Symphony Space is one of New York’s leading venues that is hosting an updated version of the “Jungle Book” which is one of the world’s most famous children’s books. The story gained further fame when it was turned into an animated cartoon by Disney. Now NYC’s Symphony Space presents the
New York premiere of a new theatrical production that adapts Rudyard Kipling’s classic “Mowgli Stories”—the basis for “Jungle Book”—for modern family audiences. The show will include immersive sound and multimedia, shadow puppets and a vivid backdrop that will transport the audience to Mowgli’s childhood in the jungles of India. Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther, and other beloved characters are brought to life through eye-popping videos, shadow play, and original music.
This immersive production is from the creative team behind the Off-Broadway hit Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, which The New York Times called “jaw dropping”. This new production of “Jungle Book” features similar elements of stagecraft and multimedia magic. Preview the show HERE.
Recently Rick Miller and Craig Francis discussed this show and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in theater and how come you focus on kids Theater?
Rick Miller (RM): Craig and I actually create shows that we ourselves would like to watch! It just so happens that our adaptations of classic stories have found a home in the Theatre for Young Audiences series, probably because of how playful we try to be. It’s very gratifying to create a work that might be the first piece of live theater a child has ever seen. Those vivid memories stick with us.
Craig Francis (CF): The majority of our shows are not kids’ theater: in fact, our adaptation of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea began as an adult, main stage production, but it’s had a much more successful life in its newer, shorter version as a family show. With that production and Jungle Book, it’s thrilling to introduce our favourite stories in an exciting new way to a new generation.
MM: How did you two meet and go about forming your group? Also, how did you come up with the name Kidoons?
RM: I’ve been creating theater for a long time, both co-developing collective creations, and creating new solo shows. My first play MacHomer (“Simpsons-do-Macbeth”) was on the road for 17 years, and Craig worked on the marketing and multimedia. He’s worked on every show since then, and in 2012, we decided to collaborate on stage adaptations of classic stories.
CF: The Kidoons name came from our Executive Producer, Jeff Lord: it’s inspired by “kids” and “cartoons”. The Kidoons themselves were little aliens who came to Earth to gather our stories. Because that’s what it’s all about really, in multimedia or onstage: telling good stories.
MM: How did you first break into the theater scene and how have your performances evolved over the years?
CF: I began performing improv comedy professionally while in college, and so performed on the stage long before I wrote for it. I also worked in illustration and graphic art. Those skills all served me well in creating theatrical productions, writing characters’ dialogue, and imagining the visuals.
RM: I started doing theater in Montreal, while I was studying Architecture at McGill University. After graduation, I used those skills to design and develop my own plays for Fringe festivals, which is a terrific learning experience. You’ll notice that in Jungle Book, our modern-day Mowgli is an architect!
MM: How do you get the ideas for your plays and their interactive, immersive, and multimodal elements?
CF: This particular series of family productions are re-imagined adaptations of books we loved as kids. Rick is internationally renowned for his use of multimedia in his works, and my own work re-telling fairy tales has had a digital element for many years.
RM: Kidoons productions use what we call a “high tech / low tech” approach: sophisticated multimedia combined with classic theatrical techniques. For instance, Jungle Book has two projectors with cutting-edge video animation, but it also uses shadow puppetry, which has been performed in India for over 2,000 years!
MM: Why did you decide to do “Jungle Book” in particular and how did you update it or remix it?
CF: For Jungle Book, we combined the Mowgli stories from “The Jungle Book” where he’s raised by animals, with the Mowgli stories from “The Second Jungle Book” where he returns to the town, and included our favorite Rudyard Kipling poem, “IF”.
RM: Craig and I always ask ourselves: “Why this story? Why now?” Given how disconnected we all feel sometimes, it’s vital that we rethink our connection to the natural world, and to each other. Art can do that, and kids are really responding to those themes of the story. We’ve also set Jungle Book in present-day New York City, so we’re not talking about the distant past: we’re deliberately engaging families here and now.
MM: What other shows have you made and what are they about?
RM: Craig and I co-adapted Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea from Jules Verne’s novel. It ran Off-Broadway in 2016 and is still touring. It’s about Captain Nemo leaving behind humanity, and creating his own world in his “Nautilus” submarine. We’re currently co-writing with Paul Van Dyck an adaptation of Frankenstein from Mary Shelley’s novel, for a 2020 premiere. It’s about Doctor Frankenstein creating a human creature, which must make its lonely way in the world. All three of these stories were books we loved, but all have elements of an individual who is cut off from humanity. This idea of “Who am I? Where do I belong?” is something very powerful emotionally, that kids hook into very deeply. We’re also currently working on The Princess and the Pea (and other Andersen Fairy Tales) for younger audiences, which will premiere next year.
CF: Rick is also one of Canada’s most renowned solo theater creators and performers. His shows feature just himself onstage playing all the characters, along with immersive multimedia. In fact, his show BOOM is also having a New York premiere this week! BOOM features Rick embodying over 100 characters and 25 songs of the Baby Boom generation, from 1945-1969. It’s on at the 59E59 Theaters from January 9 – February 23. Then it’s touring internationally, including going to Taiwan. It’s part of a trilogy that brings history and personal stories to life onstage, followed by BOOM X (1970-1995), which is touring Canada and France, and BOOM YZ (1996-2020), which premieres in 2021. We are so excited to be reaching multiple generations with our work, and seeing several generations of audience come out to the theatre!
MM: How would you describe the atmosphere of your shows and what can attendees expect?
RM: The productions are very cinematic, which may be one reason why they hold kids’ attention so well. We’ve directed them with the pacing of an adventure movie, including “shots” (changes in visual perspective) and “cuts” (jumps from one scene to another with no stage transition). But they’re also very theatrical, and Craig and I work very closely with our design teams to create immersive, playful environments that could only exist on a stage.
CF: The comment we often get is “I’ve never seen anything that looks like it!” Our productions feel like stepping into a kind of hyper-real storybook world, but one that has the energy of a live performance. Mowgli speaks directly to the audience, and involves them in the story in a way that only theater can.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future of Kidoons?
RM: We plan to continue creating works that entertain and enlighten, that educate and empower a new generation to be creative and tell their own stories.
CF: We would love to keep telling stories in the most creative ways we can think of, onstage, onscreen, and online!
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Meagan J. Meehan is a published author, poet, cartoonist, and produced playwright. She pens columns for the Great South Bay Magazine, Blasting News, and Entertainment Vine. She is also a stop-motion animator and an award-winning abstract artist. Meagan holds a BA in English Literature and a MA in Communication. She is also an animal advocate and a fledging toy and game designer.
Meagan is a contributing editor to Kidskintha writing on Toys, Games, Entertainment, and other topics that are happy and fun!