The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Pop-Up Theater!

GatsbyAloud performance at the Tempe Marketplace, Arizona. Photo by Ian Christiansen, courtesy of the Arizona Theatre Company

This year, the West Valley Arts Council in Surprise, Arizona, has chosen F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as their Big Read selection. To help bring this beloved classic to life, they've partnered with the Arizona Theatre Company (ATC) for some exciting pop-up performances. Over the next couple of months, a local actor in period costume will appear in shopping malls and other public spaces to read aloud excerpts from the novel. These readings will also lead up to another part of their partnership, a production of Simon Levy’s theatrical adaptation of The Great Gatsby---the first performance of this adaptation since 1926! I was recently lucky enough to chat with Jennifer Bazzell, ATC’s literary manager, about these pop-up performances called GatsbyAloud.

NEA: You actually just had your first GatsbyAloud performance on January 14th. Can you tell us more about how these pop-up performances work? Does the audience know that this is going to happen, or is this more of a one-person flash mob type of thing? How did it go?

JENNIFER BAZZELL: Yes, it takes place in pre-announced locations, but the audience is made of whomever happens to be nearby at the moment. I like the comparison to a one-person flash mob because it’s a single person in period-appropriate costume suddenly appearing and reading very short selections from the novel to get people excited about reading Fitzgerald’s amazing story, as well as seeing ATC’s upcoming production. I love the idea that we surprise people who happen to be walking by with the beauty of Fitzgerald’s prose and have them think, “Wow, I should get a copy of that and read it. It’s amazing.” It was received very enthusiastically by book store patrons on Saturday.

NEA: What excerpts did you choose, and how?

BAZZELL: We choose very short excerpts from throughout the novel that show off Fitzgerald’s mastery of language, and give listeners some insight into the characters and a little bit of the story.

NEA: This is a lead-in to a full Gatsby production. Can you tell us anything about the production?

BAZZELL: It’s not an actor from the production, but rather an actor serving as a teaching artist and helping educate the public about the story. And yes, of course I can tell you about the production! ATC’s production will be only the second outing for Simon Levy’s adaptation of the novel, and we can’t wait to share it with Arizona audiences. The casting is complete and we start rehearsals on January 31st. The designs are in place and the production is in the process of being built by our amazing staff here in Tucson. The production is being directed by Stephen Wrentmore, ATC’s associate artistic director and will be performed in Tucson from February 25th through March 17th, 2012 and in Phoenix from March 22nd through April 8th, 2012.

NEA: How did ACT become involved with the West Valley Arts Council’s Big Read? How has the community reacted to The Big Read and ATC’s involvement?

BAZZELL: Five years ago, we presented an adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird to kick off our AMERICA PLAYS! Celebrating Great American Stories initiative and we worked with the West Valley Arts Council’s The Big Read for that experience as well. It’s so fitting that we’re also closing our initiative with a partnership again! So, we have a history of working together with The Big Read to celebrate great stories in both written and performance form. Thus far, the community response has been expressions of their love of Fitzgerald, the novel, and the opportunity to see this amazing story onstage. It’s been wonderful to hear from all different types of readers---from people who have loved the book for decades to people reading it for the very first time who all fall under its spell.

NEA: Are there any other parts of The Big Read that you’re particularly looking forward to?

BAZZELL: There are so many wonderful activities as part of The Big Read. In addition to GatsbyAloud, ATC has already been a part of several fantastic library-based discussions and there are many more opportunities to engage in this project. We also partnered to create The Big Read art competition which showed us what amazing work young people completed (and we were so pleased to offer free tickets to see the production to the winners). ATC will be present at as many of the events as possible so we’re really looking forward to everything!

NEA: Anything else you might like to add that you think readers would be interested in knowing?

BAZZELL: ATC loves having rich and rewarding ties to our community, like through our relationship with the West Valley Arts Council and The Big Read. And lastly, seeing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece The Great Gatsby onstage is a not-to-be-missed opportunity, so please come and join us for this amazing production!

For more information about the West Valley Arts Council and their Big Read events, go to their website. To learn more about the Arizona Theatre Company’s upcoming production of The Great Gatsby, please click here.

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