Friday, April 4, 2014

Theater: "The King Stag" (A New Production with Puppets from the Creators of "War Horse")

There's a new production of The King Stag being staged by the University Theater of West Michigan (WMU) and this one has been created under the mentoring of some world class puppeteers (rehearsal photos  - as well as those figuring out the puppet designs - are shown throughout the post).
This is an 18th century Italian Shakespearean-esque fairy tale of love and sorcery being retold with very playful sense of humor in a Commedia dell-Arte** play (albeit with some key differences due to the large scale, multiple-performer controlled puppets). It has "entrapped wizards, talking birds, enchanted busts and magical spells that cause the souls of the characters to switch bodies"*- all while the audience watches with comedic delight.
The classic comedy by Carlo Gozzi is having a revival, of sorts, in theatrical circles in the past few years (very possibly being helped along by the rise in popularity of deer people - and people enchanted as deer - tales from the Celtic to the Native American) and usually, the young man, enchanted in the form of a stag, among the other animal-like characters of the court, is played by humans.  This production is handling the story a little differently:
King Stag is a magically funny fable in which men transform into creatures and creatures transform into men. Through a sophisticated blend of live actors and puppets created and directed by guest artists from the Puppet Kitchen in NYC and Handspring (creators of War Horse) in South Africa,King Stag will challenge the boundaries of imagination and contemporary creativity. Lose yourself in a world of powerful magicians, heart-sick lovers, whimsical servants, and a giant bear—all in pursuit of true love.
The play is intended for people of all ages (barring the very young - the suggested age is 10 and above), and promises to be a lot of fun, especially with the likes of Handspring involved!
Here are one of the University's promotional videos, showing behind-the-scenes of the puppet-building and their performance challenges as a result.
Here's a blurb about the play by Carlo Gozzi from an earlier production. The University Theater production follows the same story, of course. They just tell it a bit differently.
Carlo Gozzi's magical tale brings to life King Deramo, the faithful Angela who loves him, his treacherous prime minister Tartaglia, several hare-brained members of his court, a magician, a parrot, magical stags, and a giant bear.It's a fairy tale for all ages, a story of love and betrayal, intrigue and mirth, magic spells and pageantry.It is a fantastical and at times satirical look at the destructive vices of ambition, jealousy, and lust, and the power of true love to transform and transcend them all.And like all good fairy tales, "The King Stag" is not only about enchantment. It's also enchanting.
If you love Commedia Dell-Arte, this is one play you will want to keep your eye out for. Every production I've seen mentioned dives deeply into the Italian street theater tradition and really, just looks like a lot of fun. You can see some performance photos by The Curtain Theater in California HERE. They have one stag puppet and make wonderful use of masks and stage their play as if it were being performed in an Italian street.

There's also a completely different and modern take on The King Stag, though still using Commedia Dell'Arte, by the Shanghai Academy HERE, and it should be mentioned that Julie Taymor also designed a production of The King Stag early in her theater career as well. You can see some photos from that HERE.
The performance premiered yesterday on April 3rd (Thursday) and will run through the 13th. You can find more details on times and about tickets HERE.

*Quote about the play elements from a different production HERE.
** Commedia Dell’Arte is a Rennaisance Italian Street Theater Form which is known for broad comic situations featuring stock characters (many of which are recognizable today), physical comedy, improvisation and clowning.

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