

Meagan Flinders (Charlotte A. Cavatica)

Who is your favorite character in the show? Why? I love Templeton because he is an absolute riot, especially with Teagan’s portrayal of the character; and I really do love Charlotte as well because she embodies numerous character traits that I aspire to attain someday.

What is your f12715817_1201491156544971_7995959460323895769_navorite line from the show? “Scratch itchy places by rubbing against the fence” and “…what’s in a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little, we die. By helping you, maybe I was lifting up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”


Did you have a favorite book growing up? If so, what was it? 
Before I could read, my parents would always read me Love You Because; Goodnight, Moon; and Guess How Much I Love You. As I got grew up,  I read Eva Ibbotson’s Island of The Aunts and The Secret of Platform 13 and Sharon Creech’s Heartbeat more times than I can remember.

Who was your childhood best friend? What did you two do together?  My childhood best friend was Shaelynne Cottle. We got Subway on our carpool home from school on Fridays, had sleepovers after watching Barbie movies, went tubing in the lake close to her house, roasted hot dogs and smore’s and jumped on the trampoline in her backyard,  and choreographed our own dances for our parents to enjoy.

What are you most excited about with Charlotte’s Web I am extremely excited to incorporate aerial silks in the show. It has been such a privilege to be able to learn this skill,  and I think it enhances Charlotte’s character and relationships immensely. That, and the fact that it’s both exciting and terrifying to be able to play such a beloved character, makes this show that much more to look forward to.

Favorite animal?  My last name means “butterfly” in Dutch, so I’m inclined to say butterflies are my favorite, but if I could have whatever I wanted, my house would have too many dogs to count, my backyard would be a pasture filled with horses, and then some butterflies would be able to inhabit the garden in my front yard.

If you lived on a farm, what do you think you’d like the most about it? I would like the opportunity to ride horses when I wasn’t working and generally being around animals all day. Continue reading

Salutations! Meet the Cast Part 2

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

Get to know some more of our human characters in Charlotte’s Web! The next post will highlight the resident animals on Zuckerman’s farm!

Stacy Wilk (Narrator)

Who is your favorite character in the show? Why? My favorite character in the show is Charlotte. I really like her because she is kind and selfless. She does everything in her power to help others out and I really admire that.

stacyWhat is your favorite line from the show? My favorite line is “At the fair!”

Did you have a favorite book growing up? If so, what was it? My favorite book growing up was the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

Who was your childhood best friend? What did you two do together? My childhood best friend was Bryce. She lived up the street from me and we would hang out almost everyday. We loved to play outside and put on little plays.

What are you most excited about with Charlotte’s WebI’m excited to tell this well-known story and let it change people for the better.

Favorite animal? My favorite animal is a snow leopard.

If you lived on a farm, what do you think you’d like the most about it? If I lived on a farm, what I would like the most is being in the open, fresh air and also taking care of the animals on the farm!

Camilla Hodgson (Fair Announcer)

Who is your favorite character in the show? Why?  I love Charlotte. She is graceful, smart, and completely selfless. Continue reading

Salutations! Meet the Cast Part 1

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

Before you come to visit us at the Zuckerman farm, we figured it would be a good idea if you got to know a little bit about the cast. Over the next few posts, members of the cast will answer a few questions so you can get better acquainted!

Kennedy Brandon (Baby Spider, Fair Goer)

Who is your favorite character in the show? Why? Wilbur because he is the silliest.

DSC_8354What is your favorite line from the show? “What are your names? May I have your names please?”

What was your favorite book growing up? Hop on Pop by Dr. Suess

Who was/is your childhood best friend? Lydia

What did you two do together? We Like to play in the snow together!

What are you most excited about with Charlotte’s WebWearing a cute costume and being onstage.

Favorite animal? Puppy

If you lived on a farm, what do you think you’d like the most about it? Riding horses

Carter Brandon (Fair goer)

Who is your favorite character in the show? WhyCarterWilbur because he has great facial expressions.

What is your favorite line from the show? “I bet he’s the finest pig we’ve seen today!”

What was your favorite book growing up? Piggie and Gerald Series by Mo Willems

Who was/is your childhood best friend? Coleton

What did you two do together? We have lots of fun jumping on the trampoline and riding bikes!

