PACE to perform adaptation of beloved, controversial book

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 | 4:50 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — One of the most beloved and controversial books of the 20th century is coming to life this weekend. A production of Lois Lowry's "The Giver" is being performed by Performing Arts in Children's Education, or PACE.

According to the American Library Association, "The Giver," which won the 1994 Newberry Medal, was in the top 10 banned books of 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2000. It was also the 21st most banned science fiction book from 2000 to 2007, ranking above other controversial books such as "Fahrenheit 451" and "A Brave New World."

If you go

What: PACE production of Lois Lowry's "The Giver"

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Missouri Theatre, 203 S. Ninth St.

Admission: $10 for adults, $7 for students with an I.D. and $5 for children 12 and younger. Tickets can be purchased at the door.

In spite of its controversial subject matter, "The Giver" is one of the most beloved books in schools today, which is why it was chosen as part of PACE 's "Page to Stage" series.

Director Maggie Killian said "The Giver," which was adapted for the stage by Eric Coble, was chosen because it is read so often.

"We try to chose quality literature, stuff the kids have read in school," Killian said. "We know 'The Giver' is a book a lot of students read."

"The Giver" is the story of a young boy named Jonas. In his futuristic, so-called utopian society, Jonas lives a life full of contentment until he turns 12 and is given a job: the Receiver of Memory. He is partnered with the Giver, who is the old Receiver of Memory and must give all of his knowledge to Jonas. Jonas learns about the past and begins to see that his perfect world isn't so perfect after all.

PACE has rehearsed the play for eight weeks. The cast and crew of 30 range from fourth- through 10th-graders.

One aesthetic aspect of the book is that Jonas' world is void of color. However, once he receives memories from the Giver, colors soon appear. Bringing this aspect of the book to the stage was a creative opportunity for Killian. She said the perspective of the play is Jonas' point of view. When the world changes for him, it changes for the audience as well.

Killian said that through lighting and costume changes, Jonas' world begins to fill with color.

"When he sees color, we see color," Killian said.

Another creative obstacle was showing the memories that Jonas receives. However, it turned into an opportunity to partner with another medium: dance. Karen Grundy, artistic director of the Missouri Contemporary Ballet, choreographed the 15 dream sequences in the play. Members of PACE perform these original movement pieces.

Performed behind a translucent backdrop called a scrim, these sequences add to the other-worldly feel of the production.

Killian said the play is not just about performing; it is an educational opportunity.

"For our 'Page to Stage' series, we try to (perform for an audience) who hasn't been to a play before," she said, referring to private daytime performances for schoolchildren. "We want to give them a meaningful experience."

Killian said the goal is also to show how literature can come to life: "We want to show audiences the magic of theater."


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