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3 actors operate horse puppet

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Grayson DeJesus, left, rides Topthorn and Michael Wyatt Cox, right, rides Joey in “War Horse.” (Courtesy of Brinkhoof/Mogenburg)

Grayson DeJesus, left, rides Topthorn and Michael Wyatt Cox, right, rides Joey in “War Horse.” (Courtesy of Brinkhoof/Mogenburg)

It’s all in the details.

From the trio of actors – who together work as the head, hind and the heart of the giant puppet from Handspring Puppet Company – to the stage lighting and sound, each element is essential to pull off a production of “War Horse.”

For two years, Sarna Lapine has been on board the traveling production as the associate director. It’s been her job to make sure the production goes on without problems.

“It’s been a tremendous opportunity for me to be part of this production,” she says. “It’s a remarkable a story and the team that’s been put together helps tell the story well.”

“War Horse” tells the story of young Albert and his beloved horse, Joey.

It is based on the 1982 book of the same name by acclaimed children’s writer Michael Morpurgo, adapted for stage by Nick Stafford.

It is set in World War I as Joey is sold to the British calvary to fight in the war, breaking Albert’s heart.

The rest of the story follows Joey’s journey through a war-torn area.

In 2011, Steven Spielberg turned “War Horse” into a film, but there’s quite a difference, Lapine says.

“The puppets from Handspring kind of set the bar for the production,” she says. “Nothing has ever been done like this before on this level. With that, we needed to create a production that was on the same level as the puppets.”

Lapine says it’s also rare to have a production like this because it’s not a musical.

“It’s been running for a long time,” she says. “It keeps gaining more momentum as it travels.”

Lapine never sees a day that works out the same in her position. She says when a production is going up, there are long days and a lot of rehearsing.

“Once the tour is up and running, my job changes gears,” she says. “I will travel to some of the dates and take notes on the production. This gives me a chance to see the production with a different set of eyes. I’m able to see what’s not coming off right as an audience member.”

Lapine says her job also is to try and keep the production fresh while remaining true to the original, which is put on by the Theatre of Great Britain.

“There’s a bit of humanity in the puppets,” she says. “We are able to animate them and each one of the horses takes on its own personality and the audience bonds with the story.”

Lapine has worked on productions such as “Women of the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” “South Pacific,” “Awake” and “The Light in the Piazza.”

Soldiers march in a band during a scene from “War Horse,” which takes place during World War I. (Courtesy of Brinkhoof/Mogenburg)

Soldiers march in a band during a scene from “War Horse,” which takes place during World War I. (Courtesy of Brinkhoof/Mogenburg)

What drew her to “War Horse” was the fact that it’s “more than a play, it’s like a theatrical event.”

“I wanted to get inside of the play and understand how it got created,” she says. “It also gave me the opportunity to work with puppeteers. And with a production like this, there are many directors and helps build a bond with the entire cast.”

Since its inception in 2007, “War Horse” has earned critics’ and audiences’ praises.

The show premiered in October 2007 at the Royal National-Olivier Theatre in South Bank, London, and closed in March 2009. It then found a home to the West End’s New London Theatre that same month and opened in April 2009.

“War Horse” began preview performances at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York City in March 2011 and then opened on Broadway in April 2011. The production was only scheduled to have a limited run, but soon became open-ended after strong critical reception and ticket sales. The production received five Tony Awards at the 2011 ceremony, including Best Play.

It closed on Jan. 6 on Broadway, after 718 performances and 33 previews.

Albert atop Joey in a scene from “War Horse.” (Courtesy of Brinkhoof/Mogenburg)

Albert atop Joey in a scene from “War Horse.” (Courtesy of Brinkhoof/Mogenburg)

Joey was created by the Handspring Puppet Company in South Africa. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Joey was created by the Handspring Puppet Company in South Africa. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

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