What are you most excited about with Charlotte’s WebGetting to dress up in costumes.

Favorite animal? Elephant

If you lived on a farm, what do you think you’d like the most about it? Getting to know about different animals.

Mason Brandon (Fair goer)

Who is your favorite character in the show? Why? Wilbur. I really like his personality– he’s funny.

What is your masonfavorite line from the show? “It’s either
freedom, or the frying pan!”

What was your favorite book growing up? Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman

Who was/is your childhood best friend? Issac, Gage, Kail, and Bear

What did you two do together? We play video games together.

What are you most excited about with Charlotte’s WebGetting to perform in it.

Favorite animal? Monkey

If you lived on a farm, what do you think you’d like the most about it? Lots of open spaces.

Jane Miller (Fair goer and Baby Spider)

Who is your favorite character in the show? Why? Charlotte is my favorite because she is very confident.

What is your favorite line from the show? “They are fattening you up so they can kill you.”

What wasJane your favorite book growing up? Go Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman

Who was/is your childhood best friend? Grace is one of my best friends.

What do you two do together? One day we sold half slices of toasts door to door and we made $33.00!

What are you most excited about with Charlotte’s WebI am most excited to be onstage and perform.

Favorite animal? A dolphin

If you lived on a farm, what do you think you’d like the most about it? If I lived on a farm I would love to have my own horse and ride her every day.

Connor Dahle (Baby Wilbur)

Continue reading

The Creation of a Classic

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

What compelled E.B. White to write Charlotte’s Web? And perhaps more importantly, why has this children’s book remained so popular among all those who read it?

GrowEB_White_and_his_dog_Minnie (1)ing up, White always had a special bond with animals. This love led to him raising a variety pets as a child, from dogs to pigeons to turtles. One of his first writing awards came from a story he wrote about a dog that he submitted to  a local magazine. It was clear from the beginning that he had a knack for writing about animals!

Once his career took off, White found himself writing columns and essays for The New Yorker. While he loved what he did there, he felt like he could try something new. In 1945, White published his first children’s book: Stuart Little. This tale  revolves around the life of a mouse who is raised by humans and documents the crazy adventures he finds himself in. It is no surprise that White chose an animal as his main character, given his history!

After the success of his first children’s book, White decided to do another. This time, he looked to his own home for inspiration. At the end of the 1930s, E.B. White and his family decided to move to a farm up in Maine to escape the chaos of New York City. White fell in love with this farm and all of the experiences he had there gave him the inspiration for his most beloved book: Charlotte’s Web. He even had his own pig like Wilbur at one time! While he raised this pig for the meat, he soon developed a strong relationship with it when it fell very ill. White spent many hours trying to nurse it back to health, but in the end couldn’t save the pig’s life. His distraught feelings and regret about the pig allowed him to explore the idea of changing the narrative for Charlotte’s Web. Continue reading

The Web: Charlotte’s World Part 2

Meg Flindersby Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview Meg Flinders, our fabulous Charlotte, at one of her training sessions. She has been working hard at learning the aerial silks for the show, so we chatted about this unique experience and how it relates to the show!

Me: What is this training experience like?

Meg: Well, you obviously have to start with the basics. But we move pretty fast, so I just learn something new every time I come in and a lot of it is progression based so it just keeps building on top of each other. I also have to do a lot of outside work on my own to do strength training because this takes a lot of strength because you get tired really fast. Most of it is learning by doing which is actually great because it’s not something you can really do by reading about it. So you just have to go for it and figure it out and hope it works.

Me: What kind of daily things are you doing?

Meg: So a lot of it is arm strength, so I do planks, side planks, push-ups and pulls ups and pull downs, triceps dips and holding a handstand against a wall. Those are the biggest ones I do. Then I do a lot of leg lifts and sit ups and ab work that doesn’t really have to be specific. When you’re up in the air you have to be able to both hold yourself up and be able to lift your legs up into a V or in front of you so it is a lot of core work and arm strength so I do any work that’ll help strengthen those muscles.

Me: Do you feel like this is helping you understand Charlotte more?

