The Redmoon rises over Rockefeller with Hunchback revamp

Redmoon Theater is bringing its critically-acclaimed re-imagining of The Hunchback of Notre Dame to Rockefeller Chapel.

By Ilana Kowarski

Redmoon Theater, which will be setting up shop on campus this week for a production of their play Hunchback, glories in moving from place to place. In fact, part of their mantra and mission is making “unexpected theater in unexpected places.” As executive producer Rebecca Hunter explains, “We try to get out and about as much as possible. We really enjoy doing theater in places not made to house theater.” This week, they are bringing their critically acclaimed play to the University’s own Notre Dame, Rockefeller Chapel.

For Hunter, the decision to have the production in Rockefeller was not a hard one. After Lorraine Brochu, director of external affairs, offered the space, Hunter and others at Redmoon fell in love with it. Hunter remembers, “We thought the show would look incredible in that location…against this beautiful backdrop, and that it would be a great site-specific event. We love working at artistically interesting spaces, and we really wanted to show off and use that space and its architecture.”

Brochu explains that she had been looking for a theater that would want to perform in the chapel space and match the success of Rockerfeller's collaboration with Court Theater for The Mystery Play Cycle in 1992. When she heard about Redmoon’s plans to restage Hunchback after a years-long hiatus, she felt that Rockefeller would be the perfect venue. She explains, “The iconic space of Rockefeller provides the perfect setting for this powerful story, and offers the possibility of entirely new audiences for this dramatic performance.”

With puppets and masked figures galore, this unique adaptation of Hugo’s classic novel tells the tragedy of Quasimodo and Esmeralda with flair, transforming this tale of outcasts into a modern-day spectacle of both comedy and tragedy. Besides the mixed use of various theatrical devices, Redmoon has reimagined the story in other ways. Most notably, they have added the character of Victor Hugo himself, who guides the audience through this new version, even interjecting at points to protest the production’s bizarre, sometimes anachronistic changes. Director Leslie Buxbaum Danzig emphasizes that their production definitely is not any old direct translation of the novel. “Normally Redmoon’s work is visually quite spectacular,” she said, “and this is an incredible visual context. I am confident that it will be quite powerful.”

Both Danzig and Hunter believe that Hunchback will provide the audience with a meaningful experience. To Danzig, the show speaks about alienation in a compelling way. “I think, at heart, the show is about different ways of being trapped: trapped by desire, and trapped by bodies that betray the beauty of our insides; and the power of those kinds of traps—both those that others set for us, and those that we set for ourselves.” The story is so rich that there is room for multiple interpretations, and yet, as Hunter proposes, the play loses none of its emotional power because of this complexity. “Every time we mount the production, people get different resonance. It’s a story about some universal themes. It’s an at-times abrasive piece about outsiders…and it’s stood the test of time. It appeals to our sense of humanity regardless of the era. It never gets old…It’s one of those epic tales that really touches people on so many points.”

In addition, Brochu notes that Hunchback’s story also explores themes relevant to the Chapel. “Hugo’s concern with social justice, and his descriptions of religious fanaticism, echo Rockefeller’s own role in encouraging students and the community to seek, to question, and to pursue justice and spirituality in countless ways both traditional and unique.” The partnership has also resulted in some rather unexpected benefits: the formation of five paid Redmoon internship opportunities for TAPS students.

Redmoon has performed the play twice before, the first time in collaboration with Steppenwolf Theatre in 2000, but Danzig suggests that this show will be special because of the setting. She argues that this will make the show more emotionally moving and more beautiful: “To do this incredible play surrounded by an architecture that also inspires awe is really exciting.” Danzig plans to take advantage of the setting and adapt the performance to the space, rather than adapting the space to the performance, because she wants the sense of place to remain strong in this site-specific piece: “The important thing is letting the site have the power to impact the work.”

Danzig believes that performing the play in a non-theatrical space is worth the difficulties that go along with this kind of experimentation. Discussing the hardships of adapting location-specific lighting and staging to Rockefeller, Danzig expresses hope in spite of a somewhat frazzled feeling: “We’re problem-solving in the best possible way. Once the practical work is done, we’ll see the magic happen.”