Asolo Brings the World to the Stage with Jules Verne Classic



If “all the world’s a stage,” then Mr. Shakespeare had it easy. Over at Asolo Repertory Theatre, a cast of eight actors and an intrepid crew are cramming the entire world onto the stage, as they gear up for opening night of Asolo Rep’s annual summer production—Around the World in 80 Days. And between elephant rides, Wild West shootouts, hot air balloons, and a whopping 109 characters to account for, bringing Phileas Fogg and his exploits to life have been an adventure in itself. “It’s all of the things that theater doesn’t usually do,” says director Theresa Heskins. “It’s kind of an impossible play.”

But for Heskins, on loan from the UK as Around the World makes its international debut first in New York City and then in Sarasota, the challenge makes the job worthwhile. Maybe it's the Phileas Fogg in her. “I like being in a room with a group of really imaginative actors and finding ways to solve problems,” she says, and Around the World certainly provided that. But unlike previous summer productions at Asolo Rep, which have employed projections and video accompaniment to tell a larger-than-stage story, Heskins has eschewed all that in favor of techniques that openly rely on the audience making the leap with the actors—what she calls “co-creativity.” “Ways that rely on the audience investing their imagination that joining us,” Heskins says. “They help us make the play.”

It’s a different experience, Heskins argues, a distinctly theatrical one that differentiates the medium from its cinematic cousin. “In cinema, the work is all done for us,” she says, and the resulting audience more prone to passivity, but at the same time sometimes less willing to suspend disbelief. The theater encourages it, and Around the World demands it.

Still, Heskins found much inspiration in both cinema and video games as she put the production together. “We spent quite a lot of time watching films,” she says, “and anyone coming to see the show will see that onstage.” And as the Scotland Yard inspector chases Fogg from country to country, getting involved in dust-ups and donnybrooks, the cast and crew used what they saw to create choreography that changes with the setting. For scenes in India, the gang watched Bollywood films, and for the Hong Kong sequences, they watched Jackie Chan. And for the US, what other than some good old-fashioned Westerns?

“If you’re not moving, you’re bored,” says Heskins, which seems the perfect fit for Fogg.

Produced by the people behind Asolo Rep’s 2017 production of Hetty Feather, Around the World in 80 Days opens June 6.

Pictured: Matthew Ganley (Colonel Proctor), Kirsten Foster (Mrs. Aouda), Andrew Pollard (Phileas Fogg) in 'Around the World in 80 Days.' Photo by Andrew Billington.

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