BWW Interview: Armina LaManna Talks Puppetry for Imagine Project
Armina LaManna is writer, director and also co-founder and artistic director of Imagine Project, L.A.'s only Equity theatre company dedicated exclusively to young audiences. Its inaugural production opens on Nov. 7.
This inaugural production is the world premiere of The Tale of Turandot, a modern theatrical puppetry experience for elementary school-aged children. Inspired by the centuries-old story, Armina LaManna wrote and will direct this family friendly production, which is geared toward children between the ages of four and twelve years old.
In our conversation LaManna talks in detail about the theatre company and the inaugural production. As a fan of children's theatre, I was amazed that there has not been an Equity company exclusively devoted to it. I grew up loving puppets and as a language teacher have used them in theatrical skits to tell my stories to students and teachers alike.
As the only Equity theatre company dedicated exclusively to young audiences, Imagine Project is surely getting off to an exciting start with the world premiere of The Tale of Turandot, a modern theatrical puppetry experience. Tell us about it...the storyline and its background.
AL: When I read the Gozzi play in my teens, I remember really enjoying the combination of commedia dell'arte with an ancient legend. I also recall, however, being saddened that a smart female character was portrayed to be cold and heartless. It was back then that I decided to tell Turandot's story differently one day. Never in a million years did I think that I would be retelling it to young audiences. Yet, over three years ago, when we first decided to commit to telling stories that spotlighted female heroes, I knew that the time was right for Turandot's story from her perspective. Shattering this idea that smart women had to be cold women, was imperative.
This is why, The Tale of Turandot is told from Turandot's point of view - from the perspective of a young woman seeking passionately the opportunity to control her own destiny with plot twists specifically adapted for young audiences. In this play, Turandot uses the riddles to delay being betrothed; she stands her ground, and uses her wit and erudition to get a voice and choice in how her life unfolds; she is a self-reliant heroine - one that I hope would serve as a strong role-model for all kids, but young women especially.
Will there be live actor performances in the future or are you planning puppetry exclusively?
AL: Puppetry was chosen to help tell this particular story, and while Imagine Project is not a puppet theatre, I do not doubt that we will be seeing more of this majestic craft in the years to come.
Puppetry is a European tradition which when transplanted to American culture has been enchanting children for years. What do you think is the magic of it? Why do kids find it irresistible?
AL: Kids and adults I would add. The magic in large part comes from the audience witnessing puppets transform something common into something extraordinary. What is a simple task for human actors - holding hands for example - suddenly becomes epic when two puppets do it. This allows the audience to develop a new appreciation for holding hands, because it suddenly sees this every-day occurrence in a new and whimsical light. I was born in the former USSR and spent my childhood there, specifically in Yerevan. It was a gift to grow up in a city that had professional children's theatre and of course the Toumanian Puppet Theatre, which was a rite-of-passage for kids there. And really, that's what we want Imagine Project to be for kids in Los Angeles. Did you know that there are hundreds of children's theatres in Belgium, which has a population of only 11.5 million? But Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world, which is home to over 10 million people, 2.3 million of whom are kids, had only a handful, and until now, did not have a flagship Equity children's theatre?
No, I did not. We really need you. As artistic director of Imagine Project, what is your mission in detail?
AL: There was a great study done by the University of Arkansas a few years ago; it found that seeing high-quality live theatre enhances kids' literary knowledge, tolerance, and empathy (which we have known to be on the decline for the past few decades). Growing this capacity for empathy at an age when technology is interfering with genuine human connection, and also igniting compassion for our differences, all through live storytelling, is the driving force behind our commitment to our community.
We also chose to tell stories that spotlight female heroes derived directly from the folk tales of Los Angeles' rich cultural fabric. The objective is to create an opportunity for our audience to see characters who look like them, while at the same time, inspiring girls to aspire and to teach boys to value parity in society.
From the very beginning, we also made a commitment to produce at the highest levels of professionalism; this is why we chose to be an Equity company.
Is there anything else you care to add like wisely scheduling performances on or close to weekends to avoid conflicts with school...or other future projects?
AL: Oh goodness, this has been one heck of a learning curve. Between testing months, school holidays, required lunch/recess times, bus acquisition issues, scheduling a field trip is nothing short of a miracle. There are schools/districts that made things comparatively easy, and then there are those that we have struggled to connect with. We also find ourselves having to often clarify that we are a company dedicated to producing work for children, and not by them.
Performances of The Tale of Turandot are Thursday, November 7 - Sunday, November 17 Nine performances:
• Thursday 11/7 - 7:00 pm
• Friday 11/8 - 7:00 pm
• Saturday 11/9 - 11:00 am & 2:00 pm
• Sunday 11/10 - 4:00 pm
• Friday 11/15 - 7:00 pm
• Saturday 11/16- 11:00 am & 2:00 pm
• Sunday 11/17 - 4:00 pm Performances will be held at The Colony Theatre 555 N. Third St., Burbank, CA 91582; 818-558-7000
For tickets and more information go to: http://imagineprojectca.com/the-tale-of-turandot
(photo credit: courtesy of Imagine Project)