The Emma Willard School Theatre Department opened this year’s season with an adaptation of Daphne DuMaurier’s short story, “The Birds” (also the basis for Alfred Hitchcock's classic film). The adaptation is set in post-World War II in an isolated house, with several strangers sheltering from a relentless mass of attacking birds. Physically safe, but psychologically unsettling, the characters grapple with concepts of love and survival.
Knowing there was a short turnaround from the beginning of the year to opening night, Theatre Instructor Faith Lawson (Flawson) searched for a play with a small cast but a wide variety of roles on and off-stage.
“Hitchcock was always on my list,” says Flawson, citing the Google search that led to the stage adaptation, by Conor McPherson. “Students have been wanting to put together a show that talks about love. I knew from this script that it does deal with love, but in a way that perhaps they don’t normally think about. It was a good challenge for them!”
Many audience members were perhaps more familiar with the 1963 film adaptation, where the titular thematic birds were integral to the visual language of the film. The stage adaptation relies on bird imagery in a different way: while the attacking birds don’t make an appearance, Flawson and the student designers integrated bird imagery into the set.
“For the film, the birds are the main character, but in the play, we don’t physically see them, though they do need to be present in some way,” Flawson explains.
“We created a pagoda at the entrance to the theatre, so the birds stare at the audience as they enter,” details Flawson. Once inside, the elaborate set design situates the audience in the living space of the characters, featuring bird decor, toys, and other objects to underscore that the house is safe: inside, the birds are not attacking.
Post-show, audience members frequently talk about the set—detailed, full, and immersive, the design team worked together to evoke a space that felt real.
“The crew also designed it,” says Flawson, describing the process for building the set. “I gave them the vision, the vibe, and students went off to create proposals before coming back and giving presentations for approval. Once the ideas were set, they worked with Technical Theatre Director Rachael Robison to start working and designing the world.”
The decision to not use music as a transitional moment was one the production discussed, noting the importance that the audience (and actors) be aware of silence. When there isn’t silence, they hear birds: these intentional choices help truly immerse the audience in the experience of the play.
“The general reaction of people who know of the film and are familiar with Hitchcock—they expected it to be scary and frightening, but the stage show is so different from the film! But mostly, I’ve heard the audience say they were so impressed by what the students did!”
Thanh B. ’26 built the production’s website, which details the cast and crew alongside details of the characters and plot: Fall '23 Play: Emma Willard School Theatre Production.
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