It’s hard not to love the colorful and imaginative world of Eric Carle, portrayed beautifully in his numerous children’s books. Three of those books are the inspiration behind Mermaid Theatre Company of Nova Scotia’s magical production, which uses puppetry, live and computer generated animation to bring Carle’s characters to life. It is on stage Feb. 24 at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.
Mermaid Theatre Company’s artistic director Jim Morrow, who studied under Jim Henson, gave us the inside scoop on this unusual production and why it’s such a great show for families with young children.
Q: What will families see when they come to “Treasured Stories”?
A: They’ll experience it together. It’s an hour long theatrical presentation based on three stories by famous children’s author Eric Carle — “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?” and “Papa, Get the Moon for Me.” Each story is told in its entirety.
Q: You make use of ‘black light’ and shadow puppetry. Tell us more about that.
A: When I adapted “Caterpillar” in 1999, I chose to use a technique called Black Light Theater, where you project ultraviolet light onto something that is painted with florescent paint or materials that have florescent built into it. Ultraviolet light is blue, but the environment is black. The objects appear to be moving through space on their own. It allows us to create magical moments. It’s really beautiful for the children.
Q: What’s the ideal age for the show?
A: We advertise it between the ages of 2-6, but we often have children who are older who like the stories and are interested in the techniques. We also include younger children. We describe our show as a non-shushing show. We depend on the interaction of the children with the action on stage. It’s designed slowly and methodically so the children can engage mentally.
Q: Why did Mermaid Theatre pick Eric Carle books out of all the children’s books out there?
A: We approached Eric in 1998. We discovered Eric’s work is so colorful, so imaginative, so gentle. It really blended with our approach to theater. When we met Eric, we found we were kindred spirits. When you come to our show, there are no excesses. It’s very gentle, the music is gentle, it’s very slow and methodical. It goes against the modern convention for children’s theater that it should be loud and very entertaining so the child is never quiet and listens. We’ve discovered they can pay attention easily for an hour if they’re being well entertained. Our shows are stimulating, but not because kids are over stimulated. It’s very gentle.
Q: You’ve been with Mermaid Theatre Company for over 30 years and have been producing Eric Carle stories since ‘99. In what ways have you changed or improved the production?
A: If you stay with something long enough you get better at it as time goes on and you can incorporate that knowledge in those productions. When we met Eric in 1999, his work was a bit of a departure. His reading audience is very young. It was the first time we had adapted story books and create theater for such a young audience. When we did that in 1999, we were one of the few theater companies doing that. We also adapt storybooks because we promote the joy of reading, so a child can read the story at home and then take that reading experience and have it come to life.
Q: Tell me a little more about yourself. You studied puppetry in France with Jim Henson. What did you take away from that experience?
A: When I turned 30, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I applied for this opportunity at this incredible school of puppetry in France. (Henson) was teaching a seminar there. It was the only time he ever taught. He was a giant, but he was a kind, generous, gentle, giving man. We were like a family for a month. We ate and created work together. He taught us the nuances of Muppet Animation. It was really quite extraordinary. For my journey it was working with 21 people who were doing this work as their life’s calling. I hadn’t made that choice yet. I came back knowing that’s what I wanted to do.
IF YOU GO
What: A Brown Bear, a Moon and a Caterpillar: Treasured Stories by Eric Carle
When: 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24.
Where: Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 E. Second St.
Information: (480) 499-8587 or www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org
Contact writer: (480) 898-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org