Dallas — We all know the story of Jack and the Beanstalk: Foolish Jack is supposed to sell the family cow to save the starving family. Instead, he trades the cow for magic beans. As a mother, I can attest to the frustration I have experienced when my children do not follow directions and instead of saving the family from starvation they purchase magic beans because children make very poor decisions. I feel like there may have been warning signs that Jack wasn’t the best chap for the job.
But it’s really a funny and refreshingly different little fairytale, when you think of it. It’s a simple story of a child failing to follow directions but choosing his own path toward what seems to be the right thing. This is what is so amazing about children- they are inventive in ways that we cannot comprehend. Adults are too beaten down by life. We’re focused on money, jobs, paying the bills, and all the other practical life things kids don’t have to worry about.
It’s also why fairytales are such a huge part of the reading I do to my kids. These are stories I’ve heard a million times and for good reason. Fairytales present classic archetypes that are a huge part of the way kids learn about the world. Dallas Children’s Theater gets this, and this is why they so often perform fairytales in the Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts, the oldest professional resident puppet theater in the Southwest, established in 1973. They perform using all styles of puppetry, but have found a home in the niche of Black Theatre rod puppetry—larger puppets held up by a rod, with the puppeteer concealed behind a curtain.
DCT is currently performing Jack and the Beanstalk in the theater, which opened on March 3 at the Rosewood Center for Family Arts home of Dallas Children’s Theater. Douglass Burks and Sally Fiorello are co-directing the show. Burks created sound design and voices the Giant (and the cow) and Fiorello is the scenic designer and voices the mother.
Doug and Sally were kind enough to facetime with my daughter, Caroline (9) to answer some questions about the show to help kids understand what to expect when they visit DCT for a puppet show.
Caroline Lemieux: Do you use hand puppets, finger puppets, or marionettes?
Douglass Burks and Sally Fiorello: We use black theatre rod puppets and some hand puppets and shadow puppets. But primarily rod puppets. There are five puppeteers dressed in black velveteen in front of a black velveteen curtain and so we disappear into the background.
Caroline: Why did you choose Jack and the Beanstalk?
We like traditional fairytales. Sometimes fairytales get lost except when they get revived by Disney. So we like to do fairytales that have a clear good versus bad without ambiguity and without any modernization.
Mom: Are these new puppets?
These are brand new puppets built for this production.
Caroline: Is it scary? What age would you recommend? My sister is 2; could she see it?
It’s recommended for ages four and up but depending on what your sister likes, she might be ok. It’s probably even more enjoyable for the ages “up” because there is some humor in it that younger kids might not get but older kids and grownups will like. The giant is not nice. But he turns out to be a little funny too. I wouldn’t say it is too scary.
Caroline: How do you do the beanstalk?
Well, we don’t want to give away the magical beanstalk but there is more than one. There are three different beanstalks.
Caroline: How does the giant fall?
You’ll have to see it to find out. But if you’ve read the story, you’ll know.
Caroline: What do you use for a set?
We use set pieces instead of a full set because of the black background. We use a lot of suggestion so you can use your imagination to fill out the story.
Caroline: Are there other characters in this? Because there is this play called Into the Woods that has Jack and the Beanstalk and Jack sells his cow to baker for the magic beans and the baker got the beans from a witch and it has other characters too.
Well, that’s what’s so great about Into the Woods is that it combines all those stories together into one story. But this is just Jack and the Beanstalk so it’s only the characters in that story.
Caroline: Why did you use puppets for this?
Because it's a fantasy, and puppets can be fantastical better than humans and do things that humans can’t. They also make really unique characters. For instance, the hen ends up being a scene stealer.
Caroline: How big are the puppets?
Jack is probably the smallest puppet and is probably just a little under two feet tall. The giant, and this doesn’t sound very big but on the stage next to the other puppets it’s very big, is about five feet tall. It takes up to three people to control the giant at certain times.
Mom: Are the voices live?
No the vocal are pre-recorded. The five of us are so busy during the show with the puppets it would be very difficult to manage the vocals live.
Mom: Is there original music?
Some of the music is original, there are three original songs and there is some underscoring that is original as well.
Mom: Would you consider it a musical?
We think of it as a play with music.
Caroline: Can kids meet the characters?
There is a demonstration of the puppets after the performance that is about 10-15 minutes long and we are also in the lobby afterwards with some of the puppets so they everyone can see a few of the puppets up close.
Caroline: Can kids help?
No. We’re blind backstage so we can’t improvise or interact with the audience during the show.