Most kids — and former kids — know the little green bug with a red face and purple antennae. They have read about how he hatched out of a tiny white egg. They know how he ate sausage, a pickle and many other things until he became fat, built a cocoon and emerged as a beautiful butterfly. Now, they have a chance to see him in real life.
Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia’s theatrical puppet show “The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories” allows children to see their storybook friend on stage this month at Playhouse Square.
“[Children] come to the theater in anticipation of seeing the caterpillar,” says Mermaid’s artistic director, Jim Morrow. “This is one of their heroes.”
In order to recreate the caterpillar, Morrow’s team sculpted a puppet and used paint to reproduce the unique collage effects of Eric Carle’s illustrations, which are made of shapes cut out of hand-painted paper. Morrow decided to present the show in black light so that two puppeteers in black could be onstage unseen, manipulating the caterpillar through his many motions.
Author and illustrator Carle wanted the production to be as methodical and unhurried as his book. For instance, Morrow says, Carle insisted the fruits appear on stage one-by-one so that children can practice counting the way they do with the book.
Carle’s conviction about counting posed a problem for Morrow: After the caterpillar ate a piece of each fruit, how would the rest of the fruit get offstage? Morrow decided that after taking a bite out of each fruit, the caterpillar would flick the fruits offstage with his tail.
“It gives the caterpillar a little impish quality,” Morrow says. Initially, Carle wasn’t thrilled with the flick, Morrow explains. The caterpillar of the book doesn’t have an attitude: His job is to eat, get fat and make a cocoon. He has a singular purpose that he works hard to achieve and his work pays off when he becomes a butterfly. Morrow says the story teaches children about hard work and dedication.
Morrow eventually convinced Carle to keep the impish flick for three reasons: It solves a problem, gives children another chance to count the fruit and makes them laugh. The production as a whole gained Carle’s endorsement: “[I] have been moved by the beauty and magic of the black light productions each time I’ve been able to see them,” Carle says. He considers Morrow a master at translating his work into three dimensions “in a way that is both believable and fantastical at the same time."
“The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories” will be performed at Playhouse Square Jan. 14. For more information, call (216) 771-4444 or visit www.playhousesquare.com.