Hans Christian Andersen Classics THE GROCER'S GOBLIN and THE LITTLE MERMAID Set for the Rose, 1/31-2/16
Two classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales come to life in spectacular fashion through the art of puppetry in the world premiere of The Grocer's Goblin & The Little Mermaid, January 31 - February 16 at The Rose Theater.
The Grocer's Goblin & The Little Mermaid tells two intertwined tales of loving, longing and growing up. Created by Omaha Theater Company members Brian Guehring and Stephanie Jacobson, the adaptation weaves together puppetry, live action and projections to create a rare and unique visual delight.
"This is The Rose's spectacular storytelling at its very best," says Rose Artistic Director Matt Gutschick.
The Grocer's Goblin & The Little Mermaid opens to find a goblin secretly protecting a grocer's store in exchange for a nightly bowl of porridge. Each night, the goblin steals the grocer's wife's "gift of gab" and gives it to the various objects in the store so they can converse. When a visiting student takes an interest in a book of stories, the goblin's world is turned upside down as he discovers the creative treasure held within the book's pages.
"The Grocer's Goblin is a wonderfully clever and delightful story," says playwright Brian Guehring. "I love the theme it explores - the importance of art and stories in feeding the soul."
Director Stephanie Jacobson adds, "There is something really special about the goblin story and the idea that magic exists in our world, right under our noses. It could be happening and we just don't know."
The stage magic used to create the goblin is an adaptation of the centuries-old art of Bunraku puppetry. The goblin puppet will be operated by two actors who will maneuver the limbs and head of the puppet to produce lifelike movements. This also enables the puppet to move throughout the entire stage and interact with other characters. As with traditional Bunraku, the puppeteers will be in full view of the audience.
"We are not hiding how we do any of the puppetry," says Jacobson. "I think having the faces of the actors visible is essential to getting even more emotion from the characters."
The play also utilizes the technique of found-object puppetry to give life to the objects around the grocer's store that the goblin grants the ability to speak. Each object has a distinct personality and offers a lesson of its own about the importance that people place on material things.
"It is very interesting to think about what objects in your house would say if they could talk," says Guehring. "It makes you look at the things around you in a very different way."
The goblin takes a keen interest in the student and his book. As he peers over the student's shoulder, the story of The Little Mermaid erupts from the pages, captivating the imagination of the goblin and audiences alike.
As Guehring explains, "In the original goblin story, Hans Christian Andersen uses some really beautiful imagery and you can just see the goblin's imagination come to life. We wanted to recreate that imagery, and it becomes the perfect transition to The Little Mermaid story."
The Little Mermaid is told as a play-within-a-play and follows the original plotline of Hans Christian Andersen's classic mermaid tale. After falling in love with the world of humans, the little mermaid gives up her voice to grow legs and join the prince of her dreams on land. She is unable to win the prince's hand in marriage, however. Forced with a difficult decision that would allow her to return to the sea, the mermaid chooses instead to sacrifice her earthly life in order to spare her prince. As a reward for her selflessness, she is transformed into an air spirit, an ethereal creature that soars throughout the earth, bringing comfort and happiness to humans near and far.
"Our Little Mermaid story is much closer to the original version," says Guehring. "This is not Disney, and that's okay. This can be a wonderful opportunity for families to talk about how sometimes things are different and that it is okay to like something, even if it is different. It can be good to think about things in new ways."
Creating an underwater world on the stage presented a considerable challenge, but it was one Jacobson thoroughly embraced. Building on the skills she learned as the assistant to the artistic supervisor at Jim Henson Studios, Jacobson envisioned using shadow puppetry in new and unique ways to transport the audience to a world under the sea.