Just a blind squirrel

… hoping to find a nut now and then

Posts Tagged ‘War Horse

Hello, Joey

leave a comment »

When SHN announced its 2011-12 season, I probably topped my circle of friends in my excitement about the seven titles, despite my disappointment at no “Memphis” and the inclusion of Hair, one of my least favorite shows. “Les Miserables” holds a special place in my heart as my first musical and I was unreasonably intrigued by “Bring It On,” due to its “In The Heights“/”Next to Normal” pedigree. But it was one of the two plays that most got me excited, much to the confusion of my less-theater-nerdy friends.

Joey at the Curran Theater preview event

Joey at the Curran Theater preview event

I was in New York on a theater binge when “War Horse” was in previews on Broadway, and it was already a hot ticket. Since I was in a musicals-only frame of mind, it wasn’t a big deal to skip battling for a way to see it. Or perhaps I’m psychic — less than two months later, the national tour was announced, and I fully expected San Francisco to get a stop.

At any rate, I’ve become borderline-obsessed with the show, which features a number of things that put it in my weird little wheelhouse. I’m intrigued by wars, in a scholarly way. My grandfather was a Civil War aficionado, so perhaps it’s genetic. And who doesn’t love English accents?

But first and foremost, I LOVE PUPPETS. I didn’t realize the degree to which this is true until my sister-in-law proclaimed the same thing and the world finally made sense to me. I love funny puppets, serious puppets, the Muppets (my ringtone is the Muppet chickens singing “Forget You”) — if it’s made of fur or wood or felt or paper and operated by a human, LOVE IT. (This also translates to mascots, for some equally strange reason. Stop looking at me like that.)

You don’t even have to be a puppet person to appreciate the stagecraft of “War Horse,” though. What the Handspring Puppet Company has done is astounding — trust me that it’s worth the 18 minutes to watch this TED presentation about the puppets.

OK, enough with the blather. This is just to set up how excited I was when I received an invitation for SHN subscribers to a preview event for “War Horse” that would feature Joey, the title character. As luck would have it, I was already scheduled to be off work that day, thanks to the horse puppet gods. Or something.

The Curran Theater doors were scheduled to open at 5:15, so I arrived a few minutes before 5 and found around 20 or 30 people already lined up.

Audience waiting at Curran Theater

Photo from SHN's Twitter feed

Book of MormonWhen the doors opened, I quickly picked up my tickets, got a free drink from the bar and met a disturbingly high number of SHN staff members who recognized me from Twitter or Facebook. (OK, it was two, but still …) The lobby also featured the big news from the previous day, already plastered eight feet tall (shown at left).

Despite not entering the theater for about 30 minutes after it opened, we still snagged seats in the front row — being accustomed to lottery and rush seating, we didn’t mind sitting on the side if it meant being close.

The event began with some of the beautifully haunting music from the show (check it out here), and then SHN marketing and sales VP Scott Kane introduced Finn Caldwell, the associate puppetry director and one of the puppeteers for the National Theatre production of “War Horse.”

Caldwell discusses "Tall Horse"

Caldwell discusses "Tall Horse"

Caldwell, with the most delicious South African accent, took the audience through a brief history of the Handspring Puppet Company, including an earlier show called “Tall Horse” that featured a giraffe puppet. And then he introduced the star of the show, Joey, operated by three puppeteers (Head, Heart and Hind, as they’re known — better Hind than “Horse’s Ass,” I suppose).

I already knew a lot about the amazing work the War Horse puppeteers do, thanks to a cool video diary series, available on iTunes, done by the puppeteer who plays Joey’s Hind in the West End (not going to touch that one). But to see the horse in the flesh, so to speak, was remarkable. Despite the harsh lighting, which my iPhone camera did not enjoy one bit, the puppeteers still seemed to vanish in the creature and it was barely a reach to imagine it as a living, breathing being. Indeed, the horse “breathing” is one of the movements the puppeteers use to enhance the realism.

Here’s a video I took of Joey’s entrance (with my iPhone, which does not like less-than-optimal lighting, apparently).

The event concluded with SHN’s own Carole Shorenstein Hays getting a ride on Joey (the construction allows the puppeteers to carry actors) and then a raffle for a photo opportunity with the horse. That was a prize I would have paid serious money to get, but alas, I wasn’t a winner.

Though I’d already figured I’d see “War Horse” more than once when it arrives in August, this event sealed that. In fact, I’m hoping to get a ticket for opening night, in addition to my subscriber night of Aug. 16. And hey, a third time might be in the offing, especially if I can somehow get a photo with Joey.

Advertisements

Written by ChrisShut

February 20, 2012 at 10:42 pm