This ‘Alice in Wonderland’ stretches imagination through books

Dad’s study is filled with books. Behind each cover is an adventure.

Before Alice discovers the March Hare’s rabbit hole, she must first follow him into the book stacks. It’s symbolic, but it has meaning.

“Our mission is to encourage kids to use their imaginations through reading,” says Hugo Belanger, artistic director for the Montreal theater company Tout a Trac, which will be performing “Alice in Wonderland” in both French and English on Oct. 13 in the Manship Theatre. The 2 p.m. performance has sold out, so a 5 p.m. performance on that day has been added.

Belanger is writer and stage director of this show, which, he says, doesn’t take a conventional look at Alice.

“We stay true to the spirit of Lewis Carroll’s story, but we use our imaginations,” Belanger says. “It’s like reading. When we read, we imagine things differently. Our setting isn’t a garden but a library full of pop-up books, and each book is a discovery and a door to the next adventure.”

In this production, Alice isn’t Disney’s blonde girl in blue. She has short, brown hair and she’s hiding out in her father’s study to avoid doing her homework. That’s when she spots a strange white rabbit who loves to eat books, finding her father’s novels especially tasty.

Alice knows she must stop the rabbit. She chases him through his burrow and ends up in Wonderland, where the rabbit tells her he is late for a very important date.

And so begins this adventure in a world inhabited by Humpty Dumpty, the philosophizing Caterpillar, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter and the Snark Hunter.

“People tell us that our production isn’t anything like the Disney production,” Belanger says. “There are things I love about the Disney production, but we encourage children to see this story in their own way. Movies are a great art, but they tell us how to imagine something. When we read, we imagine it in our own way, and even movies can’t compare to our imaginations.”

This tour will mark Tout a Trac’s first visit to Louisiana. The company will stage a school performance of “Alice in Wonderland” at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Acadiana Center for the Arts’ James Devin Moncus Theater in Lafayette before coming to Baton Rouge for the Oct. 13 performance.

“And we’re very excited to be able to perform this play in both French and English in Louisiana’s Cajun country,” Belanger says. “We’re also have a tour of ‘Pinocchio,’ and we’re hoping we’ll be able to return with that play.”

Belanger will travel to Louisiana with his troupe of five actors and one technician. Louisiana’s reputation of rich French culture and good food has reached as far as Quebec, and he’s eager to experience it.

“We hope to have a chance to eat some of that wonderful food while we’re there,” he says. “And we’d like to see some of the places and learn about the history.”

Tout a Trac has been producing plays for 15 years. It has toured extensively throughout Canada and the U.S., Asia and the Middle East.

“We’re hoping to travel to Europe one day,” Belanger says.