The most memorable moment I have ever experienced in the theatre occurred when I was sitting in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015. It was my sister’s first year as an actress at OSF and she was playing Cinderella in their production of Into the Woods. In general, I am not a big fan of musicals but I was a little bit in awe of my “little” sister and her new home-away-from-home—both environmentally and professionally—so I was pretty excited to be sitting in the audience.

 

Environmentally, Ashland, Oregon is one of the most beautiful little towns to which I have travelled. It is replete with mountains to hike, a valley to explore and the kind of blue sky you assume you can reach up and touch. Professionally, OSF can be considered a mecca for professional actors. If you have been hired there, it is likely you will have the opportunity to play upon their boards for as long as you wish to stay. And so, in my sister’s first year she played two leads in two of their musicals . . . not bad for a kid who started out saying, “I never want to be an actor like my big sister.”

 

The memorable moment to which I am referring above occurred during the finale of Into the Woods. It was a cool summer night and the stars seemed so close in the open-air theatre, I assume they also had to pay admission to watch the show. For the final number of the play, the entire company is on stage and they are singing about the journeys each of their characters have taken throughout the story. All of their journeys are rife with struggle, darkness and light, and instances in which they individually lose their way but, eventually, make their way out of the woods, again. In case you haven’t seen the play, the woods are a metaphor for walking through the dangerous, difficult places in life for the purpose of facing the dangerous, difficult places in one’s own heart and mind. At the very end of the final song, the lyrics seem to turn the focus from the characters on stage and turn a proverbial mirror toward the audience. Almost as a challenge:

 

All: Into the woods–you have to grope,

But that’s the way you learn to cope.

Into the woods to find there’s hope

Of getting through the journey.

Into the woods, each time you go,

There’s more to learn of what you know.

Into the woods, but not too slow–

Into the woods, it’s nearing midnight–

Into the woods to mind the wolf,

To heed the witch, to honor the giant,

To mind, to heed, to find, to think, to teach, to join, to go to the Festival!

Into the woods,

Into the woods,

Into the woods,

Then out of the woods–

And happy ever after!

 

Cinderella: I wish…

 

That “I wish” was my most memorable moment in theatre. There are a lot of reasons for that, all of which are equal in their importance. First, the entire production was stunning. Second, the idea that the action of facing one’s giants is where true revelation and growth occur was not only meaningful to me; it was a reflection of my life at the time. The play helped me to see where I was in my own journey as I considered the beginnings, middles and ends of the characters’ journeys on stage. Third, when Cinderella sings “I wish” it is a call to hope and further journeys in life. It is a reminder that even if we exit the woods ragged and less innocent than we were when we went in, there is always hope; always a rejuvenation to fight another day. When you lose one wish, there is always another waiting to be discovered. When Jennie—my sister— sang that line I remembered, all in one instant, her entire journey from my point of view. All of the woods through which she had to traipse to be standing down center on one of the most famous stages in the United States with one of the most talented companies I had to that point witnessed, all standing behind her.

 

You see, nothing is ever just one thing. Even the plot of a play writes itself onto the minds of the audience members’ so uniquely that the story itself twists and bends a thousand different ways as we all sit side by side hearing the same words. The same words are imbued with completely unique images, emotions, memories and questions. And so it is in life.

 

I have been thinking of my experience with Into the Woods lately because I have also been listening to another musical that I think is similar in some ways: The Greatest Showman. The connection, for me, is in the song “Greatest Show.” Where Into the Woods uses the woods as a metaphor for “the journey,” The Greatest Showman uses the circus. The circus becomes that place to which we all travel for one reason or another (whether it be to escape or to be amazed by life) and we end up facing reality instead. To put it another way, the cast of The Greatest Showman could just as easily sing the words to the finale of Into the Woods rather than the words to “From Now On,” which is their final song. Imagine Hugh Jackman and company singing:

 

Into the woods–you have to grope,

But that’s the way you learn to cope.

Into the woods to find there’s hope

Of getting through the journey.

 

Instead, he sings:

 

I drank champagne with kings and queens

The politicians praised my name

But those are someone else’s dreams

The pitfalls of the man I became

For years and years

I chased their cheers

The crazy speed of always needing more

But when I stop

And see you there

I remember who all this was for.

 

In conclusion, I really love both these musicals because they both acknowledge that life is a journey fraught with both shadow and light. It is messy and we are clumsy, and it is hard and we are fallible, and it is beautiful and we are sometimes beautiful too, and it is logical and we are emotional beings, and it is emotional and we are logical beings . . .

 

The woods change us. The circus changes us. Life changes us. As someone who has often feared change, I find that lately change doesn’t seem so bad. Instead, it seems more like an adventure. I am grateful for that.

 

So into the woods you go again,

You have to every now and then.

Into the woods, no telling when,

Be ready for the journey.

 

copyright: Jill Szoo Wilson

Photo Credit: Denizens of the town head into the woods (Rachael Warren, Miles Fletcher, Javier Muñoz, Robin Goodrin Nordli, Jennie Greenberry). Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

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