DA students work with Obie-winning puppet master in their new production
Theatre students at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts (DA) have written, choreographed and created their own take on the Broadway hit East of the Sun and West of the Moon in collaboration with New York City theatre troupe Strangemen and Company. The DA Foundation provided underwriting for the production, which runs October 17 – 20, via the 2nd annual Jackie Cornelius Artist-in-Residence Grant.
Founded in 2010, Strangemen and Company is a professional company that seeks to foster collaboration between diverse, multidisciplinary artists, in order to provide an artistic home for up-and-coming creators. Their original play The Woodsman, which gained them Broadway fame, was based on the forgotten writings of L. Frank Baum, giving new life to Baum’s haunting stories through spectacular puppetry and song.
The Strangemen troupe — including James Ortiz, Obie-winning puppet master, founding member of Strangemen and author of The Woodsman — spent weeks at DA, working with students as they created original masks and puppets and choreographed improvisational movements for East of the Sun and West of the Moon.
Based on a Norwegian fairy tale of the same name written by Peter Christian Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Engebretsen Moe, East of the Sun and West of the Moon follows the perilous journey of a poor girl who must break the spell that has transformed her beloved prince into a polar bear.
“Because the story is a fanciful fairy tale,” says Sophia Kuloski of the Strangemen, “we had the students wear giant polar bear costumes and don masks of fierce warriors; then we had them use their bodies to make shapes for the scenery and background.”
“It’s so refreshing to see the students take feedback and try forming new shapes with their limbs,” Kuloski says. “High-schoolers can be a bit self-conscious, yet this work requires artists and actors to put themselves fully ‘on the table.’ The DA students are amazing and definitely have done that.”
DA senior Cameron Schmitt plays the West Wind in the production. He shares that working with professional actors “has taught me a lot, not just about theatre, but how to connect with people and bring fresh energy to the scenes.” Senior Scott Hall, the play’s assistant director, adds that he is impressed with what the Strangemen injected into the task at hand. “The energy is different and new,” says Hall, “and it is paying off for the cast as they continue to expand their interpretations.”
East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Oct. 17 – 20, at the DA Blackbox Theatre. Tickets are available by phoning the school, (904) 346-5620.
By Jackie Cornelius