RDC wraps up season with The King is the King

Red Deer College theatre studies is wrapping up another first-rate season with a unique presentation called The King is the King.

Running April 11-14th in Studio A, show time is 7:30 p.m.

There is also a matinee on April 14th at 1 p.m.

For this production, the students’ talents will be showcased via the magic of puppetry.

‘Larger than life’, stylized puppets are being created by theatre technical students to impersonate the central characters.

The students will operate the puppets on stage. The playfulness of the puppetry will create a magical atmosphere accessible to all in this family friendly (ages 12 and up) production.

Thomas Usher, theatre studies instructor and the production’s director, said the use of puppets is a tremendous way to take the audience into a more immediate awareness of what’s happening in the play.

There will be about a dozen puppets in the play, each operated by groups of two to three students.

“It’s a fairly simple stage structure, because as it’s being presented ‘in the round’ designers have to be extremely careful to keep any obstacles out of audience members sight line.”

The ‘in the round’ concept also lends itself to making audience members feel like they are part of the action, explains Usher.

Written by Sa’dallah Wannous, the story focuses on a repressive ruler of a kingdom who finds himself bored with court life.

He conspires to trade places with a common drunken buffoon.

Switching places while drunk, the ‘new’ ruler soon discovers that he has a knack for governance which surprises and dismays the real king.

It also turns out the new king rules more decisively.

The ‘old’ king is thwarted when he cannot reclaim his position, his wife goes along with the new ‘arrangement’ and the state continues to run pretty much without his presence.

Ultimately, the usurped old king learns that while the people may change, the ‘title and robes’ of the king seem to breed the same sort of despotic rule – some things never change.

Written in the 1970s The King is the King is based on a Syrian fable more than 100 years old, with the set and costume design inspired by the folk tales of the Arabian nights.

As Thomas points out, the enhanced puppetry and arena staging provides a public marketplace, or agora, for discussion, debate and revelation.

“A cautionary fable, the message behind The King is the King is aptly suited to our present situation. We must be ever vigilant to change which changes nothing – where the old king behaves worse than the present king; where the illusionary robes of authority change the man and not the reality.”

As no actor ever leaves the space, the staging will include actors sitting amongst the audience as well.

Wannous, who passed away in 1997, studied journalism in Cairo and later served as editor of the art and cultural sections of the Syrian paper Al-Baath and the Lebanese As-Safir.

According to Wikipedia, in the late 1960s he traveled to Paris where he studied theatre and encountered various currents, trends and schools of European stage.

His career as a playwright had begun in the early 1960s with several short plays which were characterized by a display of his fundamental theme: the relationship between the individual and society and its authorities.

Recognizing the increasing government control over the media and public demonstration in his homeland, he and others sought for other means to raise public awareness.

Wannous extolled a “theatre of politicization” rather than merely “political theatre” – intended to empower the audience into action, more than just to make a statement, said Usher. He was first introduced to the play last spring, and he said staff felt it was the perfect ensemble piece for first year students to wrap up the season with.

As to its written style, he describes it as fairly broad without a lot of subtlety.

“It also offers several style choices,” he explains. And with all the upheaval in Syria of late, the production really couldn’t be timelier, he added.

Working with puppets brings a whole new level of challenge as well, both to Usher as director and the students who are ultimately telling the story by ‘extension’.

Usher has consistently brought some of RDC’s finest shows to stage, and he continues to be just as excited about the creative process as ever. He attributes much of that to the students, adding it’s exciting to see them learn to effectively communicate to audiences via their craft.

“I love the challenge. And I love directing.” It’s a wonderful means of telling a story while also being able to somehow put one’s personal stamp on it as well.

“I’m always looking for what in a play I can make a statement with as well.”

For tickets, visit the Black Knight Ticket Centre www.bkticketcentre.ca