Fish stories. That’s essentially what Will Bloom thinks of his father’s accounts of meeting magical beings and exploring exotic realms. It’s also what Essex High School students will be telling in their fall performance of “Big Fish.”
The musical is an amalgamation of a book and film of the same name by Daniel Wallace and Tim Burton, respectively. It blurs the line between fact and fiction as Will attempts to make sense of his larger-than-life father, Edward, while preparing to become a dad himself.
As a reporter, Will seeks the truth. In his mission to find the truth in his father’s folklore, he realizes there’s some fact to even the most fantastical stories, EHS theater director Aly Perry said.
“‘Big Fish’ relies on this concept of dream, live, love, bigger,” Perry said. “The play is really asking, ‘How can we as parents, as family members, as fellow humans, interact with one another and find the spark in all of us that can make us our best and biggest and grandest self?’”
Bringing the musical with its moving sets, colorful costumes and flashback storytelling technique to stage involved auditioning in June 2018 and starting rehearsals the first week of school, Perry said. But if the smiles on the 42 cast members’ faces are any indication, the experience seems to have been as much fun as it was work.
Senior Violet Corcoran spoke with wide eyes as she explained her role in the production. She plays Sandra Bloom, storyteller Edward Bloom’s wife.
“Sandra is very loving,” Corcoran said. “She’s just an old, kind soul, and she just wants everyone to be happy.”
According to Corcoran, Sandra holds the family together and keeps the peace, since the relationship between her husband and son is strained.
Corcoran, a self-proclaimed “mom”-type, said it wasn’t hard to get into character; she easily identified with Sandra’s bubbly personality and nurturing ways.
For Ryan Poulin, playing “black-and-white” Will Bloom was akin to being a fish out of water. Will is accuracy-driven and predictable; Poulin says he’s not.
“I like going for the extreme and thinking outside the box,” he said, adding the role helped him grow as an actor. “I love digging into a different world … acting is what I’m passionate about.”
Poulin has also enjoyed the dancing and singing that drive “Big Fish.” While dancing may not be his forte, Poulin said he loves to sing.
Corcoran agreed singing was a definite highlight of theater: “I have been singing since I could talk,” she said. “My life was built around music.”
Indeed, her father was a guitarist and singer for a band, and her mother held starring roles in musicals when she was in high school.
But when it comes to performing in musical theater, Corcoran said she is still learning—a sentiment Poulin agreed with.
“We’re all learning,” he said. “We all learn through each other, and we all learn through our director.”
It’s this very learning Perry expects of her students.
“With every production here we hope to push the boundaries of what the students feel they are capable of,” she said. “[They] learn project management skills, team-building skills and the kind of vulnerability that happens in creative work.”
Over the course of rehearsals, students were encouraged to take risks in a supportive environment. They tried different intentions, mined empathy from their personal experiences and devoted themselves to the story, all keys to pulling off the show, Perry said.
“Theater is only successful when everybody lives and believes in the same world,” she said.
Audiences are invited to enter the world of “Big Fish” at 7 p.m. on Nov. 15-17 and at the 2 p.m. matinee on Nov. 18. Tickets are available during EHS lunch periods, online and will also be sold at the door. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for students, children and seniors.