From Jan. 22 to 23, actress Rachel Smith is set to present a one-woman alternate perspective of the classic Little Red Riding Hood story. The show, titled RED, will be performed in the Manitoba Theatre for Young People’s Richardson Hall.
Through extensive research, which includes work done for Smith’s undergraduate degree at the University of Winnipeg and her master’s thesis at the University of Manchester in England, Smith has created an abstract look at the classic fairy tale with a twist.
Smith took up a special studies course in her final year at the U of W. The final project for the course was a solo performance, and she began to work on the beginning stages of her journey with the story of Little Red Riding Hood as inspiration for an undergraduate thesis.
Smith came across the story in an annotated version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, in which the tale is titled “Little Red-Cap.” This version noted that the Grimm version of Little Red Riding Hood was not the original story and deviated a lot from the original oral version of the story.
In the Grimm version, the wolf tricks Red Riding Hood, eats her, and the huntsman saves her by cutting open the wolf. The annotations stated that the original version has no huntsman and Red tricks the wolf and saves herself.
Smith looked for other versions of the story to include in her one-woman production for her thesis. After Smith’s performance, she thought that was the end of her work with Little Red Riding Hood.
When Smith travelled to Manchester to complete her master’s thesis, she found herself revisiting the story of Little Red Riding Hood, but this time she would have to complete a much more extensive body of work with hours upon hours of research.
“I didn’t realize how much literature, academic research, and different versions of the story there were until I started working on it as part of my master’s thesis,” said Smith.
“In Taiwan there are around 240 different versions of a similar story, just with a tiger instead of a wolf. There’s some in China where [the animal] is a bear.”
Some of the versions she came across had different morals and meanings than the Brothers Grimm version we are used to. Some are focused on feminism, coming of age, confronting fears, connecting to nature, and others are just based on turning the tale on its head.
“I’ve taken a bit of all these different stories and put it into one. It’s an intertextual performance where it’s weaving all these different stories into one performance. I don’t tell one story from beginning to end, I use bits of all these different stories to create a new tale or a new performance,” Smith told the Manitoban.
“Some of them are humorous versions, grandma eating the wolf instead of the wolf eating grandma, or the wolf singing a song. Little variations that turn it on its head a little bit. In one of the versions, Red Riding Hood encounters an old woman and she is very nasty instead of a wolf. [In another,] the huntsman being the male predator instead of the wolf.”
Smith went on to explain that she’s tried to incorporate as many variations of the tale into her production as she can without the play becoming too chaotic. To mitigate this concern, Smith said that (with the exception of one) she does not use any version of the story more than once in her production.
“It’s in chronological order but it’s not necessarily linear,” she said.
“I’ll start with different versions of the beginning all mixed in to one, then move to the woods and what might happen in the woods […] Think of it as a collage.”
There have been some challenges in producing a one-woman show. All of the characters in RED are played by Smith, so she must make full-body transformations between characters so that the audience is extremely clear on which character she’s portraying at any given time.
Another major challenge Smith has faced is the absence of a director to give her notes and feedback on her performance. Smith has had the help from previous audiences and professors to contribute feedback on how to alter her performance to make it more easily palatable.
RED is self-written and self-produced, and funded, advertised, and performed by Smith alone.
“I really wanted to do it, and I’ve worked really hard to do it,” said Smith.
RED will be performed at 8 p.m. on Jan. 22, and at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on the 23rd. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets at redbyrachelsmith.bpt.me.