BIG FISH Dramaturgical Study Guide

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1 BIG FISH Dramaturgical Study Guide Created by Joel Edwards, Student Dramaturge Introduction As I began research for Big Fish, especially for some of the historical references in the show, I began to notice something peculiar about the script. Because the character of Edward Bloom is constantly stretching the truth and intentionally misrepresenting facts to make things more exciting, most of the background information I found directly contradicted the facts in Edward s stories. With this in mind, I approached the dramaturgy of this show much differently than I would another show. The contents of this study guide are meant to inform the actor and audience, giving them a truthful depiction of certain elements of Edward s fictional stories. 1

2 Historical References Trojan War - A war between the Greeks and the Trojans made famous in Homer s Illiad and featuring well known characters such as Hector and Achilles. Troy, the city where the siege was fought, is also famous for the story of the Trojan Horse told in Virgil s Aeneid. Achaeans - Another name for the Greeks, named after a specific region of Greece. Agamemnon - Commander of the Achaean forces. The Twelve Labors of Hercules - A series of accomplishments and adventures of the Greek demigod Hercules first told in an epic poem written by Peisander around 600 BC. General Patterson - General Patterson did not exist. General George S. PATTON, however, was one of the most famous American WWII commanders. Patton conquered the city of Casablanca and is usually the general people think of when they picture a stern-yet-kind, whitehaired WWII general. Thus, when Edward needed to tell a good war story, he modified General Patton. Chucalabra - Chucalabra is not a real word. Chupacabra, however, is a legendary Latin American monster that sucks the blood out of goats. Chupacabras are considered a contemporary legend, as the first sighting was reported in Puerto Rico in Tanzania - Tanzania is a country in East Africa. Its location is irrelevant to the story; the more important detail to note is that it is not in Latin America where chupacabras are rumored to exist. 2

3 Using other stories as inspiration Both Daniel Wallace, author of the novel, and John August, author of the screenplay and musical book, drew heavily on other stories when writing Big Fish. Since Edward is constantly telling stories and going on adventures, the authors decided to pull in other outside stories as well into the fabric of the narrative. Though the audience may not catch each parallel, the use of outside stories gives Big Fish a more familiar feel, since the audience members instinctively recognize the famous stories. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer/The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain were heavily relied on for the Witch scene. The general sense of mischief coupled with the basic premise of a pack of boys exploring in the woods was made famous by these two novels. Additionally, the idea that one of the boys, Edward, is destined for greater adventures is an echo of these Mark Twain stories. The Illiad by Homer is directly read from in the musical (we hear he first two lines from Book 9), and the premise of fighting over a beautiful woman that has been stolen away closely mirrors the story of Don, Edward, and Sandra. The Odyssey by Homer tells of Odysseus s journey after the Trojan War, and many of the stories are fantastic and epic in nature. This story lines up closely with Edward s zany adventures in his younger years. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee closely mirrors life in Ashton as it is set in Southern Alabama. It also closely mirrors aspects of the trial sequence. Though this story has less narrative influence, it has a large impact on style. John Wayne s films provide the inspiration for the Wild West film and subsequent dream sequence. 3

4 Musical vs. Novel vs. Movie The book and movie versions of Big Fish inform our work on this musical, but there are several changes to the Musical that are deliberately different than other versions of Big Fish. This is part of the beauty of this story - just as Edward s stories grow with time, the Big Fish story has changed since the original novel yet maintains the original intention. Musical Film Novel Author/Director Book by John August, Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa Directed by Susan Stroman Screenplay by John August, Directed by Tim Burton Written by Daniel Wallace Edward Bloom Edward is portrayed by a single actor and the story focuses on him. Edward is split into both young and old Edward, and the film splits focus between his two selves. Edward is dying of an unknown disease, most likely cancer, and Will tells his stories to the reader. Sandra Templeton Sandra is Edward s wife and loves and supports him in all that he does. Sandra is Edward s wife, and she vocally defends him to her son when he is upset. Sandra doesn t recognize Edward when they meet; she is much more hesitant about the relationship before falling in love. Will Bloom Will provides the conflict but is definitely not the villain. Will loves his father and wants to learn more about his stories. Will is angry with his father because he is always telling tall tales. Will just wants to know the truth about his father. Will narrates the entire story through a series of vignettes - he is the main character. 4

5 Musical Film Novel Josephine Bloom Josephine, Will s wife, is not French. She explains to Will the moral behind Edward s stories. Josephine was added into the film to make Will seem like more of a world traveler. She is French. The character of Josephine does not exist in the novel. Jenny Hill Jenny is Edward s childhood sweetheart who reveals the truth of Edward s past to Will. She is both the witch and old woman. She is portrayed by two different actors as young and old Jenny. Jenny helps Edward cheat on his wife and spends the rest of her life missing him. Mermaid The Mermaid appears to teach Edward about love, we see her more as a fictional story than an exaggerated truth. She sometimes appears as a naked girl in the water, and it is unclear whether or not she existed. She is the lady in the water who appears several times to rescue Edward, she is not necessarily a mermaid. 5

6 Themes Big Fish is a play about themes - they are the morals in each of Edward s stories. Edward tells his tales in order to teach his son Will a lesson rather than to simply list facts from his past. The themes mentioned here are certainly not all of the themes found within the Big Fish story, but they are several of the themes that had the greatest impact on our particular production. Relationship between Father and Son The relationship between father and son is the central theme of Big Fish. Edward is a father who wants his son to be proud of him, learn from his past, and move forward to a bright future. However, Will is unable to see much of his father s effort because of their difficulty communicating and connecting. This story discovers the process Will uses to finally understand his father, as well as Edward s constant determination to connect to his son in his own particular way. Water Edward is constantly returning to the water, Josephine and Will are married on the banks of the river, and several of the stories such as the Alabama stomp of the story of the Mermaid take place around water. Water is one of the most recognizable and ever-present images within the Big Fish narrative. Water is restless movement, like Edward, but it can also be slow and consistent, like Will. Additionally, water is a symbol for rebirth and is used in baptism. In our production, this theme is particularly noticeable near the end of the play, when Edward symbolically undergoes baptism and rebirth with the help of the mermaid. Love By the end of Big Fish nearly every character has found love, making it one of the show s central themes. Edward s retelling of Sandra shows his son what he believes true love looks like - that he will spend the rest of his life learning how to truly love his wife. Additionally, this play seems to imply that love is often found once we finally choose to live life to the fullest, embracing who we are and the world around us. 6

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