Puppetry brings ‘The Big Friendly Giant’ to life

Melissa Vach- Arts and Entertainment Editor

Directed by associate professor Frank Ludwig and guest director Erik Van Wyke, the Viterbo Theatre Department will be telling the story of Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant (BFG) at the Weber Center Saturday, Feb. 1 through Sunday, Feb. 9.

Senior acting major and dance minor Jonathon “JD” Dull from Boscobel, Wis. will portray the BFG, which has been constructed as a large puppet for him to wear. Freshman Angie Smolik controls the BFG’s legs.

“It’s difficult enough to bring a character to life on stage and always be listening to your scene partner, but when the focus is on a 12-foot giant harnessed to your shoulders, it suddenly becomes a completely different ball game,” Dull told Lumen.

“In the first few rehearsals, the BFG was only a frame,” sophomore acting major Karissa Sime-Peschel from Richland Center, Wis., told Lumen. Sime-Peschel plays the young girl Sophie. “Now he’s a character just like any other person onstage.

“I can’t tell you how in awe I am of Angie and JD,” Sime-Peschel said. “Those two literally breathe together. If you see JD switching his weight to his left, so does Angie. It’s quite funny to see.”

“I was fortunate enough to see a production of the world famous puppet show, ‘War Horse,’ in London during December of 2012,” Dull said. “The designers found that the life created in the horses started with the breath of the puppet. Honestly, it was a couple months into rehearsals before I realized that maybe The Big Friendly Giant should breathe. Everyone likes air, right?”

“‘The BFG’ has never been done with huge puppets before, so we are the ‘test dummies’ in a sense,” Sime-Peschel said. “Many rehearsals have been spent playing and experimenting with the puppets, and almost every night I leave exhausted from running and jumping around.

“I think the one part of this show that will stay with me after the show closes is the language,” Sime-Peschel said. “Roald Dahl developed words such as frobscottle, whizzpopper, crodscollop…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said ‘How whoopseysplunkers’ to someone and all I get is a funny look back!”

“Our production is about engaging with the community and inspiring people of all ages to use their imaginations to create worlds, characters, and dreams that are larger than life,” Dull said. “The production team, directors, and cast have been incredible to work with and we all hope to ‘breathe life’ into a form of theatre which La Crosse has never seen.”

Showtimes are Saturday, Feb. 1 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 2 at 3 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday Feb. 8-9 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for children.

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