Witnessing a new and stunning concept that becomes a potential game changer for future productions at the university level of theater is uncommon. Schools often lack the funds or other resources to employ the technical artistry they may dream of. “Charlotte’s Web,” currently playing at the Pardoe Theatre in the Harris Fine Arts Center, has managed to defy logistical struggles to do just that.
The concept is aerial silk, a circus discipline where acrobats use sheets of hanging fabric to climb, wrap and drop their way through a series of tricks in the air without the use of safety harnesses. The silk master is Charlotte, the spider who befriends the lonely pig Wilbur, to save him from the slaughterhouse. Charlotte is played by sophomore Meg Flinders, who before auditioning for the production in February had never trained on aerial silks before.
“She has learned more in three months than most people do in a year of working on the silks,” co-director Shawnda Moss said. “She and her choreographer have done a lot of intense work together.”
Aside from training on the silks themselves, Flinders has undergone an intense conditioning program for the role.
“When you’re up in the air, you have to be able to both hold yourself up and be able to lift your legs up, so it is a lot of core work and arm strength,” Flinders said.
When such a unique art form is employed in a production, it is difficult to prevent it from becoming such a spectacle that it detracts from the other actors or the message of the show itself. Flinders’ majestic spinning of the silks held the audience spellbound, yet the directors and producers managed to strike an exceptional balance with the use of the silks, which did not pull attention away from the bigger picture.
“We have tried really hard not to make (the silks) a gimmick and to not make it the show; it’s one element of the show,” Moss said.
Other successful elements of “Charlotte’s Web” include clever costuming by senior Kirsten Watkins and solid acting from unlikely sources, including junior high schooler Anton Moss who plays the farmhand Lurvy.
Although “Charlotte’s Web” is geared toward families with younger children, co-director Bradley Moss feels the play offers a compelling message for adults.
“If we understand the power of how we look at people and, in the divine sense, how we are labeled, there are some really remarkable things that can happen,” Bradley said.
“Charlotte’s Web” runs through June 11. Tickets can be purchased at arts.byu.edu.