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One-on-one interview with "Holes" guest director, Jason Marlett

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Grand Rapids Civic Theatre sits down with guest director Jason Marlett
Jason Marlett, guest directing at the Civic Theatre

Jason Marlett, guest directing at the Civic Theatre /Courtesy of Grand Rapids Civic Theatre

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Grand Rapids Civic Theatre


October 21-30 only

For tickets: 616-222-6650 or

This fall, Civic Theatre season asks the question: How much of a persons’ destiny depends on fate and can that fate be changed? From Septembers’ emotionally charged "Good People" to the upcoming adventures in "Holes" this theme is explored – or in the case of "Holes," dug into! 

An interview with Civic Theatre guest director, Jason Marlett

Jason, what is this show about?

The simple, easy answer is a coming of age story about friendship and uncovering truths. Stanley Yelnats, a boy who has bad luck due to a curse placed on his great, great, grandfather is sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention camp, for a crime he didn’t commit. Every day, Stanley and his friends are forced to dig holes that are 5x5 and cover every inch of the desert. However, things aren’t always as they seem.

Stanley believes his life is unfairly destined to be full of bad luck. It isn’t until he is taken out of his home environment, his comfort zone, that he begins to see life a different way. You might say, he starts digging deeper into his past and present – his destiny. It’s no coincidence this storyline is built like an onion, layers and layers of hidden meanings, messages and treasures. 

We have had a blast exploring the significance in the character’s names, for example Yelnats is Stanley spelled backward: Stanley Yelnats- why? The story also explores how friendships can lead to life transformations, the power fate plays in defining our character, and the undertones of how cruelty and history impact us every day. Wow, that sounds intense! There is a lot going on during this show, it is a full-on tale filled with adventure.

How closely does this play follow the 1999 Newbery awarded young adult novel?

Louis Sachar adapted his novel so this is his story coming to life on stage. 

Does that means audiences can expect to see acts of violence?

It's strange to even say this but yes, violence will be carried out on the stage because it is important element to the story. Even stranger is my telling you, if you have a child sensitive to violence DO NOT BRING THEM TO THIS SHOW! Wow, you would think a director would encourage attendance but there are very physical fights, gun shots and a death.

How do you keep your actors safe during these scenes?

Fortunately, in addition to the title Tech Director, Steve Schwall is also a stage combat instructor. He spent about 10 hours with cast to carefully choreograph safe fights and falls. He was busy; there are a lot of falls. He was also able to show the safe handling of firearms and safe lanes for weapon props to move in between actors. With stage violence each actor has to approach it as a partnership, with both partners helping each other to execute and trust enough to set a believable scene.

Fighting aside, what was the most difficult to produce?

"Holes" is full of mysteries that aren’t limited to the plot. Lighting and set design presented a few obstacles. Production designers tackled two significant challenges in order to create an environment that supports the storytelling. The first, how are we creating a stage full of holes? I mean, we have set changes throughout the show, so we can’t just have a bunch of holes hanging around in a living room. So, that was fun and handled perfectly I might add.

The second is creating a unique time period transformation. Three stories from separate time periods in history are combined in "Holes" to create one story. It is important for the audience to react to the changes without feeling awkward because while in the past we continue to reference the present, and no matter where we are in time, we never forget where the story is ultimately headed. 

Can you share any secrets with us, what should the audience keep an eye on while watching the show?

The Yellow Spotted Lizards! Keep a lookout for them because where they go, so goes trouble. These lizards have quite the reputation, if they bite you – YOU WILL die, or will you? Things are not always what they seem in "Holes" – it blurs between reality and fable. But those lizards, they hold a lot of power. 

Okay, I am interested by why should others see the show?

This cast is sharp, and they have developed rich and full characters. This show is going to leap off the stage, maybe just like a yellow spotted lizard. Is there one under your seat? You’d better check.

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