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‘Into the Woods’ meets climate change on STC stage

Artists have a responsibility to bring environmental issues to the forefront, said Alessandro Costantini, artistic director with YES Theatre/STC
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“Into the Woods” runs at Sudbury Theatre Centre Sept. 16 to Oct. 9.

A reimagining of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s hit musical “Into the Woods” in the context of the disastrous impacts of climate change is on stage at the Sudbury Theatre Centre building from Sept. 16 to Oct. 9.

“Into the Woods” is a 1987 musical that intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales as they strive to get to “happily ever after,” giving us a glimpse of what their lives are like afterward, and the repercussions of selfishness.

The reimagining of the musical being presented locally was adapted by Toronto theatre professional Mitchell Cushman, who is also directing the piece for YES Theatre/STC. The text of the musical hasn’t been touched, it’s only the setting that is changed.

The piece is set in the “midst of a climate disaster, in the not-so-distant future,” said Alessandro Costantini, artistic director of both YES Theatre and STC as the local theatre groups explore a merger.

“We find this group of people gathered in this displaced persons encampment, sort of sheltering from the storm. Our production centres around this young child who comes in, and we use the story of ‘Into the Woods’ to calm this child and make sense of what is happening.”

The fictional stories mirror what’s happened with the climate crisis. In the first act, people are selfishly going about their business, and in the second act, “we see the bill comes due, and everyone has to deal with the repercussions of those selfish actions.”

Costantini said it’s been wonderful to revisit Sondheim and Lapine’s piece “and be able to find that space to re-contextualize it to our current moments. I think that speaks to the brilliance of the writing and integrity of material.”

He said he thinks it takes a lot of courage to take such a “beloved, well-known and bulletproof piece of theatre” and do something different.

Costantini said he believes artists have a responsibility to bring environmental issues to the forefront with their work. “We can't just move it to politicians and activists,” he said. “Art, I think, is innately quite political.” 

The show has a large ensemble cast of 15, which includes YES Theatre mainstays such as Costantini himself, Ruthie Nkut, Jake Deeth and Janie Pinard, as well as newcomers including 11-year-old Brielle Pilon.

“We have a couple of actors who are also playing cello, piano, violin and flute,” Costantini said. “So everything is self-contained in this piece. We do everything. It's an extraordinary group."

If you decide to take in the local version of “Into the Woods,” expect an immersive experience. “The audience is actually located on the stage, so there's no one in the auditorium,” he said. “Everyone is kind of existing within this bunker.”

With the non-traditional seating of the audience, only 130 seats are available per show, which means tickets are selling fast. Costantini said the Friday night show has already sold out, and the weekend tickets are going fast.

YES Theatre/STC finishes out 2022 with the holiday production of “Elf: The Musical,” based on the classic Will Ferrell holiday film, which will run Nov. 25 to Dec. 18.

If you wish to purchase tickets to “Into the Woods” or any of YES Theatre/STC’s upcoming productions, you can do so online here.

Heidi Ulrichsen is the associate content editor at Sudbury.com. She also covers education and the arts scene.