Getting a crowd for a student production is a lot like getting an A in Writing 150 — it doesn’t happen very often. It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed toward the myriad of performances happening on campus every month. Every so often, a play will fall into the laps of the audience members sitting in the Massman Theatre. The Secret in the Wings, which premiered Thursday, is an extraordinary production put on by the Aeneid Theatre Company and director Burt Chaikin, a senior majoring in cinematic arts and critical studies. The surrealist play winds between dark Grimm fairy tales, landing on the heart strings of anyone who has ever had an imagination. The nonlinear story is bolstered by the skill and craft of a talented cast. Their performances impress with their nuances and complete enthrallment in the role. The original score cannot go unnoticed, as it holds every piece together. Chaikin’s bigger-than-life vision fuels the play with energy and vivacious character that seems to be hard to find in student productions these days. The Daily Trojan got to sit down with Chaikin to discuss the miraculous story of the play that almost wasn’t.
Daily Trojan: Tell us a little bit about the process in producing this show.
Burt Chaikin: We were originally supposed to do a different show. The Aeneid Theatre Company started [in 2014] on campus, and the founders decided that there weren’t enough outlets for students to put on shows: student produced, driven and run shows. What happened was I had pitched a show, actually one of my favorites; there was a lot of excitement. It was a well-known show that had generated a lot of recognition, because it’s a show not often done on college campuses. The problem was that in trying to do a show at the Massman, you apply to perform a show there, but you don’t find out the dates until November. I couldn’t apply for the rights to the show until we knew the dates for the show. You see the issue. We had to audition and prep the show without knowing the dates and without any rights. Shortly after we had begun the contract to secure our rights, someone came and bought out the rights to the show in Southern Los Angeles until July.
DT: What was that like?
BC: We spent the entire day trying to find a solution: calling the publishing company, calling people’s agents. As a director, I figured this was a problem that would eventually be solved, and then we’ll move on to the new one. There really wasn’t a solution. I had to go into the first read through and tell the actors and crew the show wasn’t happening. It was a really hard day.
DT: How did you find a new show to do?
BC: I skipped class one day and read at least 22—25 shows that people had sent me. I noticed, though, that the shows I was reading were very similar to the other show in terms of style, naturalism and content. I couldn’t do it. That night, I went to the library and picked my favorite shows. I wanted to keep trying. I was scared, because I didn’t want such a big part of my senior year to be taken away. The Secret in the Wings was the last play in my pile that night in the library. It’s a show by Mary Zimmerman. What I loved was how different it was from the play I was planning on doing.
DT: What should someone expect from The Secret in the Wings?
BC: It’s very dreamlike, fragmented, and it doesn’t always make sense. The show runs parallel to life. For me, the show is about what we fear and why — that we don’t need to be scared. As children, we are scared of so many things. Yet somehow, our adult selves are even more scared than our childhood spirits. Zimmerman invites us to bring back our childhood spirits, and that we don’t need to be as terrified as we are. We can choose love, beauty and courage over that fear. The show is very special.
The Secret in the Wings runs Friday at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.; Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. All performances are in the Massman Theatre.