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Big and Little Worlds Collide in CTWS’ ‘Borrowers’

The Theatre’s fall show features unique challenges with representing some characters of ordinary size, and some about four inches tall.

When presenting The Borrowers, the Children’s Theatre of Western Springs had a tricky problem to overcome right off the bat: they’re a bit short on actors who stand four inches tall.

But that’s the size of many of the play’s characters, a family of miniature sprites who live hidden in people’s homes and “borrow” their items to make a life for themselves. Conflict arises when the curious Borrower girl Arietty strikes up a friendship with a human boy, which eventually leads to trouble for her secretive family.

“The analogy I [gave] to the kids is that act one is Masterpiece Theatre and act two is The Hunger Games,” said director Tripp Burton.

So how to represent these miniature creatures? Preferably in a way in which they can be seen from the back row? 

“That was one of the reasons that really attracted us to the piece, in addition to being a great story, was that it was going to be a real challenge for these students,” said Burton of the characters’ disproportionate sizing.

The challenge is resolved in two ways: supersized props for scenes set in scaled miniature, and tiny puppets to represent the Borrowers when the actors are playing full-sized humans.

“There’s really quite a lot going on in order to create this world where these little folk exist alongside regular-sized people,” said TWS children’s director Leslie Price. 

Borrowers is based on the beloved children’s-book series by Mary Norton, which has seen numerous stage and screen adaptations over the years, most recently a BBC production and an anime called The Secret Life of Arietty.

The Children’s Theatre is staging the show as its fall high school repertory performance, meaning nearly all the work besides directing has been done by high school students—including making gigantic prop versions of small items like soup cans and onion rings.

“They really problem-solved a lot of this themselves,” Burton said. “I told them that we need a giant boot or a large half-scissor the size of a person… The high schoolers really had to put their heads together, and they figured out how to make all of this work. It’s been a great opportunity for them.

“It’s a wonderful show for all ages. It has a little bit of everything to it, but it’s really a special show. I encourage everybody to come see it!”

The Borrowers plays at the Theatre of Western Springs on Nov. 9, 10, 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 10, 11, 17 and 18 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $6-12 and can be purchased by calling 708-246-3380 or at the Theatre’s website.

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