Here be dragons: WICA, Tears of Joy puppet show explains differences, acceptance — no strings attached

Children admire the mighty but timid dragon of Kenneth Grahame’s “The Reluctant Dragon

Art will attempt to pull at the heart strings of the audience with the help of real strings attached to puppets this Friday night. Tears of Joy Theatre photo | The dragon peeks out from a cave during a past performance of “The Reluctant Dragon.”

Whidbey Island Center for the Arts is bringing in a theater group to put on Kenneth Grahame’s “The Reluctant Dragon” as a puppet play in the first Family Series show of its 2015-16 season. The children’s story, first published in 1898, is about a boy who befriends a like-minded dragon. With the help of fabled dragon slayer St. George, they convince once-terrified townsfolk to accept the less-than-terrifying winged lizard.

The Langley arts center chose the play as part of its education outreach for a simple reason: to combat bullying. More than a year ago, organization staff met with school leaders on South Whidbey to come up with a message for the next Family Series show. At the time, an anti-bullying initiative was implemented in the South Whidbey School District. Prominent and high profile school violence around the country, some of which was blamed on bullying, also factored into the arts center’s choice.

“We know that the arts attract children who often don’t feel like they have a place,” said Deana Duncan, production director for the arts center. “We often see that kid who doesn’t make the sports team, who isn’t the cheerleader, who isn’t that popular. We know how important the arts are for their self esteem and to help them move forward.”

Emily Alexander is the executive director of Tears of Joy Theatre, the Portland, Ore.-based group putting on the show. She said the story of a misunderstood dragon longing for acceptance will resonate well with middle schoolers.

“This is a show about rumors, gossip, judgment, making assumptions,” she said. “Those are all things that middle schoolers can relate to.” Tears of Joy Theatre image | The Reluctant Dragon, a story written by Kenneth Grahame in 1898, was adapted by Nancy Aldrich of Tears of Joy Theatre as a puppet play. It will show at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts one night, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6.

As part of the outreach, Whidbey Island Center for the Arts is hosting 250 middle school-age children Friday afternoon for a glimpse of the show. For about 50 minutes, the puppets will be on stage, acting out some of the scenes. There will also be time for the students to see how the puppets operate and ask questions of the Tears of Joy Theatre cast and crew.

The full show begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, and runs about 90 minutes, plus an intermission.

This isn’t a family get-together puppet show through a trifold poster board. Tears of Joy Theatre’s “The Reluctant Dragon” includes a talking dragon puppet that will reportedly require a four-hour set up that will span the stage, and then some.

Turning Grahame’s story, adapted by Tears of Joy’s Nancy Aldrich, into a puppet play makes sense, Alexander said.

“When you have a dragon, that’s the natural answer,” she said. “Make it a puppet, and make it blow smoke.”

Two dragon puppets will be in the show, along with eight other puppets for the boy, the knight, his trusty steed, some villagers and even sheep. A pair of puppeteers will handle all of the action, including the eight-foot dragon.

Tears of Joy Theatre tours across the United States and offers educational programs in the Portland-Vancouver area. A Washington State Governor’s Arts Award was presented to the group for its arts education. Puppets are on the rise in terms of popularity in the art world, said Alexander, the daughter of the group’s founder.

At the heart of the show is its humor, and that’s entirely intentional.

“We try to make everything we do vacillate between silly and serious, like life,” Alexander said.

Eagerly see ‘The Reluctant Dragon’

Whidbey Island Center for the Arts presents “The Reluctant Dragon,” Kenneth Grahame’s 1898 children’s story through the production of a puppet troupe from Portland, Tears of Joy Theatre.

A free preview of the show for students is at noon, Friday, Nov. 6. There are seats available to homeschooled students; to reserve a seat contact Deana Duncan at 360-221-8262 or Deana.Duncan@wicaonline.org.

The main show is at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6 at WICA, 565 Camano Ave., Langley.

A boy meets a dragon who is neither fearsome nor violent. Instead, the dragon is a lover of poetry and just wants to be welcomed by the villagers whom he lives above. With the help of a famed dragon-slaying knight, he is able to show he means no harm to anyone.

The performance is about 90 minutes long, with an intermission.

Tickets cost $15 for adults and $8 for children.