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Love is the First Step: In Conversation with A Wrinkle in Time’s Thomas Morgan Jones

/By / Jul 10, 2023

Not every playwright has the opportunity or resources to work with a live-in assistant dramaturg. But while adapting Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time for the Stratford Festival, Thomas Morgan Jones found his surprisingly close to home: his six-year-old son.

“He’s an amazing barometer for things,” Jones said in an interview. “I’d read him parts of the story, or I’d show him a costume and ask, ‘scary’? And he’d say, ‘eh, not so scary,’ so I’d show him another and he’d say, ‘oh, that’s pretty scary.’ So we’d go with that one.”

Jones has been working not only in theatre for young audiences (TYA), but also with the Stratford Festival since long before his son was born. He was part of the inaugural Langham Directors Workshop in 2010, and spent eight seasons as an instructor with the Birmingham Conservatory. So when artistic director Antoni Cimolino called him with a proposal in summer 2022, Jones was immediately interested.

“[Cimolino] said, ‘this is the play that we’d like to do, and there are adaptations we’re looking at. But what do you think about writing one?’ I’ve spent a huge portion of my career in theatre for young audiences — I love making plays for young people — and this is a story that’s both exciting and profoundly important to me, so it was intriguing to get the invitation as not only a director, but as a writer as well.”

From left: Noah Beemer, Celeste Catena, and Robert Markus perform in A Wrinkle in Time at the Stratford Festival. Catena wears a pink jacket and tan pants, while the two men wear t-shirts and trousers. The stage is lit with blue light, and the three seem off-balance, as if floating. Photo by David Hou.
From left: Noah Beemer as Charles Wallace Murry, Celeste Catena as Meg Murry, and Robert Markus as Calvin O’Keefe in A Wrinkle in Time at the Stratford Festival. Design by: Robin Fisher, costumes; Teresa Przybylski, set; Kimberly Purtell, lighting; and jaymez, projections. Photo by David Hou.

L’Engle’s beloved novel tells the story of Meg Murry, a thirteen-year-old girl tasked with the seemingly insurmountable task of rescuing her father from a terrifying monster at the edge of the universe. Aided by her kid brother Charles Wallace, their neighbour Calvin, and an array of whimsical supernatural beings with linguistically-inspired names (Mrs. Who, Which, and Whatsit) who live next door, Meg must not only push herself beyond her limits to rescue her father and protect her companions, but learn to embrace her own strength along the way.

It’s no wonder the story was curated in a season exploring themes of duty versus desire. But Jones found a further area of focus in another major theme in the text.

“In an old video interview with Madeleine L’Engle, she said, ‘We don’t plan the terrible things, we just try to love through them,’” he recounted. “That’s what this entire story is about: the power and magic of love. And that led to a lot of reading and researching and thinking about love, and then Meg as a character, and this whole story.

“[Love has been] the very first step of every part of this process. Every decision has been framed on a foundation of conversations about love.”

Those conversations extended beyond the rehearsal hall and into the audience. The Stratford Festival offers a variety of educational opportunities to school groups, and with A Wrinkle in Time being the season’s Schulich Children’s Play, the students’ reactions during the May preview shows reaffirmed Jones’ focus.

“We’ve had some school groups,” he said, “and after one show, Lois [Adamson], who’s the director of education at the festival, asked them, ‘what does love mean to you?’ And I sat in this room of hundreds of children, some waiting with their hands up, some screaming their answers because they wanted to be able to get them in. ‘Love conquers all,’ ‘love means that I can trust the people around me,’ and ‘love means home,’ all of these things. A huge group of young people having an open and honest conversation about what love means. And I thought, ‘maybe it’s going to be okay. For just this one moment, despite everything. Maybe we’ll be okay.’”

From left: Nestor Lozano Jr., Kim Horsman, and Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah in A Wrinkle in Time at Stratford. The three wear long, colourful dresses: Lozano's in yellow and green, Horsman's in red and blue, and Roberts-Abdullah's in purple and silver. Photo by David Hou
From left: Nestor Lozano Jr. as Mrs. Whatsit, Kim Horsman as Mrs. Which and Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah as Mrs. Who in A Wrinkle in Time. Design by: Robin Fisher, costumes; Teresa Przybylski, set; Kimberly Purtell, lighting; and jaymez, projections. Photo by David Hou.

While A Wrinkle in Time is set in a sci-fi universe involving ethereal neighbours, terrifying creatures, and adventures through the space-time continuum, Jones considers the story to be a perfect offering for the world we live in.

“We’re in this amazing time, across the planet, where what young people are inheriting and how they’re going to navigate the world they’ve been born into is a really important consideration for us all,” he said. “This is one of those stories that is centred on empowering young people’s voices, and helping them to see there isn’t anything that they can’t do, not only for themselves, but for their community, society.”

Before A Wrinkle in Time closes, Jones will be bringing his directorial expertise to the world premiere of Guillermo Verdecchia’s Feast this October at Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange, where he is artistic director. But it probably won’t be long before Jones finds another TYA project to work on, as he firmly believes in the importance of children’s theatre and its impact on the industry as a whole.

“Sometimes when people talk about making theatre for young people, there’s this addition or caveat that it’s because they’ll be the audiences of the future, which is true. But they’re their own audience now. There’s lots of reasons why parents might want to bring young people to the theatre, and they’re all very important. What they’ll see [in A Wrinkle in Time] is really exciting and spectacular and lush. The design is jaw-dropping — music, costumes, all of it — and the performances are amazing. But it’s the story we’re telling that is so important for people to receive right now.

“There’s an article in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that says children have the right to arts and culture. In each stage of their development, children deserve something sophisticated, beautiful, and wonderful that’s been made specifically with them in mind… And with love.”

A Wrinkle in Time runs as part of the 2023 Stratford Festival through October 29. To purchase tickets or find out more, click here.

Jessica Watson

Jessica Watson

Jessica is a former associate editor at Intermission, as well as a writer, classically-trained actor, and plant enthusiast. Since graduating from LAMDA in the UK with her MA in acting, you can often find her writing screenplays and short plays in the park, writing extensive lists of plant care tips, or working on stage and screen (though she uses a stage name). Jessica freelances with various companies across Canada, but her passion lies in working with theatre artists and enthusiasts.



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