Theater group brings Eric Carle's children's books to life
The award-winning Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia returns to the Walton Arts Center on Jan. 13 with its charming adaptation of three of beloved author Eric Carle's most popular children's books. A company of two actors will perform "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," "The Mixed-Up Chameleon" and "Little Cloud" with a unique blend of black light and puppetry that promises to make audiences forget they're watching puppets.
"Our shows all have elements of what I call 'object movement' or 'puppetry: live animation' ," says Mermaid Theatre artistic director Jim Morrow, who adapted the books for the stage. "We create larger than life characters that come alive on stage. They're actual puppets that humans hold and move through space, but they look like real characters on stage in the black light. It's really quite magical."
Original music for the show was created by Steven Naylor.
"It provides that emotional component that's an important part of the production," notes Morrow.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Mermaid Theatre performing "The Very Hungry Caterpillar." Morrow says he consulted frequently with Carle as he adapted the author's most popular book, which has sold over 30 million copies since it was published in 1968. Morrow says that the simplicity of the story is a big part of its charm.
"Children love Eric's work," notes Morrow. "He's able to reach them in a way other authors can't: He doesn't try to say too much, and he opens enough space for the child to use his or her imagination in between the lines and in between the moments. He doesn't inundate his audience with too much text or visuals. Children love the chance to play intellectually with the story, and we've taken that and weaved a play around it. The moments are slow and methodical and gentle and paced really well. We've created openings in a play so a child can engage. I learned that from Eric. He taught me that when I was creating the plays in the 1990s. They were full plays, and he said, 'Don't try to do too much.'"
Morrow says the adaptation process included the exchange of ideas, concepts and storyboards with Carle.
"I thought there wasn't enough happening, so I took liberties, and he fired back," says Morrow. "I thought bringing the fruit on individually would be boring. I thought having them come on different ways would be better. He said, 'No, they love to count them as they come in individually.' I trusted that, and, you know, as a result of that simple concept, our shows are a little like rock concerts for the 3- to 4-year-old children."
A Mermaid Theatre production is often the first live theater a child has experienced, and Morrow takes that responsibility seriously.
"We have a no shushing policy," says Morrow. "If a child wants to vocally engage, we encourage that. Not only is it a child's first experience, but [also it is] often the first theater experience that a child and parent will have together. For one hour out of their lives, they can forget everything and have an hour together laughing and hugging and enjoying what's on stage. It creates a beautiful community."
‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ & Other Eric Carle Favorites
WHEN — 2 p.m. Jan. 13
WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville
COST — $9-$15
INFO — 443-5600