John Hardy loves directing children's theater.
“Young audiences are the best, because they'll go with you anywhere,” Hardy said last week amid guest-directing “The Borrowers,” which opens Friday at the Rose. “Adults sit back and analyze what they're seeing. But young audiences will go with you anywhere — as long as you do it in an honest way.”
Hardy, associate director of the historic Barter Theater in southwest Virginia, has directed plenty of Shakespeare, regional theater and even a movie. But children's theater, he says, is what he prefers.
“There's no money or recognition in it, no fame to be had. But it's still the best audience, and that's what I want — getting access to mind and spirit when they're still young and impressionable.”
Hardy is counting on children's imaginations to make “The Borrowers” work onstage. Based on the classic British children's books by Mary Norton, the story is about Arrietty and her 4-inch-tall family, who secretly live in the home of regular-size humans and “borrow” what they need to survive. Problems arise when Arrietty, 14, is seen by a human boy on her first borrowing expedition.
Problems also arise when actors must play characters 17 times as tall as Arrietty.
“It's no accident this story has never been a play before, only an animated movie,” Hardy said. “But we solve the problem anyway. There's mystery to how we do it, and people will have to come see.”
He said the script is layered with meaning, but his favorite is encouraging young people to break out of that which is familiar and embrace the world.
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