EXCLUSIVE: News on the Upcoming Stage Adaptation of Miyazaki Hayao's Anime Classic PRINCESS MONONOKE!
When Whole Hog Theatre announced the news about their new project being the world's first stage adaptation of Miyazaki Hayao's universally admired anime classic Princess Mononoke back in July, the response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Words quickly spread across the World Wide Web, and seemingly everyone, including even diehard fans of the original, was excited about the upcoming show. Then tickets went on sale, and in just 3 days, the show was sold out.
Details about the production have been rather sketchy; except for certain facts such as the dates of the performance being the 2nd to 6th April 2013, the venue being the New Diorama Theatre in London, and that the stage production won't be an all-singing all-dancing musical (as reported by some websites) but will be a show that uses "giant puppets made from recycled materials, visceral, physical storytelling and original live music' to retell the epic ecological fable.
We have had the pleasure of talking with Alexandra Rutter, Artistic and Executive Director at Whole Hog Theatre and bringing you some exclusive information about their incredibly exciting and much anticipated project.
TWITCH: You have made it clear that your show will not be a musical. Can you give our readers more hints as to what your show will be like?
Alex @ WHOLE HOG THEATRE: I find it very interesting that people thought it would be a musical because I never even considered it! For one thing, musicals tend to be BIG but Whole Hog Theatre is little comparatively. Musicals also tend to be commercial, and financially and materially extravagant, which isn't really in Whole Hog Theatre's remit, or indeed that of Studio Ghibli, from what I understand. There are many things in the film that break the mould of conventional musicals - the fact that the ending of the film does not portray the typical 'boy-meets-girl' conclusion, for example. This is not to say it can't be done in this way; I believe anything is possible! But a musical is a far cry from the Princess Mononoke on stage that I imagine - puppets and physical storytelling alone seemed an ambitious enough departure in style from animation.
In terms of hints, the main thing readers can expect from our show is that it will remain as true to the original as possible. Being a big Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki fan myself, I have no desire to alter the film's narrative and atmosphere, or to add a 'new spin' on the story. I only want to re-tell it in a different form. However, whilst audiences can expect to see much of the film's narrative happen onstage, they should also expect the techniques we use to tell the story to be quite different. Being live instead of recorded, the language of theatre is very different to that which is used in film, animation in particular, and there are some things that need to change in order translate well on stage. When Ashitaka is pained by his scar for example, his hair stands on end and beads of sweat appear on his forehead; a live actor cannot achieve this, so we need to find other ways of demonstrating it. Ultimately, if you want to see the film exactly as it is on screen, then of course you would do best to watch the film, but you can expect a production that aims to make you leave the theatre with the same feeling you had the first time you watched the film.
Here are a few more little tit-bits people can expect!
• We are in a small studio venue and will use this to our advantage. The audience will be very close to the action and immersed in the production; so close at times they could literally reach out and touch it.
• There will be both puppet and human characters, interacting seamlessly with one another.
• As with the film, the production will have darker elements and will be for adults as well as older children (although parental guidance is advised!)
• The cast will be pretty big but some actors will multirole, especially the puppeteers. It's going to be a very physically demanding show!
How do you intend to bring Princess Mononoke's epic ecological tale and its giant creatures to life?
At the moment that's pretty secret! What we can tell you is that we have been in research and development sessions playing with puppet prototypes and different materials to try and achieve certain effects - we've got lots of tricks up our sleeves!
Here are a few more things we can reveal:
• This will be a production of imagination and suggestion through sound, atmosphere, lighting, physical storytelling and innovative staging, all of which will be flexible, adaptable and inventive. We hope to create a world that feels as though it extends beyond the four walls of the theatre.
• Many of the creatures you see in the film will be giant puppets made by hand out of recycled and reclaimed materials. We want the ethics of this project to match the ethics of the film's narrative, and for it to have as little impact on the environment as possible. For us, it is incredibly exciting to be able to create something out of nothing.
• Original music is being created to underscore the show. I know many fans will be surprised, even shocked at this, but it is actually because we love Joe Hisaishi's beautiful original score so much that we decided not to attempt to re-create it. Our venue is very small and there is no space for the orchestra necessary to do justice to the score and it would seem a travesty to play it through speakers as opposed to live. So, our wonderful Musical Director, Freya Bryson, has been developing a new score crafted for fewer musicians. It will be very much inspired by the original and make use of innovative soundscaping.
• We will be using a devising process for both script and dramatic action; some of the words you will recognize, some you will not. Again, we have had the problem that the language of film often does not translate very well to the stage and we also have two versions of the script (the English subtitles of the original script, and the English language dub), to contend with. Although we wanted to focus on the subtitled translation from Japanese, there are elements of both that we liked. So we plan to work with the two scripts in a more fluid, creative manner using them as a stimulus in association with our actors in order to devise new dialogue.
On your website, you have called yourselves a 'very small and humble company'. What do you anticipate will be some of the advantages and disadvantages of being a smaller company when it comes to adapting a film as beloved as Princess Mononoke?
