Honk if you like interviews
If you do get a chance to see Honk! at the Globe Theatre in the upcoming weeks before Christmas, one of the unique things about the production is the aesthetic of the props and costumes. The play is designed to look like it is made out of paper – the story literally coming from the pages of a storybook. Instead of hiring a typical designer to draft these ideas, the Globe hired the Old Trout Puppet Workshop as costume and set designers for the play. The Old Trouts are “gang” of Calgary artists.
“We’ve been kicking around for about ten years, and we make puppet shows for adults, sculptures, books, and music,” explains Judd Palmer, one of the Trouts’ men. “It was kind of a rare thing, normally they’d hire a designer for the set, props, and costumes, but instead they hired us … this was the first time that we’ve ever designed a show of somebody else’s … pretty much everything you see on stage was drawn by us.”
The ideas that the Globe had in mind for Honk! proved to be a challenge, even for the experienced and talented Old Trout Puppet Workshop. “The whole theatre in-the-round thing is pretty crazy because the audience is going to look at everything on stage from all different angles. In a more conventional theatre, you’ve got a backstage place where you can hide, so the whole concept was having everything visible all the time. The idea of having the performers playing instruments also played a role … that was what kind of fired up the ridiculous idea of people playing [the parts of] furniture and suns and moons. It’s all a challenge every time because we’re making it up as we go along – that’s kind of the fun of it.”
As the days on the calendar drew closer to opening night, the challenges of creating all of the props with such meticulous detail made finishing on time come into question. “It was a really labour-intensive production. Everything was handmade; that was part of the aesthetic of the [play], that everything looked like it was crafted out of paper mache. They couldn’t go get a table and put it on stage and call it done. It was a lot of stuff, a lot of ridiculous stuff. It was a huge process, a huge build.”
The Old Trouts are used to taking a long time to finish productions like this. “We make puppet shows, so we have to make the actors as well as the costumes and other stuff. We take years to build our damn things. It was pretty miraculous that [Honk!] came together in a few weeks.”
“The actors are these magnificent examples of a performance breed because they can all sing and play instruments and dance and act all at the same time. The design needed to help them with that; the costumes couldn’t get in the way of their being able to do fancy spins and prances. What they’re doing on stage is an incredibly difficult thing … we had to be kind to them.”
Despite all of the challenges, Palmer is “totally” pleased with the way that things turned out. “It’s always a weird and wondrous journey from start to end. You start out with an idea that you think is going to work, and then a million things happen between there and opening night.”
Palmer and the rest of the Old Trout Puppet Workshop should be totally pleased with the way that things turned out because all of the costumes and props look spectacular. One really does get the feeling of being pulled into a storybook during the performance of Honk! A Musical Tale of the Ugly Duckling. The show runs until Dec. 26, so audiences eager to see what the Old Trout Puppet Workshop and the Globe Theatre have in store for them will have plenty of chances to see this classic storybook tale come to life.
Honk! is no ugly duckling
Honk! A Musical Tale of the Ugly Duckling is exactly what the title says. The play follows the main characters of Ugly, Ugly’s parents Ida and Drake, a malicious cat, and incorporates many other pond and farm animals into the story.
One of the strong points of Honk! is the music. The performance utilizes a live band that includes a bass guitar, piano, cello, trombone, saxophone, melodica, tuba, baritone, and oboe with some of the actors playing instruments from time to time throughout the play. All of the parts were played without a stutter or stall, and each of the songs were sung in tune with shimmering vibrato. Gorgeous multi-part harmonies are often employed in the music.
The set of Honk! is very minimalistic. The only piece that remained onstage for the entire performance was a large storybook in a corner of the stage that characters entered and exited from. Actors often carried props such as a window frame or couch cushion instead of building an elaborate stage set which gives the stage a very open and bare feeling. This requires the audience to use their imagination at parts, but the crew of Honk! did a superb job of making it evident when characters were swimming underwater or sitting in a farm house. A benefit to having an actor play the part of a door or couch was that the set can move and become involved in the choreography and change to the beat of the music. This was probably the most unique, intriguing, and enjoyable part of the play.
The costumes were created with meticulous detail. Almost everything was covered in tissue paper to add to the concept of characters coming straight from the pages of a storybook, and moreover, most of the characters wore outfits with text from the story printed on them to take this idea one step further.
The only off-putting thing about Honk! was that it is designed for a younger audience. The whole production had a very youthful and jocund feeling to it; characters literally come out of a giant storybook on stage and waddle around like waterfowl. At certain points thoughout Honk!, I felt quite childish for watching it, but it should be noted that the play is aimed at a younger demographic. This isn’t to say that the play wasn’t enjoyable for those outside of the target audience; Honk! may be written for children, but there many scenes in the play are quite humorous and written for those accompanying the minors in the audience.
The staff of the Globe Theatre has done another great job with their second main stage production of the year, and can be very proud of the hard work that they put into Honk! A Musical Tale of the Ugly Duckling. The play opens on Thursday, Nov. 26, and runs until Dec. 26.