By Nathaniel Dunaway
The best word to describe Western theatre’s spring play, “Frankie’s Flights of Fancy” is this: magical.
An original – or “devised” – work created by a group of Western students, this family-friendly show is an exploration of what it means to be a child, when adventures of the imagination and “flights of fancy” are delightfully common, and can be propelled by something as simple as a favorite toy.
The play will run May 27-30 and each performance will begin at 7:30 p.m.
“Frankie” opens with a little girl, the titular Frankie, entering a cobweb-blanketed room decorated with faded posters and paintings. The wallpaper is water-worn and sagging; crates and boxes of all sizes add to the clutter.
It’s not long before Frankie, who is played by third-year theatre major Belladina Starr, wearing a full-head character mask designed by the Portland theatre company Wonderheads, soon discovers that one of the aforementioned boxes is different than the others; this box is a portal to the imagination, to a world of dreams.
With the help of this magic box, Frankie is transported to an assortment of different worlds, all with their own unique characters and dangers.
Through the use of masks, marionettes, shadow puppets, projections and animations, Frankie chases a Wild West villain, conducts an orchestra, does battle with a Japanese demon and more.
The process of creating “Frankie” has been a year-long endeavor which began last fall. A class led by Western theatre professor Michael Phillips started from scratch to “build” a show from the ground up.
Starr, no doubt the star of the show, has been involved with “Frankie” since the beginning.
“Devised theatre is hard,” Starr said. “It’s so much about working together and being a team every step of the way. But when everyone comes together — designers, actors, tech, crew, everyone — and get past the uncertainty, and the challenges that arise, it’s rewarding.”
This isn’t the first time Western’s theatre department has explored original work. In 2013, a similar class, also led by Phillips, created and performed the devised show “Half a Block From Home.”
Once the story outline and general script for “Frankie” was completed, a new class, held in winter term, carried the project closer to its completion, establishing the specific logistics of the puppets, animations, props, and more.
The music for the show, a complete original score, was designed by music composition major Ian Knowland. This score was central to the magic of “Frankie,” helping to transport both the little girl and the audience to locales that include a rollicking old-timey circus, and a dimly lit, noir-soaked interrogation room.
Once the show was cast, it was up to the nine cast members and director Phillips to bring “Frankie” life.
“I have never used puppets,” said first-year theatre major Edgar Lopez, who, among other roles, portrays an old circus custodian who is secretly a master of shadow puppetry. “It takes a lot of team effort to make [puppets] work. I’ve learned to be able to move as one in a group. I’m also glad I took the movement class, [it] has helped tremendously, because this show is all about movement.”
The end product of this yearlong undertaking proves to be a touching tribute to the magic of childhood, as well as the magic of theatre.
“Getting to see something you helped create is beautiful,” Starr said. “It’s not like anything else.”
Student tickets to “Frankie’s Flights of Fancy” are free. Tickets for faculty and non-students can be purchased at the Rice Auditorium Box Office or over the phone at 503-838-8462.