‘War Horse’ director casts puppets in ‘Dream’ roles

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‘War Horse’ director casts puppets in ‘Dream’ roles

CHARLESTON, South Carolina - Director Tom Morris uses the phrase “happy accident” to describe the success of his Tony Award-winning play “War Horse,” whose central character was a puppet.

“At the time, it seemed like a really crazy experiment to invite in an audience and put basically a nonspeaking puppet in the middle of an epic adventure,” said Morris, who is the artistic director for Bristol Old Vic, the longest continuously operating theater in Britain.

Morris now has another puppet-based creation making its American debut at this year’s Spoleto Festival USA. The new production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” features live actors manipulating puppets of everything from birds and masks to disembodied limbs.

As he did with “War Horse,” Morris is collaborating with the South African-based Handspring Puppet Company to produce the new version of the traditional Shakespearean play.

The director isn’t completely surprised by the appeal puppets have for theatergoers.

“We are all instinctive puppeteers. A bit of us understands that,” he said in a recent interview.

“If you put a puppet on the stage and the audience wants to hear the story and follow the story, the audience will imagine the puppet is alive.”

But that’s not necessarily easier for the director, he added.

“The bigger the scale of the imaginative investment, the more you need to take care of it, in a way,” Morris said. “There is a risk, because there could come a moment when anyone in the audience could say, ‘Hang on. That’s not a boat, it’s just a bundle of wood,’ or ‘That’s not a horse.’ ”

Morris worked with Handspring’s puppet designers Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones in developing the show, which came together differently than “War Horse.”

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