J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit has become a classic because it focuses on the universal theme of stepping out of your comfort zone and being part of something bigger than yourself. Those involved with the Majestic Theatre’s production of the story can relate to it both on and off the stage.
The fantasy novel, which was published in 1937, tells the story of Bilbo Baggins, a lovable hobbit with a secret desire for adventure. Bilbo leaves all that is familiar behind and strikes out into the unknown.
Director Denise Therrien is doing the same thing.
Therrien has been in education her entire life, teaching at numerous private schools in Manchester. But now she is on the verge of a career change to health care. It is a career she never really wanted to work in and was in many ways afraid of. But sometimes life has other plans. Now Therrien, like Bilbo, must rise to the occasion.
“I have my own Smaug, the dragon [Bilbo’s nemesis], to slay,” said Therrien. “Bilbo was an underdog. Well, in our lives we will all be underdogs at some point.”
The script for The Hobbit has many such teachable moments and Therrien takes every opportunity to use them. She said while in production she always discusses the material. For example, a memorable character of Tolkien’s is Gollum, a repulsive creature who succumbs to the power of the ring. Gollum has two different personalities and often yells and belittles himself. While most of our inner dialogue isn’t so extreme, Therrien said we often discourage ourselves.
“We often torment ourselves or beat ourselves up,” Therrien said. “We shouldn’t let our inner voice keep us from succeeding.”
Therrien, who has taught summer camp theater at the Majestic before, said she loves metaphors and allegories and believes theater is a way for young people to find their way. She said she likes to use her own mistakes to help guide her young actors.
In the production of The Hobbit, which opens Thursday, Jan. 13, Therrien is working with 16 actors between the ages of 7 and 17. She said such a spectrum has been nice as the older actors have taken the younger ones under their wings.
“I didn’t ask them to,” Therrien said. “They just did it naturally.”
Therrien also complimented the youngsters on their commitment. She said one actress was already off book by the second rehearsal.
“This is a group of motivated young people,” Therrien said. “It has been a pleasure to work with them.”
Therrien hopes the camaraderie formed during rehearsal will translate to the stage. The development of the characters is essential to the success of the play. Therrien said doing a story like The Hobbit can be intimidating for a director. When many think of Tolkien’s works they think of the Lord of the Rings films by director Peter Jackson. These films had hundreds of millions of dollars in special effects — something that is not going to happen in local theater.
So Therrien said she would go for a less-is-more approach. She said with this larger-than-life story there were certain things that she couldn’t portray in a concrete way so it was better to just leave them to people’s imaginations.
Another issue is the density of The Hobbit. Therrien said she had to make difficult decisions because so much needed to be left out. But she said any fan would find all the familiar characters like Bilbo, Gandalf and the Elven Queen.
“Come enjoy the characters and the way the young people interpret them,” Therrien said. “Whether the story is being portrayed in the novel, on screen or on stage, the characters are the constant between them.”