Prince of a show

The set of Stepping Out Theatre’s The Little Prince isn’t quite what one would expect from an amateur theater company, much less one that has its roots as a children’s troupe.

The set of Stepping Out Theatre’s The Little Prince isn’t quite what one would expect from an amateur theater company, much less one that has its roots as a children’s troupe.

“Usually the play is performed on a stage,” said Anna Finklestein, director, company founder and a Portland State sophomore.

But the yoga studio of the Lotus School is decorated rather abstractly, with strings of lights and chairs arranged haphazardly.

“The play is going to be performed in the round,” Finklestein said. “I wanted to make the audience feel like a part of the play…not separated from the action. The entire space is a performance space, it’s going to be lit up for the performance, and the audience is going to be staggered, not really in rows.”

The Little Prince is Stepping Out Theatre’s first Portland production. Finklestein founded Stepping Out Theatre five years ago in Boston, after dropping out of high school at age 14 to pursue a more self-directed education, informed by the ideas of educators like John Taylor Gatto and John Holt.

“I didn’t buy into this idea that you had to go to high school to get into college to get a degree to succeed, I just couldn’t take it seriously. Everyone around me was telling me that high school was a setup for the rest of my life, that if I didn’t do well, that it would impact my future,” she said.

Dropping out of school made Finklestein a person of some note in her suburban Boston hometown.
“Everyone knew I’d done it, and everyone wanted to know why…eventually, it became less about me leaving school, and more about me kind of championing youth empowerment,” Finklestein said.

Stepping Out Theatre fit in with Finklestein’s ideas about alternative education. While initially Finklestein, an actress, formed the company because she wanted a venue to act in, she realized that the theater could also be a place for youth empowerment, and ensured that young adults under age 21 ran the entire operation. She began directing when no one else volunteered.

Finklestein moved to Portland a year ago to attend Portland State, and decided to start staging shows with the theater company, again to give herself a creative outlet.

“The mission statement’s changed,” she said. “It used to be more about everything being run by young adults, the youth empowerment idea, but now, it’s about producing boundary-pushing performance art that’s inspirational and collaborative…the mission has kind of grown as I have.”

Finklestein chose The Little Prince for her company’s first production with the hopes that the familiar title would draw theatergoers.

“It’s something everyone can enjoy—it’s an adult book, but it appeals to children. I wanted to stage it a little differently, because if it’s onstage, it comes across as a children’s play, and I wanted it to have that same quality that the book does, of being enjoyable for all ages,” Finklestein says.

The collaborative nature of the company is on display as Finklestein debriefs her cast of four actors. She takes suggestions from her youngest actress, a young girl playing The Little Prince. (Finklestein chose an all-female cast because she felt that the play, as written, had a number of gender clichés.) Finklestein is obviously a director with a vision, but she opens the floor to suggestions for staging, prop handoffs and exits—perhaps the most difficult part of the show, since there isn’t a clearly defined stage.

Finklestein plans to encourage the audience to move around to better see the action, to make them feel more engaged with the art, similar to an art installation. She’s planned sound and visual elements that will begin long before the proverbial curtain, so that the performance extends before and after the actual play.

For fans of the book, The Little Prince is bound to be worth seeing. Finklestein has a deep appreciation for the material and original ideas borne of five years of directing plays. For fans of Portland’s do-it-yourself, artsy and creative side, Stepping Out Theatre is a unique independent company.