Eli DePriest brings his whole heart to the job of directing "Seussical: The Musical," and what a heart it is.
DePriest recovered from two heart attacks last summer to take on the challenging role of director of the newest Marshfield Community Theatre production, based on the literary works of Theodor Geisel, better known to generations of children as Dr. Seuss.
A director's job involves much more than wrangling actors and managing set components. The very first thing a director must do is get to know the material.
"Before I could sink my teeth in this, I needed to figure out the message of this show I wanted to convey," said DePriest. "The simple part is choosing a show and committing to it. When it comes to the director’s side, you need to find out what your vision for the show is."
As DePriest revisited childhood classics by Dr. Seuss, some themes began to emerge.
As just one example, in “Horton Hears a Who!” Horton the elephant and JoJo, the child Horton talks to in the clover, are shunned for not being practical thinkers, and the book makes a statement about the magic of childish thinking and the importance of creativity.
"Oh, the Places You’ll Go!" is another Dr. Seuss classic, and one that we turn our attention to every year around graduation time. DePriest studied this book, too, and quotes it in referring to his show: "Oh, the thinks you can think if you're willing to try!" "Seussical: The Musical" includes a song based on these lyrics as a highlight of the show.
"Imagination is absolutely necessary for creativity, but creativity is not necessary for imagination," DePriest said. "Part of maturing is the act of setting aside imagination in favor of reality."
But something DePriest learned first hand with his medical issues last summer: "Reality in general can just suck," he said. "By falling into the trap of what is, we become a victim and lose our creative powers."
DePriest won the world's worst lottery with the pair of heart attacks that he has since recovered from. "Doctors saw it as an anomaly," he said. "They said I was the first 20-year-old they’d seen who had heart attacks that weren’t caused by drugs."
The attacks were attributed to a heart anomaly he was born with, and they were triggered by excessive stress — so naturally the first thing DePriest would want to do upon regaining his health is to direct a community production of a musical.
Perhaps the enduring optimism of Dr. Seuss has healing properties, because DePriest is hale, hearty and cheerful as can be.
"It's a musical for all ages," DePriest said. "It's an opportunity to enjoy Dr. Seuss stories for what they are on the surface, and as an adult, it’s a privilege to appreciate his books for a deeper meaning, that the imagination is a wonderful tool."
DePriest thinks the musical comes down to one of hope.
"Hope is merely the opportunity for transformation and change," he said. "It's necessary to create a better world to live in for future generations."
DePriest has determined that imagination ignites passion in anyone. "You can lose your passion or purpose in life and replace it with dependability — but who’s to say you can’t have both?" he asked.
For children, the musical will be a fun romp. For adults of all ages, it will include a little bit more, according to DePriest.
"Some messages will go right over kids' heads, but adults will relate to it so hard," he said. "We want to get people out of their own heads for a while — let us bring you into this wonderful, magical world."