Down on the farm: Spotlight Players bring children’s classic “Charlotte’s Web” to Theater at the Fort

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By Sam Elliott

The latest Spotlight Players production at Lawrence’s Theater at the Fort is a children’s classic adults and parents — including the show’s cast and crew — continue to find themselves nostalgic for.

Director Jim LaMonte remembers having E. B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” read to him in third grade and said he is excited to bring the stage play version, adapted with White’s blessing by Jason Robinette, to area audiences.

“Every adult knows the story and I think every child knows the story or knows the cartoon movie that was made,” LaMonte said. “I’ve always wanted to direct it and it’s usually directed with all children as a children’s show, but I wanted to do it with a majority of adults. We cast children in the children’s roles, but all the other characters and animals are adults.”

Response to the show’s call for auditions showed LaMonte plenty of others shared a strong sense of nostalgia for the story,

“I was really surprised at how many people auditioned because they wanted to be part of the story. They love the story,” he said. “It might not be a great traditional acting show — some of the things are kind of corny — but it’s a children show and they’ve taken to heart and they’re all doing a great job.”

Elisabeth Giffin, who plays the titular spider, Charlotte, grew up watching the 1973 animated film version of the story and remembers enjoying repeated viewings with her brother.

“The scene where Templeton goes to the fair and gets totally fat on food and the scene at the very end when the baby spiders are leaving are the two that always stood out in my head,” Giffin said. “Those two scenes flashed through my head when I heard about the show. It’s definitely got those moments that stick with you.”

Patrick Becker, who portrays underdog pig Wilbur, has enjoyed the opportunity to be a kid again through acting in a story he himself enjoyed as a child.

“I think the story is timeless and hopefully multiple generations will enjoy it,” Becker said. “It’s a great story, I think, for young kids for what friendship’s really about and building those sorts of relationships, but, just for me, it’s a chance to be a kid again. What was interesting to me about the stage production and doing the puppets is we get to kind of be larger than life and go over the top and be really silly because it is geared toward kids. It makes it a lot of fun for us. We get to not be rigid sort of adults because we’re playing roles are supposed to be endearing to kids.”

Puppet masters

While the “Charlotte’s Web” stage play wasn’t written by playwright Jason Robinette to include them, director Jim LaMonte thought including puppets to portray the animal characters in the Spotlight Players’ production would add a fun visual element for the audience.

“It’s not written for puppets, but it just came to me to add puppets to this because I’m hoping it’ll be well attended by children,” LaMonte said. “The story has a special place in everybody’s head and heart, so I thought to add the puppets would just make it more special for kids.”

The production’s puppets were designed and built by a friend of LaMonte’s, Aaron Beasley, who, along with his partner Ashley Miller, run puppet company The Lazy Knights of Felt, also which creates puppets for the improv comedy group, Fleece Academy, Beasley cofounded.

Their creations for “Charlotte’s Web” include characters Wilbur, Charlotte, Templeton, Goose, Gander, Sheep and Lamb, giving a majority of the show’s cast their first opportunity at acting through a puppet.

“It’s an adjustment. I’ve never done puppeteering before, but we have great people that designed them and gave us some instruction on technique and things like that,” Patrick Becker, who plays Wilbur, said. “One of the most difficult things is just making sure the mouth is right moving with the syllables and all that. It’s a challenge, but it’s a lot of fun and you get to spend some time in front of the mirror at home looking like a goof trying to make it work. Kids will probably be looking at the puppet, but we’re going to be giving the facial reactions so it’s sort of a dualistic sort of thing where we’re giving the emotion through our face but the puppet is the character.”

Spotlight Players’ “Charlotte’s Web” at the Theater at the Fort

8920 Otis Ave.

Remaining shows: 8 p.m. June 24; 6 p.m. June 25; 2:30 p.m. June 26

Tickets: $15 general; $12 children/seniors; $10 military personnel

More: Spotlight-Players.org; LawrenceArtCenter.net


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