BWW Interviews: Nick LaMedica Talks the First National Tour of WAR HORSE
In just a couple of weeks, Broadway Across America will be bringing in the First National Tour of the five-time Tony award winning production of WAR HORSE, a play adapted by Nick Stafford in association with Handspring Puppet Company that is based on the Michael Murporgo book of the same title. Set against the backdrop of World War One, this production tells the imaginative and emotional tale of a farm boy named Albert and his love for his horse, Joey. With breathtaking life-size puppets, stirring music, and storytelling at its finest, the First National Tour of WAR HORSE is sure to be an unforgettable theatergoing experience for Houston audiences. I was lucky enough to catch up with Nick LaMedica, a puppeteer for this production, who took some time out of his busy schedule to give Houston audiences an inside look at all of the rigorous training it takes to bring the horse to life onstage and to let us know why we don't want to miss WAR HORSE.
BWW: When did you first know that you wanted to make a career in the performing arts?
Nick LaMedica: Oh, that's a really difficult question to answer. Well, my father was a performer. He does educational animal shows, magic shows, and things like that. So, I was always sort of around it, but I didn't really get into it until I was in high school. I had selected drama class as a third elective or fourth elective alternate after a few other classes, and it was the only one that was available. So, that's the class I ended up taking. One day, my teacher handed me this monologue from a really wonderful play called CONVERSATIONS WITH MY FATHER, and something about it just sort of clicked for me. I got to perform it at a gala that we had. From that point forward, there was really no duplicating the thrill and excitement of it and the creative opportunity to tell other people's stories that I was really drawn to.
BWW: That's great. I read on your bio that you have some magic skills. (Laughs)
Nick LaMedica: Yeah. (Laughs) I am sort of a magic enthusiast in real life, so I like to practice card magic and coin magic just sort of on the side. I occasionally perform with that, which is I guess sort of an allied field with what I am doing now with WAR HORSE, which is puppetry.
BWW: Absolutely! So, shifting to WAR HORSE, how does it feel to be part of the First National Tour this production?
Nick LaMedica: Well, it's an incredibly exciting thing. It's a huge honor to be a part of this show. It's a wonderfully unique show, and when I first saw it on Broadway, it was unlike anything that I had ever seen before. It was mind-blowing what they were achieving on stage, and the way that they were telling the story. The puppetry, the stagecraft, the music, it was all so unique and exciting for me as an artist to see that happening and to see it so successfully happening. When the opportunity came around to be a part of the First National Tour, I was crying. (Laughs) I was so happy when I got the phone call.
BWW: That's great! This tour will be my first opportunity to see WAR HORSE, and I am really excited. With that said, I still remember being completely impressed when I first saw the horse puppet during the Tony Awards.
Nick LaMedica: It is really stunning. Yeah, that was Neal Patrick Harris who rode in on Joey. (Laughs) There's also, if you're interested in seeing some more video, a really wonderful TED Talk with Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, who are the founders of Handspring Puppet Company and who designed and built the horses. They did a TED Talk that is really cool. You get to see sort of the evolution of the horse. They show how elements from other shows and other animals that they've created have all built upon each other to get to this incredibly realistic horse that we have now, to Joey.
BWW: You are one of the puppeteers for this production, playing Joey as Foal. How did you prepare for that?
Nick LaMedica: In preparation for the show, we did about 100 hours of just puppetry training with Handspring Puppetry Company. We started from the very, very basics because all of the puppeteers in our show come from a variety of different backgrounds. However, we all sort of share some physical theatre background whether it be in martial arts, dance, experimental theatre, or movement theatre. We all sort of have a physical understanding. So, they taught us puppetry from square one. We started with just little sticks. We worked our way through, and we trained with small human puppets and eventually worked our way up to the horses. So we did 100 hours of training, just before the humans arrived. Then, we did about eight weeks of rehearsal after that, three weeks of previews, and that was now a year and a half ago.
