‘Big Fish’ For Small Fry: Young Actors Guild finds meaning in musical

‘Big Fish’ For Small Fry: Young Actors Guild finds meaning in musical
LARA JO HIGHTOWER/Special to the Free Weekly

When you ask Missy Gipson, the executive director of the Fort Smith Young Actors Guild, why she chose the musical “Big Fish” for the first show back since the global pandemic, she quotes the lyrics from one of the musical’s songs called “How it Ends”: “It ends with sons/It ends with wives/It ends with knowing when the pavement bends, we find our lives./So let it come/And let me go./Show me the waves/And let them flow./It all ends well/This much, I know.’

“I love that idea of nothing is straightforward,” says Gipson, “that the path bends and breaks but always ends up bringing us somewhere — sometimes where we want to be, and, sometimes, a place we didn’t know we would end up, but that usually ends up working out in some fashion. It feels a bit fitting for how we have all had to adapt to the twists and turns of the past year. We actually were supposed to produce ‘Big Fish’ in summer 2020 but ended up delaying it until this year. I think it resonates in a different way this summer — maybe hits a bit deeper.”

The musical version of “Big Fish” is based on the 1998 book by Daniel Wallace, which was also made into a movie in 2003. It was directed by Tim Burton, who said of the plot, “’Big Fish’ is about what’s real and what’s fantastic, what’s true and what’s not true, what’s partially true, and how, in the end, it’s all true.” It tells the story of a former traveling salesman named Edward Bloom, teller of tall tales and the father of Will, who is becoming a father himself. The plot grapples with the themes of mortality, truth versus fiction, parenthood versus childhood and, ultimately, strives to answer the big question of what is most important in life — surely one of the reasons Gipson thought it was so perfectly suited to the current times. The Broadway production of the show featured elaborate, showy stagecraft, but without a Broadway budget, Gipson says the YAG has found a way around expensive technical requirements.

“I love the spectacle of the Broadway production of ‘Big Fish’ but not the budget — ha! We are placing our production on the boardwalks of the gulf of Alabama. We will have some technical elements that we are creatively staging, but we are really focusing on the storytelling done by our actors. They are quite good at it. We also have an exceptional lighting designer, Steven Sellers, who is an important part of creating the scenic world of ‘Big Fish’.”

Like most performing arts organizations, the Young Actors Guild has been largely shuttered for the past 15 months, save for a few online projects they produced. Gipson says returning to in-person performing has been a joyful experience.

“It feels right! It’s wonderful to be in a room with a bunch of talented young artists doing what they love to do, what we all love to do. Quite of few of our area schools’ arts programs were at a standstill, so to see these kids do something that sparks their joy is very rewarding.”

Audition turnout was one big clue that area kids were ready to get back to work on stage.

Braxton DeLude plays young Will Bloom, and Reece McDaniel is Will Bloom in the Young Actors Guild production of “Big Fish.” (Courtesy Photo/Kristen Hancock)

“We weren’t sure what to expect at auditions, but were pleasantly surprised at the amount of kids that auditioned,” Gipson says. “They were (and are) so excited to be dreaming, imagining and creating together again. I, personally, love the heart in this show, and the fact that this story is the first one we are telling together after the world stopped is pretty special. They all have ideas and are willing to pitch in wherever, whether it’s on stage or off. It’s a true team effort.”

With a cast of 40 kids, Gipson has her work cut out for her as director.

“I think it’s the same for both types of rooms, whether adults or kids: Give value to their ideas, explain expectations but also give them the tools to reach them and listen to each other,” Gipson says. “Also, be willing to be silly and ridiculous and admit when you don’t know something. Our team tries to make sure it feels like a safe space to be themselves, and, once we have that energy, we set high goals, and go after them together.”


‘Big Fish’

WHEN — 7 p.m. July 22-24 and 2 p.m. July 24-25

WHERE — Young Actors Guild at the Alma Performing Arts Center, 103 E. Main St., Alma

COST — $12-$15

INFO — 632-2129

Categories: Family Friendly