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Local Director Transforms Stage Play Into Feature Film

Like Wonderland is a coming-of-age romantic comedy in which the protagonists just happen to be lesbians.

Christopher Alan McDaniel | October 11, 2017

Chosen as a feature for Seed&Spark’s Hometown Heroes Rally, Like Wonderland is a feature-length movie currently in production by Virginia Commonwealth University alumna Erica Messenger, who lives in Los Angeles. In Messenger’s senior year of her undergraduate studies, she wrote and directed Like Wonderland as a play, in collaboration with Shafer Alliance Laboratory Theatre. Now, she has adapted the play into a feature-length screenplay. Seed&Spark is a crowdfunding website that raises community funds for independent films, and under their Hometown Heroes initiative, Messenger is raising funds to film her movie in Richmond – and to employ local actors, with a local production crew, too.

Messenger has been involved in theatre since childhood, getting involved in local theatre in her hometown of Fairfax before coming to VCU. While at the university, she performed in mainstage productions including Elephant Man and Sweeney Todd, as well as several productions through Shafer Alliance Laboratory Theatre. She’s continued to act since graduating, but Like Wonderland will be her first feature film as director.

The film is a coming-of-age story set in Richmond. It focuses on a young lesbian woman named Alice. “We see her going through the struggle of being young and having your heart broken. [She] doesn’t seem to have good luck in love,” Messenger said. Before long, though, she meets Rebecca, the “girl of her dreams.” The relationship between the two drives the plot of the film. “The relationship brings out a lot of Alice’s character feedback – her fears, her expectations,” Messenger explained. “It seems like she might unconsciously sabotage the relationship because of those fears and expectations.”

Like Wonderland directly stemmed from some of Messenger’s coursework as a theatre student. “When I was a student at VCU for theatre, I did an independent study where I examined queer women in media [as well as] the formula for romantic comedies – heterosexual romantic comedies,” Messenger said. All of these subjects swirling around in her head inspired her to produce the initial version of Like Wonderland as a play. “That was a great way to get the story on its feet, to get actors involved, to get immediate feedback from the audience.”

With Like Wonderland, Messenger hoped to change the typical way LGBTQ relationships are represented in popular culture. “I found myself watching films representing queer women and relationships about queer women, and there was a lot of tragedy, a lot of stereotypes about infidelity. All of these stories dealt with the struggles of coming out and coming to terms with sexuality,” she said. “It’s an important story to tell, but I wanted a story about queer women that wasn’t about them being queer. It’s not a coming out story, it’s a coming of age story; it just so happens that the protagonist we’re following is a young lesbian.”

Like Wonderland Campaign Intro from Victoria Sharpe on Vimeo.

Right now, Messenger is working with Seed&Spark to get help with financing. “We’re hoping to raise $25,000, and for a feature-length film, that’s a pretty low budget, actually,” she said. She plans to put the money right back into the Richmond artistic community, too. “A lot of budget is just so we can pay our artists, and we contribute to the community in that way.” Quite a few participants in the Like Wonderland production currently call Richmond home, including producer Victoria Sharpe and director of photography Brian Hoge. Some of the actors in the film have also performed in Quill Theatre and Richmond Triangle Players productions, and all involved are VCU alumni.

In the event that Like Wonderland does not win Seed&Spark’s Hometown Heroes Rally, Messenger has begun planning additional funding options. “We’re looking into running another crowdfunding campaign, and [getting] local sponsorships from the places that we’ll be filming in Richmond,” she said. “Winning the Seed&Spark competition would be great, but it’s not end game for us. The end game is making this film the way we want to make it; true to the story, true to the community. We’re willing to explore other ways to do that.”

Though there is no current timeline for the premiere of Like Wonderland, Richmond definitely will receive one. “We’re planning on having a Richmond premiere, and we’d love to have it at the Byrd,” Messenger said. “We’re also planning on teaming up with local LGBTQ organizations for screenings, and they can use that for fundraisers or any other way they want to continue outreach for the community.”

Like Wonderland’s campaign for the Seed&Spark Hometown Heroes Rally can be found HERE. The funding deadline is October 13 at 3 PM.