The Lookingglass Theater Company’s first production was a rendition of “Alice in Wonderland” performed at the Shanley Pavilion.

Today, the ensemble’s founding member and communications teacher David Catlin says the band’s “Whimsical and physically intense” show “Lookingglass Alice” stems from that first performance.

“Each time we do it, (the stories) continue to mean something, and they mean something different even as the world changes,” Catlin said.

‘Lookingglass Alice’ is back on stage in the Water Tower Arts District from April 30 to July 31 after a seven-year hiatus. Catlin said production was originally scheduled for spring and summer 2020, but had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, Catlin said the show has more value as an escape from the pandemic gloom.

Founded by Northwestern alumni in 1988, the production company aims to present “cutting edge” theatrical works by encouraging collaboration.

Cast member Molly Hernández, the first Latina woman to star as Alice in the production, said she was able to bring aspects of her identity, such as incorporating Spanish into the script, to the story with the support of other members of the ensemble.

“There was a little girl sitting in the front row who looked up at her mother and said, ‘I’ve never seen an Alice who looks like me or talks like me, or talks like me,'” said Hernandez. “I get goosebumps talking about it. That’s why I like to do what I do, to show that representation.

Hernández said the production is one of the most physically intensive shows she has done, requiring circus performance skills for the role of Alice. She said she and other performers have been training since February.

“Lookingglass Alice” is produced in association with The Actors Gymnasium, a circus school and theater company based in Evanston. Michel Rodriguez Cintra, a member of the Lookingglass ensemble and a teacher at the Actors Gymnasium, said he was able to incorporate aspects of his dance and gymnastic skills into the show.

“It’s a mix of everything I love: dancing on stage, talking and doing circus,” said Rodriguez Cinta. “It’s perfect. I bring myself in every possible way to work.

Hernández said she felt more comfortable and supported by society because of her decision to maintain masking regulations for the public despite Governor JB Pritzker mandate lifted at the end of February. She said that due to the ensemble members’ close proximity to the public, Lookingglass decided to prioritize the safety of their cast.

Ensemble member Kareem Bandealy said the interaction with the audience was the most rewarding part of the show. He said the show revolves around imagination and expression, and seeing the audience participate and understand the concept of vulnerability that is prevalent in the show is his favorite part.

“Most nights when the audience shows up and infuses the event with their own energy, you don’t feel tired,” Bandealy said. “You feel energized and you feel capable.”

Catlin said the show’s goal was to explore the joy and absurd aspects of Wonderland after the pandemic hit.

“I found it very quickly to be a place…that reminded me of the reasons I got into theatre,” Bandealy said. “I just instantly remembered my theater debut and was like, ‘Oh, I love it here.'”

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Twitter: @selenakuznikov

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