Postcard from the Edge of a Wolf

When Sergey Prokofiev penned the Peter and the Wolf Symphony and story in 1934, he created a classical piece with 7 characters, each skillfully represented by a specific instrument or instrumental family. Peter, for example, is portrayed by the strings, the bird by a flute, the hunters by the percussion and the wolf by the bassoons.

The score underlines a story that in itself is not difficult to grasp – a bored young boy, Peter (1), staying with grandfather (2) goes out in to the forbidden meadow, where he meets a fantastically handsome, mesmerizingly talented bird (3) who gets in to a spat with a duck (4). Whilst the birds are arguing a cat (5) creeps out and scares the birds. The commotion brings out grandpa, who takes Peter back inside. A wolf (6) then emerges from the forest and eats the duck – Peter decides to catch the wolf and with the help of the gallant, heroic bird succeeds. The hunters (7) arrive and instead of shooting the wolf they parade him to a zoo.

So now you are the director and want to put this production on stage: about 30 excellent and keen actors have turned up for audition and you need to create a reasonably long (say, at least 45 minute) theater piece. As Ron the director, what do you do? What do you do? Obviously, some serious padding is needed – so why not change the production in to a multimedia spectacle with live actors, shadow puppets, models, hand puppets and marionettes. And to accommodate the number of actors, why not double up? How about 2 wolves, 3 ducks, 6 hunters and loads of birds and let’s throw in a grandma as a narrator. Well, that is how it happened, just how it happened.

If you had not guessed, I played the bird. Now, this being me, I was not going to be an ordinary bird, no way, I was going to be a plump strange and beautiful bird (I particularly like the beautiful bit). So construction began. As with all the models, it started with a wire frame, to which foam was added and finally hundreds of feathers were individually hot-glued on to the body. The wings were controlled by hidden sticks under the body and the beak moved via my index finger. The construction of all the puppets literally took months and was lead by the multi-talented Eric and a team of willing helpers.

As the premiere drew closer, let’s just say putting the puppets and cast and set and lighting and music and acting and dialogue together was a little more daunting than anticipated. So rather than give the audience of rendition “Peter-and-the-rather-ropey-half-finished-wolf-story” opening night was postponed for a couple of weeks. But it was worth the wait.

At the premiere, the show really came together, much to everyone’s relief. The audiences were enchanted and the visual effects really shone through. As well as 2 packed performances for the local school kids, we also put on one show for handicapped children – which was extra-special. At the end of show the puppeteers mingled with the audience to show off the puppets and the amazement and joy in the eyes was really a sight to behold (except where the wolf was concerned, there was always a rather large cordon around him as the children slowly backed away).

Seven performances later and the show sadly came to an end but also a little of a relief. My beautiful bird had been progressively molting during the performances, leaving a vivid trail of pink feathers and the beak was not quite as stable as at the beginning of the run, two ducks were also quackless. Still as ever, a very pleasurable experience thanks to a superb cast and crew, adept at resolving any type of conflict.

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