- 2014 - February - 20th -

'War Horse' puppets come to life on stage at Times-Union Center

By Max Marbut, Staff Writer

It’s like no other puppet show you’ve seen.

“War Horse,” the stage play, based on the children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo, won five Tony Awards in 2011: Best Play, Best Direction, Best Scenic Design and best Sound Design. The Jacksonville stop on the North American tour is part of the Artists Series “Broadway in Jacksonville” season.

It’s the story of Albert, who embarks on a cross-continent journey after his horse, “Joey,” is sold to the British cavalry during World War I.

The story also was adapted for the big screen by Steven Spielberg and earned six Oscar nominations, including best picture.

More than 500 local public, private and home-schooled students got an inside look Wednesday at the production being presented this week at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts.

Three of the 12 puppeteers who make the horse come to life on stage demonstrated to the students how the horse puppet is made to look so realistic.

Head Puppeteer James Duncan said the puppets, including another horse, a goose and Joey as a foal, were created in Cape Town, South Africa, by Handspring Puppet Co.

The horse took nine months to build and weighs 120 pounds.

Two weeks of training and rehearsals were conducted with the four three-man teams that operate Joey.

The puppeteers then joined the rest of the 35-member cast for eight weeks of rehearsals before the show went on tour, Duncan said. One puppeteer manipulates the head, and two other control the legs.

The intense preparation allows the puppeteers to bring the animal characters to life on the stage.

“It’s easy to think like a horse. They either like something or they don’t,” he said.

Patricia Beach, an art teacher at Wolfson High School, said her students have been planning for the arrival of “War Horse” since they learned nine months ago the show was coming to Jacksonville.

“We read the book and some of the students made sculptures,” she said.

“War Horse” has been seen by more than 4 million people worldwide and is currently playing in London’s West End, Australia and on the North American Tour.

Performances are scheduled daily through Sunday. For details, visit artistseriesjax.org.


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