As coronavirus restrictions make performing theater in the manner that most of us are accustomed to close to impossible, many theater companies and troupes have begun experimenting with new methods to keep the show going, in the spirit of the most famous saying in show business. While some try brand new methods of performance, some are dusting off old classics and marrying them to new technologies and present life’s stipulations. Northwestern College’s presentation of the classic nonsense poem “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll does just this by combining the centuries old practice of shadow puppetry with activities and interactive mobile games to help keep viewers of all ages engaged.
As you are guided by a guide dressed as a 19th century woman, you witness a dramatic reading of Lewis’s original 28-line poem before being led into a performance area where you witness the Jabberwocky story as a hero’s quest. As you make your way through 7 different performance areas, you see different parts of the story; the hero finding the vorpal sword, facing off against the JubJub bird and the Bandersnatch, training with a wise knight and finally battling the Jabberwocky.
The puppet construction and performance was quite wonderful. The puppeteers were able to not only produce high quality puppets with a dynamic range of motion, but they were able to perform very close up and detailed scenes to help create a sense of depth in the story and display just how talented and dedicated the puppeteers were to this project. From a fully articulated Jabberwocky tail to finely detailed Bandersnatch hair, the commitment to consistent detail and a high quality product is really what makes the project feel complete and worth the half hour run-time.
Engaging puppets are not the only reason to experience this project. What makes this truly impressive is the incorporation of physical and mobile elements into the production. Since keeping children still for a 90 minute show is a monumental task on it’s own, this show is a brilliant example of coronavirus solutions that can benefit a theater long after the coronavirus is cured. From fun mobile games to dancing with the puts to interacting with light cues to move the story forward, never had I witnessed a theatrical experience that was as interactive as this one or made children squeal endlessly with delight as much as this. Save for maybe Disneyworld or a set of jangling keys.
The piece also had a musical score that blended with the story and performance elements well while reminding you of Tim Burton or Danny Elfman. As I took part in the virtual experience and not the physical one, this may not apply to the one held at Northwestern College. Though I believe that gives anyone reason enough to try both versions of this project. However, you can still participate in most of the activities through the virtual experience as well. It truly has the feel of a well oiled, professional production that has the ability to be performed for many years after the world returns to some semblance of normalcy.
We have all felt the effects of this deplorable disease that has derailed our routines and turned our daily lives into a desperate search for comfort. This project provides this sense of peace and comfort with a combination of old traditions that we know and present technology to keep everyone engaged. It may not be your typical theatrical performance or experience, but it has done something that is harder to do then simply adjust for a deadly virus. It keeps young, restless children happy and engaged without having to rely on technology. Simply put, this production uses a centuries old theatrical technique paired with 21st century technology to tell a 150 year old poem to a group of young children with very short attention spans. And that alone is something to enjoy.