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.
"Every time this story is done with humans, it just isn't very magical," says Jacobson. "The human body is defined by gravity. It just can't express the joyousness of being a mermaid. With the shadow puppets, we can convey that feeling of buoyancy that is so essential to telling the mermaid story."
To help the actors understand the dynamics of an underwater world, the entire cast went on an interactive field trip to the Scott Aquarium at the Henry Doorly Zoo. "Our trip to the aquarium gave us so many ideas about how our underwater characters might move," says actor Kelsey Celek. "Each sea creature had its own quirks and its own personality - some of which are mirrored in the play. And since we're using puppets, we have the luxury of being able to move just like the fish we watched, doing things we could never do as humans!"
Actor Katie Otten adds, "Taking a trip to the aquarium was such a wonderful and valuable experience for us. It was a great way to help the cast feel more connected, and being immersed in an underwater world gave us tons of ideas for how to use lighting and puppet movement to create our own world."
The shadow puppets used in The Grocer's Goblin & The Little Mermaid go far beyond simple outlines. Intricate details have been carefully cut into each of the puppets, and many feature fully-articulated joints to enhance their overall movement. Several puppets are accented with color to enhance the characters and draw the audience's attention. Full color projections create realistic environments for the shadow characters, and puppetry is combined with human silhouettes to further enhance the show's imagery.
"Both of these stories are charming on their own. By putting these two stories together, we get an empowering message about making choices, following your heart and taking a leap of faith," says Jacobson.
Gutshick further explains that this show was selected because its underlying theme of selflessness is rarely heard in a culture that sometimes has a "what's in it for me" mentality. "These two stories share a message we don't hear often in today's world - that true love is about putting another's needs above your own at times," says Gutschick. "Both the goblin and the little mermaid put aside their own wants in order to help those they love most, and in so doing, they are rewarded in ways they never imagined. It is a beautiful message."
"This is a one-of-a-kind show unlike anything that has ever really been seen in Omaha," says Rose Managing Director Julie Walker. "You will want to see this show just because it is so different and so unique, and I don't know when families will have the opportunity to see anything like this again. It is truly special."
Due to periods of extremely low lighting and overall show themes, The Grocer's Goblin & The Little Mermaid is recommended for children over age seven. The run time is 60 minutes without an intermission.
The Little Mermaid & The Grocer's Goblin runs January 31 - February 16, 2014, with performances on Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 5 p.m., and on Sundays at 2 pm. The 2 p.m. show on Saturday, February 8 will be interpreted for the hearing impaired. Tickets are $18 per person. Discount ticket vouchers are available at all area Hy-Vee stores for $14 each. Members of The Rose receive four free tickets to the production. For more information or to make reservations, call the Box Office at (402) 345-4849 or online at www.rosetheater.org.
The Grocer's Goblin & The Little Mermaid is sponsored by Children's Hospital & Medical Center, Nebraska Furniture Mart, Baird Holm LLP, Q98-Five, the Nebraska Arts Council, and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment.