June 15, 2010

When the cast of the Delaware Theatre Company’s production of The Foocy took the stage, the audience was looking at the author, the composer, the scenic designer, and the designer of the costumes, puppets, and masks. Indeed, these four constituted 80% of the five-member cast. Talk about an “ensemble effort!”

The Foocy is a fable imagined by Anthony Lawton nearly 20 years ago, which he then adapted for the stage, first as a piece for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival of 2004 and then for a full production at Philadelphia’s Lantern Theater Company in 2005. This Spring, he rejoined a few of his creative partners from the earlier effort to mount the piece in Wilmington.

Lawton not only provided the words everyone spoke and structured the story they told, he was the principal narrator and manipulated the half-size puppet of the principal character. At the same time, Dave Jadico not only tackled multiple characters on the set that he designed, but he also chimed in on the accordion. Some of the music he played is by Rainey Lacey, who was right next to him playing her own music on the violin and taking on other characters. She also provided choreography, not only for the live performers but for their multiple puppets.

A key part of the team was Aaron Cromie who designed the costumes, the masks and the puppets, and who joined the team on stage as befits the fact that he was an actor and musician before he attended California’s famous Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre ten years ago and came away to establish himself in the rather small field of masks and puppets for full-scale productions. He isn’t confined to a single character at a time. At one point, he’s five characters as he wears a mask and has two puppets on each hand.

The Foocy tells the tale of a hideous witch who terrorizes the Russian countryside until a child makes a sacrifice to save the village of Vrinsk from the witch’s rage. To tell this good-versus-evil story, the ensemble took the stage on a wagon reminiscent of a traveling troupe in medieval Europe. Jadico’s set design begins as a fairly bare stage flanked by two trees and two tree stumps and backed by the silhouettes of more trees.

Everything they needed to tell their story was on the wagon. First came a sheet to be hung between the two trees. (For most of the play, it is a backdrop, but at one point, it becomes the screen for a shadow puppet sequence.) Then the ensemble unloaded stacks of wooden slats which, when raised on a rope, unfolded to create the houses and barns of the village of Vrinsk.

The team developed a seemingly never-ending supply of new effects to keep the audience engaged in the story. Most of the effects were extremely simple but highly effective. For example, at one point in the narrative, there is reference to a rainstorm so Lawton hung a simple cloth bag filled with beans from a tree and released an opening to let the beans flow into a bucket to create the requisite sound effect. Each night, the audience reaction to that simple effect was audible. Says Cromie: “I always loved that moment in the show because of the response it elicited. When you think of people going gaga over Avatar with its millions of dollars, the delight we get from an 89 cent bag of beans in a cheap sack is wonderful!”

Of the ensemble of creators, Cromie adds, “When you have a group with a do-it-yourself attitude, but without a huge budget, you find ways to accomplish what you need to accomplish. I’ve been working on the project from the start when Anthony [Lawton] showed me a copy of his prose version of the tale and asked if we could make it work on stage with puppets.”

All of the team members except Lawton had puppetry experience prior to joining the team, but Cromie says, “He took to it wonderfully, and that was about six years ago,” so he had quite a bit of experience before the Delaware Theatre Production. 

Everyone On Stage, Please
Author, Composer, Designers Perform The Foocy