Do512 Family Featured Babymaker and contributing writer, Quel from Homegirl Blog, had a chance to take her son to a special behind the scenes dress rehearsal at ZACH Theatre for their latest production, Pinocchio. Here is her recap, along with an interview with Nat Miller, ZACH’s Educational Director.
Once we found our seats inside the intimate Whisenhunt Stage at ZACH Theatre for the current production of Pinocchio. One glance around the stage and the walls and we knew we were inside Geppetto’s workshop. The stage came alive with actors, puppets and props and seamlessly moved between Pinocchio’s cautionary adventures and back. Throughout the dress rehearsal, I found myself continually impressed by new elements used to keep the play moving along. Periodically, I checked on my 6-year-old, Zack, to see if he had seen what I just saw and mostly our reactions of wonder were matched. Theatre is so magical, and ZACH’s production of Pinocchio is nothing short of that. I was happy to chat with Nat Miller briefly during the rehearsal and give him my feedback on the show. He was gracious enough to respond to several follow-up questions about the elements of the production that I found most magical.
How do you decide which stories to bring alive for children each year?
I usually try to balance the season with a variety of offerings. I first look for titles that connect to children’s books, as it will appeal to schools and families. I want to do a bilingual piece every year as it is important that we tell stories that connect with our community. Finally, I want to make sure we have one piece that challenges people’s perception of children’s theatre and storytelling, that is the slot where Pinocchio fits in.
Why did you choose Pinnochio?
I have spent a lot of time seeing international children’s theatre and have been really inspired by how innovative, theatrical, and beautiful their work is. In looking at some companies in England, I saw a version of Pinocchio done as a one man show. It looked very inventive and I was intrigued to revisit the story. I started to wonder why did this old man make a boy out of wood. Why doesn’t he have a son of his own? The more the playwright, Andrew Windler, and I thought about it, the more we felt like this is a story of a man who lives in the world of his imagination because he is scared of the outside world. The idea of Pinocchio turning into a real boy and convincing him to go outside because that is the real adventure really intrigued me. The image of the two of them walking out the door together is what moved me.
A noticeably large variety of puppetry is used in Pinocchio—traditional rod puppets, shadow puppets, finger puppets, a doll and even the cool mechanical fox (which I’d never seen anything like before), which created a very rich experience for the audience to enjoy. The scenes also varied in visual scope. What was the process for deciding how many dimensions to include in Pinocchio? Is it a creative group effort, or is it thanks to one brilliant mind? The mechanical fox is the coolest thing I have ever seen in children’s theatre. What inspired it?
Lucie Cunningham is our puppet designer and came up with the ideas for all the puppets. She did some research and found wooden mechanical toys, which is what inspired the fox. It was really important to her to have many different kinds of puppets and I think it really paid off. We also have a wonderful props department that helped her and made the funland box that I think is also pretty amazing. Theatre is a very collaborative art and we have a wonderful team of professionals at ZACH. I think the play is beautiful to look at and I’m very honored to work with the people I did.
The idea came from old mechanical toys, which I’ve always been in love with. I have been waiting for a piece to come, where I could finally make a puppet like this one. My research on old mechanisms showed a camel and a dog, and slightly different mechanisms and movements. I tried to design a mechanism and limbs so it would look like he’s sneaking on Pinocchio a bit… and the whole wooden mechanism seemed to be the perfect product of Geppetto’s clockwork and wood carving skills. It was important to the whole creative team that the set, props and puppets lived well in the world of Geppetto. Regarding the build, it was very much a collective effort. I drew the parts, our technical director DJ Riley cut the wood and drilled the holes, then I assembled it, dressed him in fur and painted him, and then it got some tweaking in the props department with Justin Cox and Scott Groh to move more smoothly, have mechanism adjustments and have the wheels and rods lacquered in the same way that other props in Geppetto’s shop were. As for the top hat and the jazzy music, it was just serendipitous! I had put on a little top hat at home, and when I brought him over for tech, we realized that Aaron Ward had created just the perfect music for his seedy look! This shows how we all had the same feeling about which kind of character he was and how well we all collaborated on this.
One of my son’s favorite parts of the play was when Pinocchio turns into a real boy. Often children’s characters are performed by adult actors at Zach Scott Theatre. Why did you decide to use child actors to play the “real boy” Pinocchio this time?
Great question. We often use adult actors because the style of the play allows for it and a young looking adult actor often can pull off playing a child. We also usually do 60 – 100 performances and that is a lot to ask of a young actor. In this play a puppet turns into a real boy. I felt it was important for that actor to really be a boy. I think that is works really well.
What do you hope children gain from seeing your production of Pinocchio?
I hope they are inspired to use their imagination and are able to talk about the different ways we told the story. I hope they will have some compassion for Geppetto and are able to understand what it means to be scared but also how to overcome your fears and have hope. That may be a lot to ask, but I hope, at least, parents and kids have fun and enjoy all of our the beautiful work of our design team.