The production of “Pinocchio” opening Friday (May 15) at Olympia Family Theater doesn’t just tell the story of the marionette who dreams of becoming a real boy.
The adaptation by Greg Banks also tells the story of a group of set painters who decide to put on a show.
“I loved this particular script,” said Deane Shellman, the show’s director and president of the theater’s board. “The conceit of the script is that the theater is not ready for an audience. The set is still being painted. The painters come in to work, and the audience is there and surprises them, so they decide to put on the show.”
That “let’s put on a show” spirit leads to lots of interaction between cast and audience, and creates a fun feeling on the set, which includes ladders, ropes and scaffolding that later becomes a makeshift puppet theater.
“It’s found-object theater,” said Jen Ryle, the theater’s executive director. “They pick up paintbrushes, and those become the ears on the donkeys when the boys turn into donkeys. Pinocchio puts on kneepads, and they paint little rosy cheeks on Pinocchio and fold a paper hat out of newspaper, and that becomes the costume.”
Ryle said it reminds her of children’s games of make-believe.
“It’s like when kids pick up something and say, ‘Now I’m a wizard,’ ” she said. “It just has a great spirit of fun about it.”
The cast will be largely familiar to regular South Sound theatergoers: Kate Ayers, Korja Giles, Russ Holm and Xander Layden, plus music director Stephanie Claire, who plays roles in the show as well as providing a soundtrack.
“She’s playing a lot of found-object musical instruments,” Ryle said. “She has her accordion with her, so she plays that, but she also picks up a saw and plays musical saw and jingles some keys as percussion, and the cast plays drums on buckets.”
The seemingly impromptu staging still requires preparation, of course, but it does open up new possibilities for the actors.
“It has been fun to give the actors permission to do things they would not normally do,” said Shellman, who previously directed the company’s “Goodnight Moon” and “Three Tales with Eight Tales,” as well as short plays for Northwest Playwrights Alliance. “If you don’t know where something is, you have permission to go look for it even though we didn’t have you blocked to do it.
“It’s OK to shed the convention that you’re always in control and you’re always in character and everything is planned out.”
In essence, the audience is seeing what’s onstage as well as what’s on the fictional backstage, she pointed out.
The setting in an unfinished theater feels familiar to the show’s crew and some of its cast. “Pinocchio” wraps up the company’s first season in its own theater, which it occupied last summer.
“We had announced the season, and just after that we decided to make the move into the new space,” Ryle said. “People said, ‘Gee, it’s a shame that isn’t the first show, since it takes place on an unfinished set.’
“It is such a pleasure to have a home base and be able to rehearse in the theater that we are going to perform in,” she added. “It’s a real luxury for vagabond performers such as ourselves.”