Oh, wow, this is a great question! So many things to say! I actually think there are more advantages to disadvantages being a smaller company.
Firstly, due to having a small budget and team, we won't just chuck money at the show and expect it to make itself. Instead, this actually keeps us focussed on being creative, thorough and innovative when examining the original. We will put all our energy into distilling and dissecting what it is about Princess Mononoke that is so magic: what it is that makes the viewer tick, and then channel this into our adaptation. Small company = limited funding so there will be no wastage and no excessive additions or gimmicks; we will never be lazy with our decisions and will always keep our absolute focus on telling the story.
Our audiences can also be assured that this is a labour of love. This is a huge undertaking for us and the biggest thing we've ever done - Princess Mononoke isn't just another project for us, it's the culmination of years of dreaming and hoping and sketching and wishing. We are unspeakably honored to have been given the opportunity to do the show and our first duty before anything else is to do justice to the original.
We sometimes get frustrated that great pieces of theatre only go to London venues. If we can, we would love to take Princess Mononoke to the places you wouldn't expect it to go, both in the UK and abroad. Bringing the show to disparate fans everywhere is something close to our hearts, which might not be the case if we were a massive production giant.
We aren't only small because we're young, we're also small because we don't have a permanent ensemble; the casting and production team recruitment is open - this means that everyone has the opportunity to come and join us. This is an advantage in many ways as with every new member, comes a breath of fresh air, new ideas and enthusiasm. However, it is always a risk working with new actors but it is one we are absolutely willing to take. We feel very strongly about giving emerging artists the opportunity to practise their art in what can be a very insular industry.
Funding - always funding! We are a not for-profit organisation and every penny we earn goes straight back into the company to support our next show. However, as a company limited by shares, it is assumed that profit we make gets paid out in dividends into shareholders etc, and this makes it difficult to get the funding we desperately need to take the show further - we don't want it to end after just one week! We all work for free to keep all profits in the company and hold down second jobs to pay the rent. That is how much we love it. But we can't keep a company running for long on strength of will alone and without financial support - it's a very real problem!
However, we have always made theatre on a shoestring and have achieved lavish shows out of practically nothing. We owe much of our success to the kindness and belief of those around us: friends, family, but also strangers, larger companies and sometimes surprisingly weighty organisations have taken a shine to us. We are incredibly lucky to have the support we have. We have already had enquiries from complete strangers offered to contribute towards the show - the Ghibli fanbase are a huge and brilliant group of people! If people continue to get behind the project there's no telling how far we could go!
What kind of input will you be getting from Studio Ghibli in the actual production?
They have given us their kind permission, been incredibly supportive, and been encouraging of our ideas and our company (and this is more than enough for us!) but they will not be involved in creating the production at all. All funding, creative processes and practical creation of this project will be put together, start to finish, by our team. This project is 100% Whole Hog Theatre!
Have you spoken directly with Princess Mononoke's director, Miyazaki Hayao? If so, what did the great man say to you in regards to your upcoming adaptation?
We haven't spoken to the man himself, no, but of course it was him who had to give final permission to let us adapt the film; we feel incredibly privileged to have this opportunity. I hope that this means he is excited by our ideas for the production - we know there are some things about our pitch that he liked, although we don't want to give too much away! Also, I don't believe someone so dedicated and passionate about his work would grant us the privilege of adapting it if he wasn't confident that we could do a good job. We just felt like the luckiest people alive when he said yes!
About Whole Hog Theatre:
Whole Hog Theatre is a young theatre company based in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, which specializes in adaptation. Frustrated by the proliferation of 'safe' theatre, and the lack of opportunity for young artists to gain the experience in theatre necessary to enter the industry, they decided to go the whole hog and address these issues head on - hence their name. Their company ethos is to strive for the highest possible standards in everything they do.
If you want to support Whole Hog Theatre and their Princess Mononoke project, here are some of the ways:
"1. Sign up to easyfundraising and whenever you make a purchase online, a donation will be made to Whole Hog Theatre - it's all in the title; it is very easy to do and is at no extra cost to you! Whole Hog Theatre is run entirely by volunteers and relies on the generosity of others who are passionate about the art we create and the work that we do - so please sign up and give whatever you can! Click here to find out more about our company ethos.
2. Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects, brought to life through the direct support of others and has funded more than 30,000 creative projects to date. Our project is independently created and crafted by us and we have spent weeks building our page, shooting our video, and brainstorming what rewards to offer backers. We are now ready to launch their project and share it. If people like the project, they can pledge money to make it happen. Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing - so if we don't make our target, we don't get anything - so please help us reach it as much as you can! Click here to support us on Kickstarter, and here to find out more about Princess Mononoke and to hear the latest news!
3. If there is any other way you think you can help with our campaign, please get it touch at: email@example.com."
All photographs in this article © Polly Clare Boon for Whole Hog Theatre.
Embedded below is the Kickstarter video for the show.
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