This year, the Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre features three Studio Shows in addition to its mainstage shows. Up first, The Ugly Duckling, Aug. 28-Sept. 6, 2015.
Devised and directed by Katie Campbell, The Ugly Duckling is a reimagining of the classic fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen. It follows a young girl as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery and personal transformation. This shadow play unfolds with three actor-puppeteers, two overhead projectors, nearly 100 paper puppets.
“The striking and graphic simplicity of the paper cutting along with the inherently cinematic quality of overhead projector puppetry lays the aesthetic foundation for the production,” Campbell said. “There is no dialogue as the narrative unfolds entirely in the visual language of puppetry and the emotional topography of music.”
Campbell, a North Carolina native, made her home in Little Rock eight years ago when she became a company member with the Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre. The Ugly Duckling stemmed from a thesis project as she pursed an MFA in directing theatre for young audiences at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
“It happened out of necessity—I needed a story that could be told with very few actors and a minimalist set in order to share a tour van with another student,” Campbell said. “But I believe in the story so much. I love telling stories of personal transformation, so it was a natural fit for me to reimagine Andersen’s classic but to adapt it from my personal life lens.”
After touring in North Carolina, Campbell contacted the AACCT to gauge their interest in her show. “There’s never been a single idea that Brad [Bradley Anderson, AACCT artistic director] has said ‘no’ to,” Campbell said. “He and the Arts Center are just so supportive and encouraging of anyone with artistic ambition.”
Before the show could begin at the AAC Children’s Theatre, Campbell needed to find new music since the University of North Carolina at Greensboro owned the rights to the original scores. Enter the Jim Henson Foundation.
The Ugly Duckling was the recipient of a 2015 Jim Henson Foundation Family Grant which celebrates innovation and excellence in puppetry. The grant allowed Campbell to approach Jessica Drake Mosher to compose and arrange new, original music.
The two met through a mutual friend on Facebook, and after only a few months of comparing notes, the ensemble was complete. Mosher’s music will be performed live by a 15-piece ensemble from the Arkansas Symphony Youth Orchestra, directed by Geoffrey Robson.
“I have long been interested in collaborating with the Arkansas Arts Center and this is a wonderful opportunity for a first collaboration,” said Robson, associate conductor for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.
“I was even more excited that Katie was commissioning new music to be written for this production,” Robson said. “It is always a thrill to be involved in a world premiere, and to give students the opportunity to work with a living composer. Performing a piece of music for the first time is a unique learning experience, and it is a thrill that all of this is happening as the Arts Center kicks off its Studio Series.”
“This is a true collaboration of arts organizations,” Campbell said. “I just consider myself a caretaker of this project because it would not have been possible without any of them.”
After the 36-minute show, the audience is invited to participate in a hands-on demonstration of the shadow puppetry process.
The Ugly Duckling is presented by The Philip R. Jonsson Foundation and sponsored by the Jim Henson Foundation. The 2015/2016 season of the Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre is sponsored by: Presenting Sponsor, Arkansas BlueCross Blue Shield; Fall Season Sponsor, Centennial Bank; Spring Season Sponsors, The Fine Arts Club of Arkansas and Dr. Loren Bartole, ‘Family Foot Care’; Additional Support Provided by The Morris Foundation and Media Sponsor, Little Rock Family Magazine.
Show times: Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
Ticket prices: $10 General admission, $8 for Arkansas Arts Center members