Five Time Tony Award-Winner at Segerstrom Center For The Arts January 22 through February 3
by tony reverditto –
War Horse is a magnificent, compelling drama-filled with stirring music and beautiful songs. The 2011 Tony Award-Winner for Best Play, Best Direction, Scenic, Lighting and Sound Design, War Horse uses breathtaking puppetry to tell the story of young Albert and his beloved horse, Joey.
At the outbreak of World War I, Joey’s extraordinary odyssey begins when he is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France, against Albert’s wishes.
He is soon caught up in the war and ends up serving both sides, eventually losing himself in the no-man’s-land between enemies. Albert cannot forget Joey. And because he’s still too young to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find him and bring him home.
Based on Michael Morpurgo’s original novel, War Horse premiered at the National Theatre in November 2007. After two sold-out runs it moved in March 2009, to the New London Theatre in London’s West End, where it continues to play to capacity houses.
This American premiere reunites the production’s acclaimed London creative team, with an all-American cast.
The brilliant staging and concept is by Olivier and Rae Smith, the Obie award-winning British designer who works regularly in a wide variety of styles and genres. A diversity that has taken her from Slovenia to Broadway. Designing the mesmerizing and statuesque War Horse animal is thus far one of her biggest accomplishments. Her narrative drawings are hanging in New London Theatre, home of the War Horse production in the West End; while others are published in Screenpress Books.
A special Tony Award was given to the Handspring Puppet Company, manufacturer of the mechanics and forms that bring the horses to life. Brian Robert Burns has the privilege of being one of the puppeteers in the North American Tour for this majestic animal. He attended Cal State Long Beach and built his resume with such roles as Joey, Topthorn, Coco, and John Greig. Then in New York at the HERE Arts Center, Richmond Shepard Theatre, Abingdon Theatre, East 13th Street Theatre and Ars Nova.
His regional credits include the San Francisco Playhouse, Newport Theatre Arts Center, Edison Theatre and Yale Repertory Theatre. He currently plays Vladislav in the webseries Shakespeare, Hashish and Ish and soon as Dan in the developing web-series Megan’s Bridge.
He took some time out from performing to speak with The Rage Monthly:
You are an Orange County native, where did your affinity for performing begin?
Orange Coast College, I had hoped after high school to continue my athletic career at a four-year college, but that didn’t work out so I decided to save some money and go to a junior college. After three semesters, I took a guitar class, which led me to believe that I would start a band and rock the world!
Hearing of this, my uncle Brian encouraged me to take an acting class and I knew as soon as I walked into the theatre, I knew that I was going to do this for the rest of my life. I was fortunate enough to have my intro to acting class with Phyllis Gitlin who gave me the fire and pointed me in the right direction regarding furthering my theatrical training.
Our readers would love to know how you made the leap into the War Horse production.
It’s a simple story really, I just auditioned. I initially auditioned to be in the Lincoln Center production and not having gotten that job, I became disheartened. Then the call came to audition again, but this time for the first North American tour; the whole process lasted about four months.
Are you an actor and/or a dancer? What was the audition process like?
I consider myself an actor. When people ask me if I’m a dancer, I say “I’m a movement enthusiast” because being a horse is such a particular skill, the audition process was a sort of baptism by fire. I was in group auditions with around 12 others for each audition, there was a lot of listening and team building games, movement exercises and the like.
After that, they picked us out three at a time and put us in different combinations inside the horse and we had to learn on our feet how to get the horse to be alive.
This may sound like a strange question, but what part of the horse do you play and why did you wind up in that position?
The horse has three puppeteers who bring it to life, each responsible for a part of the horse and its emotional indicators.
There is the head puppeteer (responsible for the movement of the head and neck and the twitching of the ears), heart puppeteer (responsible for the front two legs and the breathing) and the hind puppeteer (responsible for the movement of the hind legs and the tail flicks) all three make the sounds of the horse together—I play the heart of the horse.
I honestly can’t say what the creative team’s factors were in making the decision to put me there, but I am so grateful.
“A tip of the shoulder, a bend of the knee, a quick out breath, all are expressions of an individual working with his team to communicate what happens next. The vocabulary is infinite and ever-changing, so we really have to be open and listen.”
It is an astounding animal. What have been the biggest challenges in conveying the rhythms and temperament of the horse?
There is tremendous physical demand that comes along with what we do. Having to learn a skill like this and execute it in sync with two other individuals who are also just learning is definitely a challenge.
The toughest part was learning and continually improving how to communicate viscerally. We can’t communicate the way we usually would in the world when inside the horse, so we have to listen with our bodies.
A tip of the shoulder, a bend of the knee, a quick out breath, all are expressions of an individual working with his team to communicate what happens next. The vocabulary is infinite and ever-changing, so we really have to be open and listen.
Have there been any mishaps or malfunctions during a performance?
Of course! Sometimes those things are a blessing in disguise. Necessity breeds invention and you never know what new thing will be discovered when the unexpected happens!
The show runs around two and a half hours, what is the most difficult part of maintaining stamina for the demanding performance?
Each act is a little over an hour, I think the stamina comes from giving your body what it needs in order to perform at its optimum level that day.
We have a physical therapist that travels with us. Each of us has his own regimen when it comes to working out, eating well, resting and staying at our best. I think the most difficult part, is knowing how to adjust to what your body needs on any particular day.
Sometimes you wanna push when your body is telling you otherwise and sometimes you just feel lazy when you know you need to get moving—it’s a delicate balance.
What has been the most rewarding part of the whole experience?
Being able to touch lives all throughout the nation in so many different ways. This show is responsible for considerable contributions to several foundations including BCEFA (Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS), Paws and Effect, the Doris Day Horse Rescue and Adoption Center and many others.
To know that we are reaching people everywhere as individuals and as a community with this tremendous theatrical event and making a difference in the world is something very, very special to me. On a personal note, it is so, so lovely to be able to share my dream with my family and friends all over the country, not to mention the friends that I’ve made along the way and people I haven’t even met!
Please share some of your future goals in the entertainment industry or otherwise.
I never thought I’d be a puppeteer, but I am now and I love it! I have always just wanted to work. If I’m performing, whatever the medium, I’m happy. I will ride this thing out and then when it’s over, I will welcome the next chapter, whatever it brings.
This is my passion, this is my path, I plan to walk it with an open heart, accepting of and enthused for the size, potential and inevitability of the journey.
War Horse runs Tuesday, January 22 through Sunday, February 3 at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa.
For tickets and more information call 714.556.2787 or go to scfta.org.