In Depth: Big Fish

Aeon Life Theater

Always let it be simple

From the author, John August, on the story of BIG FISH.

February 2014

Taken from Theatrical Rights Worldwide’s page: http://www.theatricalrights.com/big-fish

BIG FISH centers on two men — Edward and Will Bloom — and two thematic questions:

1. Mortality, or How Does a Hero Live On?

2. Fatherhood, or What Makes a Good Dad?

Every scene involves one or both characters, and one or both questions. The arc of the play is these two men and these two questions coming together. Whether you’re reading the play or performing it, I’d recommend you walk through the play scene-by-scene and song-by-song to discuss how each moment addresses one or both themes.

Why is Edward telling stories about his past? On the surface, it’s to escape the present. On a deeper level, it’s to connect to the heroic vision he has of his life as he confronts his death. (Mortality)

Why is Will trying to get details about Edward? On the surface, it’s so he can understand his father. On a deeper level, it’s to answer the question of what makes a good dad as he takes that role himself. (Fatherhood)

Edward Bloom is a man who claims to be unafraid of death because of what the Witch showed him. The truth is, he is afraid, as any rational person would be. Edward is afraid he’s going to disappear. As a storyteller, he’s cast himself at the center of an epic tale that exists only as spoken words. If he dies, who is going to keep his stories – his life’s work, his essence – alive? The natural choice would be his son, but his relationship with Will becomes more and more fractured as the play unfolds.

Will Bloom is not just a witness to Edward’s tales; he is ultimately the point of them. But having heard these stories a thousand times, Will sees them as an act — a disguise behind which his “real” father is hiding. With a baby of his own on the way, Will is desperately trying to figure out who his father is. Will is never trying to prove his father wrong. He is never looking for the truth; he is looking for a man.

Edward can come off like a blow-hard. Remember his fear.

Will can seem too critical. Remember his hope.

You won’t really understand BIG FISH until you look at the story from the female point of view. What do Sandra and Josephine want? Why does the Witch insist on showing Edward his future? How does Jenny Hill change the story for Edward and Will? Never forget that each of these characters has her own life and objectives.

Finally, don’t think of Edward’s tales as flashbacks. These are stories being told in the here-and-now for the benefit of Will or Young Will. If you get too caught up in the back-and-forth of time, you’ll confuse yourself and the audience. Always let it be simple.

BIG FISH can be performed with elaborate sets and magical staging to emphasize Edward’s larger-than-life stories, or on a dark stage with several chairs to focus on Will’s journey. Regardless of scale, every production needs to strive for emotional honesty, insight and beauty.

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