Our first rehearsals began officially a week ago and already we’re tackling some of the most challenging aspects of the script. Working with Rob (ensemble member, Robert Kauzlaric) as adapter on a few projects now I know to expect heightened language and an infectious joy for theatricality. Also inherent in a “Kauzlaric” is bold physical imagery. His challenge to the director includes vivid descriptions of the seemingly impossible – from The Island of Dr Moreau “The compound collapses as fire sweeps over it” is a good example.
His adaptation of Flight of the Dodo, a book with probably no more than 100 words in it to begin with, involves over thirty minutes of four flightless birds flying through the sky in a hot air balloon. The above quote from the song “Fol-de-rol-ery & Daring-do” describes a flying contest between our heroes and their rivals, The Geese. Right, I’ve got 30 or so square feet to stage a flying contest between a hot air balloon full of actors and a flock of geese?
As a director, this gets me really excited – how do I inspire designers and actors to help me solve this physical riddle on Lifeline’s famed postage-stamp-sized arena? Even better, how do we solve this conundrum with respect for both the script AND the audience? Directing and acting for children requires, one could argue, a special kind of integrity. In my experience, an adult audience has a natural patience that meets you half way in creating the suspension of disbelief necessary when creating a representational theatrical answer. For children, if you don’t believe in the construct, if you don’t commit to it 110%, they will see through your shallow “trick” and get bored – fast.
So I did some thinking on ways to fly without leaving the ground. I looked at puppetry techniques from kabuki and bunraku traditions. I watched with great envy the viral YouTube video of “Matrix Ping Pong” and did some thinking about forced perspective changes – different sized puppets? A flying machine that has an organic range of movement? Can we make the floor the sky and the ceiling the ground? I brought all these questions and inspirations to my design team. Our first and most important job – design the Dodo.
At our first production meeting I suggested that the basket of the Dodo be soft sided, built like an inverted hoop skirt, the birds standing the middle, holding onto the rim, able to tip the top to and fro to indicate movement and allowing for them to travel “Flintstones – style” from one end of the stage to other. Scenic designer Chelsea Warren ran with this idea. With practical assistance from Lifeline’s new technical director Ian Zywica, Chelsea created a structure sturdy enough to hold four actors and move with ease around the stage floor while supporting a five foot diameter red weather balloon and integrating the pliable basket idea I had requested.
I am thrilled with the movement of our Dodo – rehearsals are proving that a tremendous range of possibilities are available to us.
Now… how will I stage the singing Penguin Poo? Hmmm….