Two Alices, One Wonderland: Fourth Wall Student Theater carries out successful production despite limited preparation

David Matos, Arts & Life Editor

From rags to riches to magical beans and the menace that is the Big Bad Wolf, we’ve all heard of classic fairy tales like “Cinderella” or “The Three Little Pigs.” However, no fictional work has been as bizarre and whimsical as Quinnipiac University’s Fourth Wall’s Student Theater production of “Alice in Wonderland.”

Fourth Wall presented “Alice in Wonderland,” an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” in the Theatre Arts Center from Nov. 11-13.

The student-run theater organization  canceled its original fall 2022 production “Perfect Arrangement” in late September after cast members expressed discomfort with the dated language used in the script. On Oct. 5, the Fourth Wall executive board chose to perform “Alice in Wonderland,” leaving the cast of 17 only around five weeks to prepare for the show.

“For this specific production, we were on a little bit of a tight timeline,” said Emma Poirier, a graduate student in the molecular and cell biology program and director of the show. ”But that’s probably everyone’s biggest challenge, like the designers, the actors, everyone. And then, aside from that, it’s a very big cast.”

Autumn Hirsch, a junior public relations major who played the Mad Hatter, said despite the short stretch of time to prepare for the show, the cast managed to avail and bring the world of Wonderland to the stage by the semester’s end.

“This is the great thing about theater, it’s always a team effort,” Hirsch said. “You’re never in anything alone. None of us are getting paid to do this. We’re all here because we truly love it, and we’re going to put the work in, and that’s really what we saw.”

“Perfect Arrangement,” which is a sitcom-style drama about two closeted U.S. State Department employees in 1950s America, is a stark difference from the plot of the eccentric timeless fairy tale “Alice in Wonderland.”

After a fall through the infamous looking glass, Alice, a well-mannered 7-year-old girl, finds herself in the peculiar and mind-bending world of Wonderland, completely astray from her ordinary life at home. Alice’s journey in Wonderland is similar to a child trying to make sense of adulthood, something most young adults getting a grasp of their own newfound independence in college might relate to.

“‘Alice in Wonderland’ has always been one of my favorite stories since I was like a young girl, and having the opportunity to play Alice a character I’ve related with so deeply as like all the way back to being a child, it’s really amazing,” said Jessica Clark, a junior media studies major who played one of the two Alices in the production.

Fourth Wall’s adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland” follows two versions of Alice. Clark and Samantha Hart, a senior film, television and media arts major, each play Alice: Clark plays Alice in the real world, whereas Hart plays Alice after she steps through the looking glass.

Hart said she had never been involved in theater until she transferred to Quinnipiac in fall 2021 when she took on the role of Irina in Fourth Wall’s production of “Three Sisters.” She said she joined the theater to make friends and to be part of something. She describes the experience as “life-changing.”

“I mean, I know it sounds dramatic, but it’s because I found this community and this new thing that I love so much,” Hart said.

Hart describes her most recent role as Alice as unlike any role she has had at Quinnipiac. Hart’s other previous roles include Amy March in Fourth Wall’s 2022 production of  “Little Women”  and Ismene in Quinnipiac’s theater department’s spring 2022 production of “Thebes.”

“It’s just a whole different experience when you kind of have the responsibility of bringing this new sort of character to life on stage,” Hart said. “It’s not that ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is a new show because everyone knows what it is, but I think the way that we’re doing it, and the way that we have split the role in two, I think it definitely gives so much more creative freedom.”

The reason two actresses played Alice is because, throughout the show, she has a wide array of experiences with the various characters in Wonderland that call for a different version of Alice in each scene, Poirier said.

“She feels like she’s changing throughout this whole experience,” Poirier said. “Like from scene to scene with all the different interactions she has and particularly at one point she’s talking to the caterpillar character, and she says, ‘I don’t know who I am today. I’ve changed so many times.’ That’s why I wanted to have two Alices.”

Poirier, who also directed “Little Women,” said she picked Hart and Clark to portray the simple-minded character because they act, speak and use their bodies differently, so their differences helped showcase the show’s character development.

“I sort of relate to Alice in that she’s just confused, and trying her best, ” Hart said. “She has really no idea what’s going on for the whole duration of the show, because it’s Wonderland, and everything is crazy. But life can totally feel like that sometimes, and like all you gotta do is just smile and keep going.”

`One of the many draws to the fantastical world of Wonderland is the unique characters that inhabit it. From the grinning Cheshire Cat, played by Haley Organ, a sophomore theater major, and the pompous yet witty White Rabbit, played by Stephen Russo, a first-year game design and development major, each cast member did a spectacular job of bringing the crazy world of Wonderland to life on stage.

“There’s so much creativity that has gone into this performance,” Clark said. “I just really love every aspect of every single character, and how they really pull into Alice and her own personality.”

One of the most maddening characters in Wonderland is no other than the Mad Hatter, played by Hirsch. The Mad Hatter is seemingly trapped in a never-ending tea party alongside the March Hare, played by Alex McPartland, a sophomore film, television and media arts and theater double major, and the Dormouse, played by Jane Rosales, a junior 3+1 theater major in the MBA program.

Hirsch, who’s been acting since she was in middle school, said this role allowed her to connect with her creative side and credits Poirier for allowing her to try new things with the character.

“The Mad Hatter has been one of my dream roles for basically my whole life,” Hirsch said. “I feel like there’s not a lot of characters that capture the essence of fun quite like the Mad Hatter does, and it just really provides an opportunity for me as an actor to do something different, and just to try out a bunch of crazy things on the stage.”

Over 200 tickets were sold for this year’s production of “Alice in Wonderland.” Sarah Gass, a junior public relations major, who plays the Queen of Hearts, said one of the most rewarding parts of this production is the bonding experience between the actors after having such a short period of time to put on the show.

“One of the best things about theater is just how you’re thrown into these scenes, and you have to deal with these characters in your own way,” Gass said. “But again, since you’re bouncing off of everybody else that you’re acting with and we’ve had such a short period of time to do it, we’ve just gotten close, and it’s been really rewarding to find like-minded people that way.”