It is still an ongoing process of development, learning, and strengthening. So, our preparation consists of a lot of things. You'll see when you see the WAR HORSE puppeteers; they are all in very, very good shape because the horses are very physically demanding. (Laughs) They take a lot of strength and a lot of grace to operate them and to dedicate yourself wholly enough to make this creature come to life on stage. So, the preparation is a lot of physical work and of learning to listen peripherally. I guess that is sort of a strange phrase. You really learn to listen with your eyes, ears, and body. When you're working in a team with three puppeteers to bring Joey to life, you can never verbally communicate with the rest of them. We're creating all of the sounds for the horse, so we can never say to each other "Stop," "Speed up," "Turn right," "Turn left," or "Ouch that hurts." So, you learn to communicate nonverbally and sort of feel the rest of the puppeteers that you're working with. You're making decisions sort of as three minds thinking as one. There's a lot of mental and physical focus that goes into bringing Joey to life.
BWW: What has been the most challenging part about your role in this production?
Nick LaMedica: Wow, I think the most challenging part kind of goes back to what I was saying before, which is learning how to think as three minds as one. One of the most challenging parts was learning that sort of groupthink idea where we were melding our ideas together, following impulses, taking suggestions, and learning to interpret impulses from the other puppeteers. Another thing that was challenging was learning how to think like a horse because we spend our whole lives thinking as human beings.
For part of our training, we met with trainers, we went to stables, we read a lot of books, watched a lot of video to learn how horses think, and how it is fundamentally different from the way that humans think. So, it was challenging just learning to listen in that way. We learned to listen to the tone of the voice rather than what's verbally being communicated, and to listen to the body language of the humans and the other horses that we interact with in order to give an authentic experience of how a horse behaves.
BWW: That's pretty incredible. I know that you have already shared a lot of things to look forward to with this production, but in your opinion, why should Houston audiences be excited to see WAR HORSE?
Nick LaMedica: It's a breathtaking theatrical event. It's an experience unlike anything that you've ever had in the theatre before. The puppetry, the stagecraft, the storytelling, and the music all come together to tell this really beautiful story that really at the core is a love story between a boy and his horse. It's an inspiring story about courage and love in the face of adversity and challenges. It does deal with these themes of war, but ultimately it's about peace. Michael Morpurgo who wrote War Horse, it's the book that the play is adapted from, he called War Horse an anthem for peace. It's really a beautiful story. I think it is an experience that you can't duplicate, and it's rare to see anything quite like this.
That's one of the most wonderful things about being part of the National Tour. We are getting to share it with all of these national and international audiences. I remember seeing it in New York and thinking, gosh there are so many people that are going to miss out on the opportunity to see something this groundbreaking. So, it's really a joy to be able to share that with audiences across the United States. And, I mean Houston, we are going to be in Texas. We are going to be in horse country. (Laughs) So, I think that the heartbeat of WAR HORSE is very much in tune with that.
BWW: I think Houston audiences are really looking forward to the first national tour of WAR HORSE. It seems like an extremely moving production. I'm already getting my tissue ready.
Nick LaMedica: Yeah, WAR HORSE really does touch our audiences very deeply. It's unique in that this is the first time, as far as any of us are aware of, that the main character in a production of this scale is an animal that does not speak, or sing, or say what is on its mind. It is an animal being an animal on stage. So, it's really a very cool experience, this sort of effect that it has on the audience. Just like we do with our pets at home, we as an audience start thinking for Joey. We start taking all of these clues in, and we sort of start thinking for him. In this way, the audience becomes very much a participant in the creation of what is happening, which is also a very unique thing to happen in theatre.
BWW: What advice do you have for anyone aspiring to make a career in the performing arts?
Nick LaMedica: My best advice would be to follow all of your interests. I think the most interesting artists that I have worked with, whether they be visual artists, dancers, actors, directors, or writers, are people with a real breadth of experience, a breadth of relationships with the world, and have something really interesting to say about the world, especially with actors and theatre performers. As performers, we love acting so much that it's very easy to spend all of our time doing just that and thinking just about that. But, it's the most interesting people that have something to say about what's going on in the world and their opinions. It's those people that go out there and get involved in a lot of different things, who are interested in history, literature, and the other arts, who learn about science, who play sports, and who create in other ways and learn about the breadth of human experience. It is those people that have something really cool to say when they are onstage, on camera, or behind the pen. So, it's sort of a cloudy idea, but I would just encourage people to keep going out there and experiencing the world, because it is going to give them a lot to say about it.
Broadway Across America will be bringing the First National Tour of WAR HORSE to the Sarofim Hall of The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts from May 27 to June 1, 2014. For more information or to purchase tickets please visit http://houston.broadway.com.