photograph by Margo E. Gesser
Ever wondered how to introduce your children to a memorable theatrical experience? Bring them to see Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Eric Carle Favorites. It’s at Orpheum Theater Friday, November 1st, at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday, November 2nd, at 11 a.m.
Combining the joys of reading with the art of puppetry, the company has entertained families with Eric Carle stories since 1999. This stage adaptation of the beloved author’s tales, which includes Little Cloud and The Mixed-Up Chameleon, has reached more than 2 million viewers worldwide.
Memphis Parent conducted a phone interview with Mermaid Theatre’s artistic director, Jim Morrow, to learn the secret behind the show’s success. Why does this show enjoy such acclaim?
Morrow: First, Eric Carle’s work is elegant and beautiful. His stories are loved.
But I think we’ve achieved an elegance, simplicity, and beauty on stage that exists in Eric’s storybooks. We have replicated the objects, puppets, and sets in the books. When a child sees a caterpillar on stage, he’s actually seeing a caterpillar — not a Mermaid interpretation of the caterpillar. So the child’s experience is as if the book has come to life.
What creates that feeling of wonder: the narration and original score or the puppetry and scene-setting?
Morrow: Eric’s books are quite magical. His illustrations, painting, exquisite use of color, shape, and design resonates with young people. Eric has an extraordinary ability to reach into the minds of a child in a very simple way, and I think children respect that.
Our challenges are giving three-dimensions to the objects, learning how to move them, and creating emotional underscoring through music and sound. Have you ever worked with the author?
Morrow: Eric acted as a mentor from a distance and provided me with some really important advice. It not only helped me produce the work based on his adaptation but also helped with how we approach the creation of theater for children. Eric has attended a number of shows privately and professionally. Afterwards, he tells me what he thinks and I take it personally. I consider him a close friend.
How much effort goes into bringing to life a brilliantly illustrated book like Eric Carle’s?
Morrow: Reading his books probably takes two minutes; adapting Eric Carle’s book for theater takes two years.
Our process is very complex and layered. The adaptation is the first part of the process where I immerse myself in the work for about four months. I draw pictures of how I imagine the play version taking place and each movement is represented in pictures. This informs us as to how the objects are going to move, and how performers will move through space with the object. It also gives us a chance to look at scale, size, and shape.
We use the storybook as our script and guide. Then we go into a series of workshops to play with technology, objects, puppets, music, and sets.
We have a lengthy rehearsal period (five to six weeks), then we have a small promotional tour to get audience reaction. We go into rehearsal a second time before our North American audience finally sees the show. • To learn more about this show, go to Mermaidtheatre.ca