Meg: Yeah, in a way it is. And actually it’s interesting because in the play a lot of people forget about Charlotte and the work she puts into it. They focus on the word and how it exemplifies Wilbur. They think the word is beautiful and the web is beautiful and they connect it to Wilbur and think it’s great. But they forget how much Charlotte is working night after night. It’s just interesting because I am not quite at the professional level yet, but watching some of these other people who can do a lot more and have routines already–it looks gorgeous and effortless. But then I try some of the basic moves and it’s so hard. So it’s just interesting to connect that, because by the end of the play Charlotte is really tired and worn out so I can do method acting in that way.

Me: What’s the hardest move you have to do? Continue reading

The Web: Charlotte’s World Part 1

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

When you come to see our production, you will see that Charlotte’s famous web is not what you expect. Directors Shawnda and Bradley Moss wanted to give the spider’s home a unique twist, so whenever Charlotte is in her web, she will be on aerial silks.

Here’s some information on aerial silks so you’ll know what to expect when you come to see the show!

Aerial and acrobatic arts have existed for centuries, dating back to 2000 BC. The modern form of aerial arts, known as Nouveau Cirque, was created only several decades ago in the 1970s. From this sprang the world-renowned Cirque du Soleil, which used dazzling acrobatic acts and spectacle to draw in audiences from all over. André Simard, a member of Cirque’s creation team, created this new art form in the early 1990s. The aerial silks allows the performer to have a secure safety line so that they can artfully and carefully execute difficult stunts in mid-air.Aerial silks

The aerialist uses the silks to climb up high in the air–sometimes 20ft and higher– and then uses it to wrap it around their body and do tricks such as swing, fall, spiral etc. Due to the nature of the art form, safety harnesses and lines cannot be used, as they could get tangled up in the fabric and risk injury for the performer. Continue reading

Welcome to the Zuckerman Farm!

by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg

barnCome one, come all! Come along and see Zuckerman’s famous pig– the miracle pig! He is quite a sight to see, I do tell you. Get a little closer so you can get a real good look at him. We’re awfully happy that you want to come and see Wilbur.

In just a few weeks, audiences will have the opportunity to see the famous Zuckerman farm onstage here at BYU. It’ll be quite the occasion. People from counties all over will be coming to see these beloved characters! In the mean time, though, I am here to keep you in the know with all that is happening while we prepare the farm for your arrival.

As we bring this beloved story to life, there will be plenty of fun things to share. Stay tuned for interviews, brief glimpses into the rehearsal process, insights into the world of Charlotte’s Web, and other great events that happen along the way. Wilbur, Charlotte, and the rest of the animals are so excited to become your friends! Continue reading

You’ve Got Guts, I Like That…

By: Eric Stroud, dramaturg

For me, this show spoke leaps and bounds about our tendency as human beings to romanticize war. The first scene of the play consists of two recruiters who are trying to convince Mother Courage’s eldest boy Eilif to enlist. “Next thing you know you’ll have a new cap and boots how bout it,” and “You’ve got guts, I like that,” stand as only two lines in a series of flatteries paid to Eilif.

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The Recruiter’s Battle Station. My lobby display for “Mother Courage”.

Here at BYU, all students studying dramaturgy are strongly encouraged to create a lobby display for the main stage show they are dramaturging. It is, to an extent, a chance for the dramaturg to show their own comprehension of the show and the director’s concept. For my lobby display, I wanted to focus on this idea of romanticized war. Just as Brecht would point out that even a war as terrible as the 30 Years War can be made to be a “religious war,” or one that is justified, so too can any war today.

In addition to my depiction of the “Recruiter’s Battle Station,” I have also made a video to play at the television beside it.

jo schmo

The video shows us how Joe Schmo can go from ordinary, to extraordinary by a simple choice to become a soldier.

kissingsoldierHowever, my compilation serves as a commentary on how this idea that becoming a solider will fix everything in your life and the lives around you is too simple. War is complicated, and sad, and in many cases changes your life and the lives around you for the worse.

sad warThe most commonly quoted line from this play is one that speaks as a reminder of the reality of war. “When war gives you all you earn, one day it make take something in return.” Our goals with this show are not to disrespect or belittle those who have fought for our freedom, or for the freedom of others. It is not some cheap academic opportunity to take snide stabs at the many aspects of war that we do not understand. Just like Brecht, we see this play as an opportunity to ask questions. Is war the only answer? Can we avoid it? And how can we as a nation adopt the answers to these questions. Continue reading