BY: LAURA BERGELLS
PHOTOS: TERRY JOHNSTON
Imagine a world where everyone is universally polite and civil. All adults are gainfully employed in a position that suits their abilities and interests. The entire society is orderly and serene, and its people are free from pain and suffering.
Or could this dream come at an uncomfortably high emotional price?
This is the world you’ll enter when you see The Giver at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. The production runs from October 18-27, 2013. I attended the Civic’s Inside Dish program on October 1 to learn more about this production.
Try to understand my mindset as I entered the theatre. If you recall, October 1, 2013 was something of a hot mess. The Federal Government shut down. People began exploring health insurance options online as the sign-up for the Affordable Care Act went live. People all around me participated in overwrought shrieking about these two historic circumstances almost all day.
To top it off, ArtPrize was still going down. As I walked from my car to the theatre, I saw hordes of phone-gazing adults stumble on the sidewalks and into the streets, ignoring traffic signals, their children, and other pedestrians.
“Welp, I’m living in the dystopian future I was promised as child,” I thought cheerfully as I broke through one phone-gazing herd only to narrowly avoid colliding with a lone phone-zombie careening through Veteran’s Park.
Given our chaotic social, economic, and political climate — how could you not want to escape into the tranquil and organized world of The Giver?
And how is it that this not a utopian play but a dystopian one? How can a world where everyone gets along so perfectly go so horribly wrong?
A 1994 Newbery Medal winner, The Giver was often assigned reading for many middle school children in the late 1990’s and 2000’s. Both cerebral and emotional, the story pressures you to explore how you feel about balancing individual desires with the needs of the community.
The subject matter is decidedly timely and relevant. What else might you need to know to enhance your experience of this dark play? As it turned out, I learned three key things at The Inside Dish that might make you love this production a little more.
One of the first shocking things I learned is that The Giver is often a banned book in many communities. This blew my already weary mind.
Sarah McCarville, the Branch and Youth Services Coordinator at the Grand Rapids Public Library (GRPL), was on the 1994 Newbery Medal Committee. She helped select the book for the prestigious annual award. In her Inside Dish presentation, McCarville told us that The Giver is currently number 23 on the list of frequently banned books.
The Giver was written specifically for young adults. At the Civic, it will star 16 year old Jake Goldberg as 12 year Jonas. Most of the cast are children. There’s absolutely no foul language. No nudity. No violence. No sex. What could possibly make anyone want to ban this story?
A 25 year old Civic volunteer told me her class had read the book when she was in middle school. She went to Calvin Christian. If they didn’t ban it there, I reasoned, why would anyone ban it anywhere?
“They always ban the best books,” I overheard someone at the theatre murmur. I grinned at this bit of truth. Forbidding something can make it even more delicious.
The second fascinating tidbit I learned is that the book actually has sequels. To me, this seemed unlikely. The story ends ambiguously, which is a huge part of its allure. The ending creates an internal “what happened?” dialog. Viewed as a play, I suspect that this internal dialog is likely to spring into a lively discussion among family and friends. Now knowing there are sequels, I’ll want to get my hands on these books before Hollywood makes popular films out of them. The Giver is already slated to become a film starring Jeff Bridges. Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, and Taylor Swift have also signed on as cast members. If you move fast, you can probably get your hands on the sequels at your local library now, before the books become a craze.
This leads me to the third heartwarming fact I learned at Inside Dish: inspiring young people to read is a driving force behind this particular production. The Civic Theatre, Grand Rapids Public Library, and the Student Advancement Foundation are partnering with Pooh’s Corner, American Seating, and Mercantile Bank to collect new copies of The Giver (as well as new copies of Junie B. Jones: Jingle Bells-Batman Smells, a Civic Theatre production slated for April 2014.)
“Our goal to is to have 150 new copies of The Giver to distribute to Grand Rapids Public School Middle and High School libraries. Students will be able to read the book, and attend a special viewing of the play,” stated Nancy Brozek, Civic Theatre Director of Community Relations. “We also want to have this book drive generate 1,200 new copies of Junie B. Jones: Jingle Bells- Batman Smells, so all Grand Rapids Public School Second Grade students can receive a copy prior to their visit to the stage in April”.
The Bring a Book To Life Book Drive begins October 1, 2013 through March 21, 2014. You can drop off new book donations of The Giver at the Civic Theatre box office, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, American Seating, Pooh’s Corner, and Mercantile Bank. You can also make a direct donation or get more information by visiting: http://www.payitsquare.com/collect-page/16696.
A provocative banned book, poised to be a popular film, inspiring children to read: those are three factors beyond our current dystopian climate that make me feel even more excited to see The Giver at the Civic this October. You can get your tickets at the box office online or at grct.org.