Alice in Wonderland Festival mad as a hatter

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      Vancouver’s 15th annual Alice in Wonderland Festival looks like it’s going to be an occasion for silliness—and very high-grade silliness, too.

      At least that’s the approach being taken by Dan Vie, who’ll play the Mad Hatter in the Community Arts Workshop Society production, which takes place at John Hendry Park on Sunday afternoon (July 12).

      According to Vie, who is also the de facto leader of the event’s anarchic Carnival Band, Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is “a masterpiece of nonsense”.

      “And who knows?” he adds. “Maybe it’s more popular than Shakespeare.”

      Vie knows that Alice’s enduring appeal is due, in part, to the fact that the tale can be interpreted on so many different levels. Children’s story, psychological journey, political allegory, Kafka-esque nightmare: the story contains all of these possibilities and many more. But when Vie and approximately 100 other actors, clowns, jugglers, fools, and musicians convene at the East Side park, their main intent will be to invite their audience into the spirit of play.

      Asked whether the novel’s underlying theme of transformation is especially apt at this time of global crisis, Vie contends that political interpretations are possible, but not paramount. “The politics are the subtext,” he says. “It’s not really the main message; the ”˜play’ message is foremost. And play is about transformation—these are survival skills for people. Without a sense of humour, and without the ability to play and use your imagination, how are we going to survive?

      “We want to wake up people’s imaginations,” he continues. “We want to give them possibilities to play, and this is an environment where kids and adults can play together. And that’s progressive. How many places can you go and take your kids and dress up and be in the show? You know, most festivals you go to are about passive participation; mostly the stuff is not interactive. And that’s the unique thing about this: it’s totally interactive. You come to Trout Lake, you’re in Wonderland, you’re at the tea party, you can join in, and you can be whoever you want. And that’s very freeing for families to do that together. You can’t do that at Disneyland.”

      Indeed, the leafy bowers of John Hendry Park are a far cry from the manicured expanses of the world’s most popular theme park—and the perfect place to re-create Carroll’s fantastical landscapes.

      “Trout Lake is innately pastoral,” says Vie. “You know, in the wintertime it’s kind of a mud hole. It’s a marsh. But now it’s all grown in: there’s these incredible reeds. It really is a wonderland, and the whole east side of the lake, under the willows—which are the shade trees, if it’s really hot—contains all these beautiful little places where you can stage things.”

      Things to be staged include a suitably rambunctious tea party, as well as musical performances by Gamelan Madu Sari; singer-songwriter Joanna Chapman Smith and her band, the End Tree; and medieval troubadours Toot-A-Lute. But the audience itself will be the main attraction. Come in costume if you wish; bring a teapot, a picnic, or a flamingo for croquet. But most of all, says Vie, “Bring your sense of wonder.”