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Photo: Kayla Boye, Sawyer Smith, Iris Lieberman, Donterrio Johnson, Nicole Armold, Adam Fane, Michael Rawls and Koray Tarhan in Mercury Theater Chicago’s PIPPIN | Brett Beiner
PerformInk’s “Inside” series takes you behind the scenes of productions with blog posts written by the artists in the trenches.
By Brenda Didier, Lead Choreographer
As everyone that is familiar with the theater knows, every show has its own scale – the space that the story is allowed to span, the room that the actors have to work in. For some shows, space is a given – the production can spread to the wings of a stage, complete with sprawling sets and dozens of actors or dancers. However, when space is limited, every movement counts, every motion means something towards the larger scope of the show as a whole. Transforming PIPPIN, a show which has traditionally been presented as a grandiose production, into a musical fit for the Mercury Theater Chicago’s Venus Cabaret – a room that seats no more than 65 people, was a unique and thrilling challenge.
As the lead choreographer for the production, I was tasked with capturing the art of motion used in PIPPIN. How do you take a giant and sprawling show and move it to a small space while still maintaining the magic of the original production? The answer: the ultimate spacial awareness. The Venus Cabaret Space is unique in that audiences are brought into the story right along with the actors, so their ability to be honest, with both themselves and those watching, is crucial. Within the space, the cast has mastered when to be big – to fully embrace a dance number, and when to be small, paying attention to the seemingly minute movements that more fully make up a character. In space like the Venus, a small flick of the wrist or a turn of the head can mean so much more than it would in a larger theater, which adds to the depth and intensity through each act and scene. With numbers like “Glory,” which follows Pippin’s journey into being a soldier, we were able to craft the themes of violence and the horrors of war into a very expository piece of motion. In combination with the background videos, it becomes an incredibly powerful point of the show.
With PIPPIN opening this week, I couldn’t be more excited for audiences to experience Pippin’s journey firsthand – to follow along with this moving, magical production. As the movements of each character more fully support the story that Walter [Director L. Walter Stearns] is telling, I hope that audiences can take the journey through the motion of each scene – and perhaps walk away a small bit closer to their own “Corner of the Sky.”