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'Growing Up in Wonderland'

“Growing Up in Wonderland: Alice’s Coming of Age Story” is going on the road for the Montana Repertory Theatre’s annual educational outreach tour. From left to right are Hannah Appell, Sean Kirkpatrick and HanaSara Ito.

In "Growing Up Alice," the absurdity of Lewis Carroll's classic "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" is adapted into a modern-day coming-of-age story.

Playwright Jillian Campana used all the characters from the original text, but made them humans instead of animals for this year's educational outreach tour by the Montana Repertory Theatre.

Each year, the professional company in residence at the University of Montana, brings an original adaptation of a classic text to communities around the state. Last year's, for instance, was "The Diaries of Adam and Eve," in which Ron Fitzgerald took on Mark Twain's book.

This year, Campana took on the challenge of condensing Carroll's text into a 55-minute play.

Campana, a mother herself, saw an opportunity to make the story relevant to kids' concerns today.

"Alice is a freshman in high school and her family's undergoing some struggle. And she's been asked by her older sister to grow up and start being more independent. And she's very upset about it," said Campana. She's head of the performance and practice program in the University of Montana's Department of Drama and Dance.

Alice's math tutor, Charlie "Rab" Rabbit, says they've got to go study because she's failing.

Alice loses him once they get to Wonderland High. While trying to find her way, Alice runs into a series of other folks adapted from Carroll's whimsical creations: C.P., a fellow student and the Caterpillar stand-in; Ms. Duchess, her math teacher and the Duchess character; Kat, the senior mean girl and Cheshire Cat; Principal Hatter and more.

"With each encounter, she's faced with the opportunity to become more independent and mature, or to refuse or deny that change in her," Campana said.

"By the end of the play, she's undergone a lot of new experiences and she's come to understand growing up doesn't meant growing old and not having fun," she said.

Director Rosie Ayers said coming-of-age stories appeal to all ages – adults "adore getting to experience it again and again at different phases of our lives."

In the title role is Hannah Appell, who played Helen Keller in the Rep's national tour of "The Miracle Worker" in 2014.

"Hannah has that adorable nature about her that is both dreamy and youthful, but embodies this deeper maturity," Ayers said. "That is paired with that insatiable curiosity."

HanaSara Ito plays Principal Hatter and Alice's sister.

All of the other characters – eight in total – are played by Sean Kirkpatrick.

The University of Montana student had standout performances in the drama/dance department's production of "Avenue Q" and an independent play, "Holocene."

"He's got his hands full, not just his head. One of them is even a puppet. He plays three characters simultaneously while he has the puppet one," Ayers said.

Appell also serves as company manager. All three actors have extra jobs as well – the three will load up all the props and costumes and hit the road for between 40 and 50 venues across the state, including middle schools, high schools, community centers, small theaters and more.

Ayers compared them to "the old theatrical troupes that would load up in the wagons with Hamlet productions and take the show on the road."

The actors and director have about two and a half weeks to get the show ready – a process that Ayers enjoys and keeps coming back for.

"It's an intense immersion of theater where we are just bathed in the height of creative play," Ayers said. "And we never stop laughing."

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment editor for the Missoulian.