Mirror, mirror on the wall, how will merely two actors play seven dwarfs in all?
This was the question Greg Banks mulled over for months, drawing from his extensive experience adapting classic stories for small casts (including the three-person production of Huck Finn, the four-person shows Robin Hood and Pinocchio, and the 5-person play The Jungle Book). He remarked, “If I’ve done a small cast production, this is tiny and a challenge.” In fact, he originally started writing the show with a cast of three actors. One was to play Snow White for the entirety of the story, but Banks was looking for a way to avoid the somewhat clichéd version of Snow White as either the “Pretty Passive Princess” or the “Funky Tomboy in Boots and Braces.” Instead, Snow White is choosing to tell her own story and is able to play many of the roles.
Photo of Joy Dolo from original production of Snow White at Children's Theatre Company | Photo by Dan Stubbe
The story line of Banks’ Snow White is a recognizable tale with all the characters of the original story, however, Greg Banks explains, “The other guys are late coming back from work, so Snow White, who is keen to tell her story, persuades Four, the only dwarf in the house, to start without them. He protests asking, ‘how can it be done?!’ And so begins a theatrical endeavor as the two of them play all seven dwarfs and a host of other characters.”
Banks’ feels that the playing of multiple roles explores the idea that people can exist on several levels, which we naturally do every day in the different ways we behave at work, at home, or out with our friends. We make choices about who we are and how we behave as we are all capable of being kind, cruel, villains, victims, or heroes in our own stories.
Dean Holt takes a turn to play the Evil Queen while Joy Dolo plays the Magic Mirror in CTC's Snow White | Photo by Dan Stubbe
He notes, “It’s exciting as an audience member to see an actor morph through a multitude of characters. It also helps a young audience to remember that we are just telling a story, these are just actors, which is important because these classic fairytales can often have frightening elements. When an actor drops out of being the evil Stepmother and returns to being the kindly dwarf, we can breathe again.”
Banks said that he had no rules or guidelines as to how he picked which actor played each character. “The story moves back and forth between the two actors. If maybe one feels the other isn’t portraying a character accurately, they’ll swap. At various times, both of them have a go at being the Stepmother. If Snow White fancies playing the Prince, then Four has to play Snow White!”
This feels spontaneous and organic, but it is also very carefully scripted. The constant changing of characters is very demanding on the actors, especially in this production, as there is often no chance to change costume. In one iconic scene, where the seven dwarfs discover Snow White asleep in one of their beds, the other actor has to play all seven dwarfs by simply changing his voice, his mannerisms and the way he wears his baseball cap!
As with traditional storytelling, music plays a very important part in Banks’ work and will be played in Snow White by a single on-stage musician — a strange little man they come across one day playing to the animals in the woods; they fed him, and he’s been playing music ever since.
Surprisingly, Greg Banks revealed that the biggest and perhaps most exciting challenge in adapting Snow White, as with many fairy tales, is that they are very short on detail. It is known that the huntsman takes Snow White into the forest but that’s it. There is no information as to what they spoke about, how long it took, or how Snow White felt; we only know that it happened. The journey for Banks is in exploring the details. Major plot points, like the death of Snow White’s stepmother, can happen in a single line or two with very little method, but Banks explained, “In writing a script, it is sometimes necessary to create a logic that doesn’t always exist in the original.”
So, why “Snow White?
When adapting a fairy tale, Banks has to figure out what it is in the story that he cares about. It may just be a line here and there, but threads of themes exist that work their way into the final product. In Snow White, suggestions of subjects regarding motherhood, helping those in need, and the pressure behind beauty are all woven into the play. There are no answers, they are just there — a seed planted in the mind that an audience member can decide to nurture or not.
Greg Banks' work of small-cast classics are sure to make a large-impact on your upcoming season!