By Jaime Burnet
An animated Jiminy Cricket strolls out onto the Martha Cohen stage. “Good evening, folks,” he squeaks, tipping his two-dimensional top hat and swinging his umbrella. “I’m here to tell you a little story about a puppet who wanted to be a real boy. It all started when–”
“What’s that on the stage?” asks Pinocchio director Vanessa Porteous.
“Why, I’m the director of this show!” Jiminy chirps with his chest puffed out.
Vanessa looks closer. “Is that a beetle?”
“It’s Jiminy Cricket!” shouts a member of The Old Trout Puppet Workshop. “He ‘s escaped from the Disney movie! Get him!”
There’s a mad scramble as the troupe chases Jiminy around the set as the Armani-clad insect belts out “When You Wish Upon A Star” until composer/musical performer David Rhymer has the sense to grab the remote and just turn him off. Now the show can really begin, bringing ATP’s latest production of Pinocchio to life.
Although many people may see Pinocchio as a fairy tale, it actually began as a weekly newspaper series, written by Carlo Collodi for the Giornale dei bambini back in 1880. Although the Disney adaptation of the original Pinocchio is a beloved tale, it’s not exactly what his creator quite had in mind. Neither is the thong-wearing marionette in Shrek 2. Not even a fairytale, Pinocchio Away from the pop culture landscape littered with Pinocchios, Porteous and The Old Trouts do their best to remain true to the original nature of Collodi’s classic and Pinocchio himself.
“It’s different from Disney in the sense that their take on the story had to do with Pinocchio’s innocence,” says director Vanessa Porteous. “Our Pinocchio’s much more mischievous. He gets himself in terrible trouble and we don’t shy away from that in the story. I have great faith that our take on the character makes him extremely appealing and it’s because he’s flawed.”
Aside from being presented as a naughty imp rather than a victim of circumstance, in what may be a Pinocchio-first, the infamous puppet is played by an actual puppet. Ironic, considering most people familiar with the tale only know Pinocchio through animation and not as an honest-to-goodness, hand carved, wooden puppet. Thankfully, The Old Trout Puppet Workshop remedies this travesty. Not simply a band of Geppettos, carving their characters and magically bringing them to life, the troupe consists of a talented group of artists who come together to share the mysterious charm of puppetry with anyone lucky enough to stumble upon their unique operation. This magical quality of puppetry and the genius of The Old Trouts is what drew Vanessa Porteous to the company to collaborate on an awe-inspiring production.
“Our aesthetic on the show is very old fashioned and sort of craftsman-like. It’s very woody, like it’s about a carver who makes puppets and the central character’s made of wood, so it really takes you into a different universe.”
In today’s word, it may seem children are being transported to different worlds, faces glued to television sets, but Porteous knows animation can’t compare to the enchantment of live theatre.
“Every kind of animation is [the daughter of puppetry], because what we love about animated characters is their simplicity, how they’re universal and their ability to struggle physically. We’re using exactly the same principles, but the difference is it’s immediate. So an audience’s relationship to a puppet is a far more intimate and personal one.”
The audience’s ability to relate to the puppets is obviously enhanced by the company’s ability to relate to each other. This tight-knit group is able to pull off the demanding feat of putting on a live puppet show through camaraderie, commitment, and a shared love of creation. These principles are not only held by the actors and puppeteers, but by Porteous and the live musicians as well. Collectively, they bring together charming acting and captivating puppets, a wonderfully designed set, and delightfully original live music, to allow Pinocchio to transcend wishing on stars and translate to a world sure to enchant adults and children alike.