'Pinocchio' meets Steampunk in new adaptation

Posted Online: April 23, 2014, 11:32 am
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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com
No lie -- You will see "Pinocchio" in a whole different way if you follow the adventures of the marionette who longs to be a real boy in Davenport Junior Theatre's new adaptation of the classic tale, opening on Saturday.

This production, penned by DJT artistic director Daniel Sheridan, closes the theater's 62nd season -- an ambitious, all-original year featuring local playwrights. Previous productions included Roger Pavey's "Cinderella" and Aaron Randolph III's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

"So many children's plays are written at the expense of the kids. They make jokes at or above the kids without serving them a challenging story," Mr. Sheridan said Tuesday. "They talk down to the audience. It is our belief that kids should be served just as fully as adults in the theater with plays that respect and challenge them as audience members."

Founded in 1951, Davenport Junior Theatre is the second-oldest children's theater in America. Classes and camps are offered year-round in theater and dance for students ages 3 to 18.

"Pinocchio," originally written by Carlo Collodi in Italy around 1883, is one of literature's beloved classics, retold countless times by hundreds of cultures. However, Walt Disney's animated "Pinocchio" (1940) has become what most people believe Pinocchio to be today, Mr. Sheridan said.

"At DJT, we love to examine classic stories that have stood the test of time," he said. "Going back to the original Pinocchio text was a lot of fun, full of surprises. Some things are the same as Disney's adaptation, but most are wildly different."

In this version, for example, the fox and cricket in the story are portrayed differently, and the title character is more unlikable, as in the original story, Mr. Sheridan said.

"If you could imagine being brought to life with all your faculties in order, but no sense of right or wrong, you'd be a little disobedient as well," he said. "The journey teaches him what it is to have control over his desires, his passions. Thus, he becomes real."

Mr. Sheridan's "Pinocchio" consists of 15 actors who must play more than 70 different characters throughout this episodic journey.

"I'm interested in ensemble and chorus work. I think the energy that's created by a company of actors who have to stay onstage and engage the entire show, that provides atmosphere," he said. "It's not the norm for us; it's definitely out of the ordinary."

DJT employed a similar style in May 2010 with Mr. Sheridan's original "The Adventures of Aesop." In "Pinocchio," many of the actors don't have a costume change when changing character, so must reflect that often through voice and sheer physicality, he said. "That asks even more of the actor, like a training tool."

"It's definitely a challenge for the actors," said Jessica Sheridan, the show's director and Daniel's wife. "This is my sixth year directing on the Mainstage. I've never led a piece of theater that moves quite like this. It would be a challenge for any actor of any age. Daniel truly holds nothing back when writing for his students and DJT."

"Jessica pushes her actors to grow their skills and challenges their thinking," Mr. Sheridan said. "It's her pursuit in developing the whole actor and story that makes her a good leader for this show."

In addition to the actors, there are six student crew members, four students helping run the front-of-house, and five actors who will share the role of Showtime Pal. The professional design team is comprised of nine top area professionals.

"The environment in which the story takes place is open to interpretation," Ms. Sheridan said. "For the world of this production I wanted to explore Steampunk; this sort of industrial revolution clash with a futuristic tone. The setting helps explore what it is to be living in an age of rapid technological advance, while still holding on to what it means to be human."

The massive set takes place around 1880, in the inner workings of an abandoned clock tower. "The thing about Steampunk, it's a throwback to a time that never actually existed," Mr. Sheridan said. "It's a period that's in flux, kind of timeless."

"We're in the business of striving to teach our students how to make great theater," Ms. Sheridan said. "It's a lot of work, dedication and time that pays off. A great children's story serves the entire audience; adults and kids alike. Pinocchio does just that. It's a fun, thrilling and daring adventure."

Mr. Sheridan's other DJT adaptations include "Scrooge" (2009) and "Alice in Wonderland" (2011).

"It's kind of fun to challenge people's preconceptions about what the story is, to interpret classic stories in our way," he said, noting original work may be more of DJT's future.

"It's not only excited the kids, but excited our professionals," Mr. Sheridan said. "They can try something new; it provokes a lot of creativity."

If you go

What: "Pinocchio," adapted by Daniel Sheridan.
When: Saturday (plus May 3) at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., and Sunday (plus May 4) at 2 p.m.
Where: Davenport Junior Theatre, 2822 Eastern Ave., Davenport.
Tickets: $5 for anyone 3 years and older, $7 for adults. 563-326-7862, DavenportJuniorTheatre.org.


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