For its second show of the 2014-15 season, The Collective Face Theatre Ensemble is bringing to life a very unique staging of "The Little Prince."
Adapted for the stage from the beloved children's novella by Antoine de Saint Exupery, "The Little Prince" is heralded as the most-read and most-translated book of French literary history.
Collective Face artistic director, and the show's designer and director, David I.L. Poole wanted to produce something different for the annual holiday season show.
"I was looking for something that would fit our holiday slot that wasn't traditional," Poole said. "I didn't want to do 'A Christmas Carol.' I didn't want to do all of those very traditional pieces. I was looking for something that would be family oriented and challenge the actors in the company."
Adding his own personal aesthetic to the piece, Poole has set out to stage a very unique version, one that includes a medium of performance art he is very familiar with: puppets.
The play by Rick Cummins and John Scoular, which is the only version sanctioned by the estate of the novella's author, has four different versions that can be reproduced.
Poole decided on a medium cast play version, instead of the large or small cast musical or a large cast play version. A majority of the roles, except for the aviator, will be handled by puppets, including the title character.
An ancient style of Japanese puppet theater called Bunraku, where the puppeteer is visible, is being used by the ensemble to stage the play, and will hopefully stretch the imagination of patrons.
"Puppets and actors together is a very interesting dynamic and aesthetic," Poole said. "It's been interesting to challenge actors that are used to actor-driven pieces, where it's all actors, and throwing them in with these puppets that they have to interact with.
"It's so wonderful to work with puppets, because they can do a lot things that humans can't. They can fly, they can be upside down and all kinds of magical, fantastical things," he said. "Also, you can explore with puppets' point of view. You can do aerial view with puppets that you can't do with humans, by just holding the puppet at a different angle."
A traditional, naturalist play could not possible work with such a fantastical idea. It would be hard, yet kind of fun, to envision "White Christmas" with puppets.
But "The Little Prince" is a fantasy of the greatest order. A story of an aviator who has crashed in the desert (a very real event that occurred to the novella's author), and meets a little man, or boy, who has a pretty fantastic story to tell.
With themes that are not only accessible to children, but to adults as well, "The Little Prince" has stood out for decades due to its rich layers of moral aptitude and timeless tale of perseverance.
The novella was born out of the chaos of World War II in Europe, and like much of the post-war art, takes a more surreal approach to the harsh realities of lives plagued by death and despondency.
Drawing influence from Japanese art, graphic and costume designer Eiko Ishioka ("The Cell," "The Fall," "Bram Stoker's Dracula," "Mirror Mirror"), Poole wanted the landscape surrounding his staging to emulate a surreal fantasy, which would "inform the actors," an idea that also bled into the costuming.
Direction-wise, Poole used Anne Bogart's famous "Viewpoints" to help pull his actors into the scene. This is a style of acting that, simply speaking, relies on movement and gesture to bring the text alive, a fitting form for such a play.
"We adapted and used 'Viewpoints' in our own way," Poole said. "We kind of improved scenes, and would take those scenes that we improved and incorporate it with the text and augment the text with movement. All during the rehearsal process, it was whole lot of discovery.
"I think it's going to be a really fun evening for everyone," Poole said. "Children will see this at one level and adults will understand this at a different level. That's the brilliance of the novella ... I think that this puppet is going to break people's hearts."