Interview with the director of It’s a Wonderful Life

Bob Frazer and Kirsten Robek. Photo by David Cooper.

Our holiday heart-warmer It’s a Wonderful Life began previews last night with a packed house. While there are some fresh new faces in the cast , the man at the helm of this magical production remains the amazing Dean Paul Gibson. Check out some of his thoughts on the show!

What are some of the challenges of staging a story that is so well known as a film?

When it’s a film, when it’s something that didn’t start as a play, people want to come and see that thing that is the film. That’s a particular challenge, because people want to come and see Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore and everyone else in between. We can’t give them that, but we can capture the spirit and quality that the film represented.

It’s really important to find the universal appeal of an enduring iconic film like this, to capture the essence of it. What is it about the film that speaks to so many people’s hearts year after year? I’ve got to try to capture the essence of the film and put it on stage. That begins with a good adaptation and then actors that can inhabit those qualities: actors who have a particularly transparent and good heart.

How would you characterize the essence of It’s a Wonderful Life?

It’s hopeful. It’s simply hopeful. So when we get so weighed down with the complexities of our lives today, to see a light in whatever tunnel that we might be travelling through is the thing that speaks to so many of us. We need to be hopeful. We need to be able to come through, rededicate, recommit to our families and, beyond that, to our life. Part of that journey for many people is to feel safe, whatever that means to you personally and individually. [The film] is hopeful, and that’s what’s so great about it. The humanity that comes out of it is of course something that appeals to all of us perennially. We’re challenged to find it amongst all the things that happen in the world, but when we do, that simple humanity is pure gold.

 There’s also a dark side to the film, isn’t there?

[Frank] Capra [the film’s director] was known for that; he was subversive. It is very dark. George Bailey’s journey is one of those instances of “I didn’t choose it, it chose me.” He wants to see the world and be a great architect, and he dashes all his personal dreams for the greater good of the community. Whatever the divine powers are—and it’s not overt, but it’s a seemingly Christian God—they decide that George needs to stay in Bedford Falls because his life is an integral part of its survival. Ultimately, George learns that where you live is more important than anything else; he learns the importance of maintaining his roots, and the payoff of those relationships is enormous.

I work really hard at maintaining relationships that go back 35 years, and I see those people still because they’re such an important part of the fibre of my existence. Just knowing that can help me all the other places I go in the world. I’ve got a great sense of my history and that really informs who I am.

Does It’s a Wonderful Life play a part in your personal holiday traditions?

It was not a tradition in the Gibson family; we were more spontaneous. Mom loved A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim; she loved watching the expressions on his face. I don’t have an annual visit with It’s a Wonderful Life. I know people who watch it every Christmas Eve, but I reacquaint myself with it serendipitously: it’s on late and I’ll catch half of it, or I’ll sit down with a group of people who are watching it. I remember the first time I saw it when I was a kid, and then the obsession with angels was born. I went around ringing bells because I was sure I could be a broker for people I knew who deserved their wings, so I’d run around ringing as many bells as I could.

It’s a Wonderful Life runs until January 2!

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