WHITEWATER—Ego and vanity are traits poorly hidden. You might even say they are easily laid bare.
That’s the premise behind “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the Hans Christian Andersen tale the UW-Whitewater Theater/Dance Department plans to perform at various area locations between Oct. 28 and Nov. 4.
Along with public shows at UW-W’s Barnett Theatre and the Janesville Performing Arts Center, the troupe will appear at several local schools to offer private performances for students.
“We don’t just get to do one and done. There are so many other venues for other audiences,” said Faith O’Reilly, the UW-W sophomore from Jefferson who will play the lead role. “It’s just more of an adventure because you’re going into a situation where (the audience) hasn’t seen it (the show), so you jump in and take energy from the crowd.”
In the play, two charlatans promise a self-absorbed emperor—or in this case, empress—a new suit they claim is invisible to those unfit for their positions, stupid or incompetent.
Decked out in her new “clothes,” the ruler parades in front of her subjects, and no one says anything for fear he or she will be negatively labeled.
In the end, it is a child too young to understand the idea of keeping up pretenses who points out the empress isn’t wearing any clothes. The revelation resonates with onlookers, but the undeterred empress continues her vain procession.
O’Reilly says she had previous knowledge of the play and is a fan of Andersen’s work. She is particularly amazed by the lead character’s hubris.
“This has always been funny to me: How can you be so above everything that you don’t realize there’s no fabric ... and you’re too proud to admit there is no fabric,” she said. “It’s very clever, and it’s something you can relate to at present with today’s politicians, movie stars and other celebrities.”
While the play focuses on the dangers of unchecked pride, it places equal importance on the young child’s revelation and courage to speak up. The simple act of pointing out the obvious gives young audience members a subtle lesson in the virtues of candor, O’Reilly said.
O’Reilly praises the show’s cast for its energy and UW-W professor and director Bruce Cohen for the vision he has brought to the children’s production.
“You ask yourself, ‘How can you make it enjoyable but also meaningful?’” she said. “A lot of thought and effort went into this, and he’s pushed us to really look at these characters and envelop them.
“There are layers to these characters,” she added. “As kids grow up, they analyze (those traits) in themselves and in others, and it gives them an awareness of others. They learn how to look at someone and know what they are feeling and why.”
After each school show, cast members will talk to students about the story and its messages. O’Reilly believes it’s important to make sure the show’s lessons are understood and explained.
But she already knows what she wants attendees to take away.
“I want them to be a little lighter and to have laughed a lot because we are doing so much physical comedy,” she said. “Obviously there is ‘honesty is the best policy,’ but hopefully they also see that while you always want to look your best, if you’re self-involved, you’ll miss out on things.”