If you follow the theater scene, you know that one of the most amazing spectacles of this century is the the National Theatre of Great Britain’s epic “War Horse,” winner of five 2011 Tony® Awards including Best Play. The show awed even the most jaded theatre-goers with its majestic, life-size horses, which are animated by three performers working as one.
We saw "War Horse" when it came to Lincoln Center a couple of years ago, which recalled all those adolescent fantasies of having a horse for a best friend. And after interviewing three of the puppeteers last spring, we have been marking the days until this show would make its premiere in Detroit. As the date approaches, December 17, 2013, we are delighted to offer this inside scoop – literally inside the horse – from Canton native Jessica Krueger, who looks forward to returning to Michigan for the holidays as part of the national “War Horse” company.
Q: Tell us about your role(s) in “War Horse.” What’s it like to perform as one horse working with two other performers?
Jessica: Playing Joey (or Topthorn) with two other actors is a kind of three-person marriage. We breathe together, we move together, we're always trying to ensure that each of us is on the same page. And whenever we are not, which happens, we have to trust that whatever the other person is doing is for a good reason and support them as such.
Q: Did you have any puppeteering experience? How did you learn/train for this rigorous role? Did you learn a lot about actual horses preparing for this role?
Jessica: I had some puppeteering experience, but these puppets are so unique that a different kind of skill set is required. During the audition process, the creative team made it pretty clear that being able to work ego-lessly with one another was as valuable as the ability to run around with sixty plus pounds on our backs. The rehearsal process included two intensive weeks of puppetry and horse work. That meant working with multiple kinds of puppets in the Handspring Puppet Company style, while doing substantial research about horses and their behavior, movements, sounds, etc.
Q: Do you alternate roles with the other cast members?
Jessica: Yes. There are four teams of three puppeteers that operate three large horses and a variety of other puppets throughout the show. We rotate between four tracks in order to avoid overusing certain parts of our body. This also provides four different Joeys for the human actors in the show to work with. We each have distinct personalities, and the rotation keeps things fresh for everyone.
Q: Tell us about your journey from Canton (theater, dance and acrobatics) that led to your performance in “War Horse.” Was being in this show a goal, or just something that happened?
Jessica: I could not have dreamed of a role like this. "War Horse" is a very unique show, and requires actors with some pretty specialized skills. When I left Canton, I didn't think I was going to continue my dance and acrobatic training. However, soon after I left, I realized how important those tools were to me as a person, and therefore, as a performer. I was very lucky to have the teachers and coaches that I did. June Smith and Cheryl Reitz of Dancin' Feet, and J.C. Cunningham of the Canton Gymnastics team shared their incredible passions and encouraged me to follow mine in whatever capacity they fit. Gloria Logan, of the Plymouth Park Players, always made me feel like performing was a career option. And while I aced my calculus classes in college, I never wanted to do anything but be on stage.
Q. Do you perform vocalization for the horses?
Jessica: We do. The actors are all ‘miked’, and the three if us make all the horse noises together, live. Horses have a lung capacity that is about three-times that of a human, so it's quite convenient that there are three of us in the horse. Also, because we are miked, we can't tell each other to "go left" or "slow down." We have to use physical communication, like in a dance, to let each other know what we want or need.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about performing in “War Horse”?
Jessica: I have never been in a show in which I can hear the audience gasp. I can hear them listening and waiting, which is one of my favorite things about "War Horse." The show requires the audience to participate, we ask you to come on this journey with us and pretend that this giant puppet with ten legs is a horse. When the audience jumps on board, you can feel it, and that's quite special.
Q: Do you look forward to returning to Michigan? Do you still have family and friends in the area who will be able to see you perform?
Jessica: I do look forward to returning. I have a fair number of family and friends in the metro area that I am excited to see over the holidays. My parents, of course, are thrilled. It's also fun to tell my cast mates where to go, and what to checkout while we're there. There are lots of very inspiring places for me in Detroit, despite the latest economic news. And as your audience knows, there are some really wonderful places and activities that are worth their time this season.
Our thanks to Jessica for taking time to chat. You can catch Jessica in action when Broadway in Detroit brings “War Horse” to the Fisher Theatre December 17, 2013 through January 5, 2014.
Tickets are now on sale at all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 1-800-982-2787, online or at the Fisher Theatre box office. Prices start at $30, which includes parking and facility fees. A limited number of premium seats are available through Ticketmaster and at the box office. For group sales (10 or more) simply email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (313) 871-1132.
Note that there will be a special Kid’s Night, hosted by Broadway In Detroit and Michigan Education Savings Plan (MESP) on Thursday, December 19. Pre-show activities will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Fisher Theatre lobby. Kids will have the opportunity to make their very own War Horse and other holiday crafts courtesy of Arts & Scraps, interact with cast members, sample free ice cream from Treat Dreams while supplies last, and much more. For Kids’ Night, tickets for children 18 and under are free with the purchase of an adult ticket at full price on select seat locations. Visit the Broadway in Detroit website for details and to purchase tickets online.