Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Students visit with Joey the horse

Hillsborough County arts students were treated to a special, up-close look at the amazing life size horse puppet from War Horse today.

The Broadway production of War Horse opens tonight at the Straz Center and runs through this Sunday, May 5, 2013.

Students from the area’s performing arts magnet schools attended the War Horse press event this morning in Patel Conservatory’s TECO Theater as part of their Arts Day experience.

At the press event, the puppeteers demonstrated how they make the enormous horse gallop, breathe, snort and exhibit extraordinarily realistic movements. It takes three puppeteers to operate Joey the horse, the main character of the show. There are 13 puppeteers in the cast who rotate performances.

The actors/puppeteers are essentially playing the character of the horse. They create the horse’s movements, including every tail wag, nod of the head and wiggle of an ear. They also make the horse’s sounds. They breathe, neigh, whinny and grunt.

The actors have to move in sync with one another, much like a dance, said puppeteer Jessica Krueger, whose background is in dance.

Since they each operate a different part of the horse, every person’s movement affects the others, like a ripple effect, she said.

Some of the puppeteers have theater backgrounds, others have dance backgrounds. They utilize physical, vocal and theatrical skills to bring the horses to life.

They use extensive breathing and vocal techniques to create the horse’s sounds, said puppeteer Jon Riddleberger, who studied at NYU Tisch’s Experimental Theatre Wing.

All three make various sounds that together create one expression. They have to almost harmonize to mimic the various tones of a horse.

The students asked many questions, including how much does the horse weigh and what kind of training was involved?

The puppet weighs about 120 pounds. At various points in the play, riders get on top of the horses, adding even more weight for the actors/puppeteers to carry. Imagine having to gallop in perfect sync with two other actors with more than 120 pounds on your back!

For two weeks prior to the start of rehearsals, the actors had to learn how to operate the mechanics of the puppet. They also studied horses extensively and visited stables and spent a lot of time practicing making animal noises.
This morning’s event was intriguing and educational for both the arts students and the reporters and photographers present.

For the students, they got a realistic picture of the physical demands, the theater and vocal skills of the actors and the training required.

They were also able to get a glimpse at the scope of the project and understand the work involved behind the scenes of a Broadway show!

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