JANESVILLE—Adolescence is the age of dreaming big—or being told to dream big, anyhow.
Every high school graduation speech is littered with clichés of greatness: Michael Jordan didn’t make the varsity basketball team on his first try. Oprah once got fired from a job. So go forth, adolescents! Dream big! Have adventures! Live every moment as if it’s your last!
That is why “Pippin” is a perfect musical for high school students.
For two weekends in May, Craig High School will perform “Pippin,” the story of a young man seeking fame, fortune and fulfillment, and finding it far from the platitudes of high school graduation speeches.
The story is told by a traveling acting troupe, and one of the main charters is simply called “lead character.” The show features a play within a play, a traditional theater technique that involves a show taking place within a show. But “Pippin” takes that one step further, bringing viewers past the imaginary fourth wall that separates them from the story.
In “Pippin,” it’s funny and a little disconcerting. The audience is now a part of Pippin’s quest for fulfillment.
Here’s the story: Pippin, a young prince, joins the troupe of actors. He explains he wants to seek his dreams, and in a song that could be pulled directly from a motivational speech he sings, “So many men seem destined/ To settle for something small/But I, I won’t rest/ Til I know I have it all.”
He is roundly applauded for these ambitions.
Pippin’s first attempt at glory is going to war against the Visigoths with his father. the king, and his stepbrother. But war isn’t as glorious as Pippin expects, so when the leading player encourages him to fight tyranny instead, Pippin kills his father, becomes king, and then tries to keep everyone happy.
But ruling, as many politicians have found, isn’t as wonderful as Pippin expected. People have unrealistic notions of what he can and should do for them. So he asks the leading player to bring his father back to life (it’s a play, remember?), and the leading player obliges.
Pippin seeks satisfaction in a variety of other pursuits including art and religion, but these also fall flat. Really, the only time he finds happiness is when he falls in love with a widow, Catherine, and learns to love her young son, Theo. For a while, the simple pleasures of ordinary work and domestic life seem to satisfy.
But can it be enough?
The local production is directed by Matt Imhoff, a 2008 Craig High graduate. Imhoff lives in New York City, where he works as a director and a scenic and lighting designer.
As a freelancer, Imhoff has worked all over the country. During spring break, he worked with the Naples Opera Company in Naples, Florida, on its production of “Carmen.”
Imhoff has encouraged students to think about the different interpretations of “Pippin.” Is it about the pursuit of happiness? Is it about following your dreams? Is it about the reality of settling for less than a corner of the sky?
“It’s really a play of the 1970s, where there is no right answer,” he said. “The ending is left deliberately vague.”
For Imhoff, the play is about the journey.
“My take on it is that Pippin’s whole journey is about finding yourself, finding what makes you happy,” he said. “I also think it’s about loving yourself and loving others.”
Imhoff is interested in hearing audiences’ responses and their interpretation of the work. As for the cast, he said he was impressed with their talents.
“The cast sings like very few high-schoolers can,” he said.