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The Making of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND JR: Inspiration for an Island Set

Marker and crayon set design for Once on This Island Jr.
Marker and crayon set design for Once on This Island Jr.

We like fun sets at NBYT: giant Christmas presents, Seuss-inspired worlds, and video game Wonderlands. We wanted the island of Once on This Island Jr. to be just as fun, but it also needed to reflect the Caribbean feel of “the Jewel of the Antilles.”

Along with rehearsing and helping to paint some set pieces, the cast of Once on This Island Jr. has learned a few things this month. We’ve learned that “the Jewel of the Antilles” was once a name for Haiti. In the eighteenth century (the 1700’s) the French colony of Haiti was one of the richest places in the world. It provided items like sugar, cocoa, coffee, tobacco, cotton and other exotic products to France and much of Europe. Haiti unfortunately is now one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere. The nation shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Domincan Republic, which was originally a Spanish colony. French, Spanish and native heritage are still mixed on the island. We also learned that much of the art of the country is “art naïf.”

Cast members helping to paint flowers for the set

Art naïf is a form of art, especially popular in the Caribbean, that is literally translated as “naive art” or “childlike art.” There are actually museums dedicated to the art form. In the Caribbean, this artistic style is defined by bright colors, bold lines, and a lack of shadow and perspective. (In the United States, naive art is present in much American folk art.) Our art naïf-inspired set also has bright colors, bold lines and the folksy, childlike quality of some Caribbean art.

The flowers onstage and the silhouetted figures around the border of the set were painted by cast members. The border figures are meant to frame the setting and make the entire set design look like a Caribbean painting—with the cast as living people in the painting. The bright colors of the costumes will add to the painting too!

The Once on This Island Jr. set nearly complete
The Once on This Island Jr. set nearly complete

Our cast has learned a little history, geography and art—and now you have too! For some great music and entertainment, join us for the show!

Once on This Island Jr. will be performed on Friday, July 26, at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday, July 27, at 7:00 p.m.; and Sunday, July 28, at 2 p.m. Ticket prices are $12 for adults and $10 for children, students, and seniors. Special group rates are available for parties of ten or more. Tickets may be reserved by calling New Britain Youth Theater at 860-515-8115 or may be purchased online at Brown Paper Tickets.

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