BY ROB LESTER….. A touching and terrific show has returned to town. Let your soul take Flight. If the illustration of the wistful and wonder-filled small fellow on the small planet is sweetly familiar to you, you may have just actually seen more with your heart than your eyes. And that sound you just heard was your grown-up walls of emotional protection again come crashing down as you get in touch with the inner truth or your inner child, or rather, your inner Prince. The Little Prince is the quintessential tale about what is important in life and what is folly. The Barrow Street Theatre in Greenwich Village is the place to go see an engaging and ingratiating presentation September 24-30.
Originally written in French, it has become a worldwide love phenomenon of philosophical truths. When I heard there was a new show inspired by the character’s adventures and life lessons, I jumped in the air with joy. Of course, I didn’t do so as artfully and impressively as the three performers putting on the show in their own way because they are trained acrobats. And while Flight finding its way to telling a story parallel to the original through balance, twists and turns, spins and swirls, it’s very much a play. Instead of simply re-telling the original story of a prince who journeys to Earth and meets an aviator, animals and more, after a series of trips to various odd tiny planets, each inhabited by a sole deluded person, Ezra LeBank—creator and one-third of the cast—- came up with a kind of sequel that lovingly matches the original incident by incident, bringing the setting to the sea. He retains the character of the aviator, whom he plays, but his Prince is a female “Prince.” With instrumental music economically accenting the action, acrobatics fluidly tell this new plot, going from strength to strength as the superbly able performers combine their physical feats with the treats of the tale. While constantly moving physically, it’s still constantly emotionally moving.
FLIGHT photo: Andrew Lee
I first saw the piece as part of August’s NY International Fringe Festival of theatre (my original review is on the bottom), following its appearance overseas in the Edinburgh Fringe, and I had my fingers crossed that it would return for another run on its own. I can now uncross my fingers. I was eager to know more, so I approached Mr. LeBank to find out more and here is our Q and A session:
Q: Did a longtime love of The Little Prince story inspire the creation of this piece?
A: Actually, I didn’t read The Little Prince until I was in my 20s. I fell in love with the story, and read it over and over again until the images would swirl around my imagination. It was very closely connected for me to what it means to take flight as an acrobat. I knew it was a show I had to make.
Q: Were you the sole person with the idea to create this production or did someone else get the idea first and bring you in?
A: I had dreamed of creating a storytelling piece based on acrobatics. When a friend in Mexico introduced me to the story of The Little Prince, it was very quickly clear to me that this was the story that those dreams had been about.
Q: What aspect or theme spoke to you in the strongest way?
A: The meeting of the fox and the prince was the part of the story I read over and over at first. The sense that as you give your time to your friends, you give them your heart. Later, I became really interested in the concept of The Little Prince as an allegory for wartime, and as a historically important denouncement of the mechanized industrial world. A line from a New Yorker Magazine article about Le Petit Prince stayed with me: You cannot love roses, you can only love a rose.
Q: Did you originally plan to adapt the original plot? How did the “sequel”/parallel story idea come about?
A: Yes, originally it was to do The Little Prince, but I would go for walks and make up angles or ideas and riffs about the story. One day, walking through the neighborhood, I realized the connection for me was that — even though I’ve read the story, even though, in my life, I’ve learned about how I can only truly see with my heart— I still forget. So easily I forget and become caught again in the web of machinations. I realized my version of the story was the one about how we learn to remember that secret– how we find a way to remember for all those times when we forget.
Photo: Shannon Schnittker
Q: How were the other two performers found?
A: Cynthia Casas and Taylor Price were students of mine, and I trained them in acrobatics and physical theatre for years. They took to this kind of work really well and had made it a central part of their focus in their early careers. When the idea for the play came, they were the strongest acrobatic theatre performers I could think of.
Q: What did you learn from audience reactions to earlier performances?
A: We learned about the rhythms of the story. We learned that it’s a lot funnier than we first thought. We started to enjoy playing a lot more. We also learned that the sad ending of the story as its written is too complex and drawn out for theatre. So we remixed, removed, replayed, and found our own path to make the story energized as it moves toward its climax.
Q: Why do you think the story appeals to different generations and why your own Prince production works for kids and adults—in what different or similar ways?
A: I think children love the imagery of the acrobatics. They identify with the characters; they really love the turtle. When we talk to them later, they all want to learn about the turtle. For adults, I think it’s the poetry and brilliance of the story — about remembering the wisdom of our childhoods. Remembering that all the stuff we get obsessed with in our lives is really frivolous, and that the only part that’s essential is much simpler, much more human. It connects to our lives and challenges in a very insightful and touching way. And for young adults, college students for example, they are really on the edge of losing their childhood, and they don’t want to, so I think the story affirms their longing to stay young.
Q: The story is delicate and gentle. What concerns did you have about capturing that in a stage piece?
A: Many other adaptations lost the sweetness in the remakes, it became heavy handed or overly sentimentalized. We wanted to make sure it was still about telling a story, and still about allowing space for the audience to imagine with us. I was afraid of hitting the nail on the head too much. The book gives you space to dream. I hope that the way we dream up the story together keeps that space for the audience.
Photo: Andrew Lee
Q: Did doing a sequel instead of the original story free you or make other challenging demands when it was decided to do such an incident-by-incident parallel?
A: It made us free. If you love The Little Prince, you know who your fox is, who your rose is, who your prince is. By changing all the characters in a way to recall the story, but as something unique and new, it allows the audience to discover the turtle, the stingray, the cactus – all these characters they’ve never met before, whom they can fall in love with — just like we have.
Q: Can you share a couple of audience comments that were interesting and quotable?
A: “What an exciting piece of work you have done! It is the most brilliant theatrical experience I’ve had since An Iliad at NYTW a few years ago. As a fellow playwright and theatre creator, I have tremendous respect for people like you who push the boundaries of what’s considered impossible. Thank you for creating Flight.”
“These three lovely people seem to bare their beautiful, genuine souls for 45 minutes. Sincere, thoughtful joy.”
“If you love physical theater or never experienced it, this is the show to watch! A magical journey with acrobatics, and great storytelling.”
Photo: Kenny Mathieson
Q: Why was it decided to have a “girl prince” instead of just having a female performer play a male prince since women often play boy characters? Or to enlist a male performer with a boyish quality?
A: Part of the joy of Flight is that our world can be what we make it, instead of simply what we’re told it’s supposed to be. And my inspiration for creating this show, my little prince if you will, is a girl prince. So it was never a question to me, it was clear that to honor her, and to tell this story, our prince would be a girl.
Q: Any comment on audience reaction comparisons of Little Prince devotees and those unfamiliar with the original story?
A: People who love the story share their personal experiences with The Little Prince, and share how Flight engaged with their own history with the story. Audience members who haven’t read the story, are completely in the universe of Flight as a stand-alone piece, and share how it impacted them directly. It’s a joy to hear stories from all our audiences, and we’re thrilled that it manages to touch people in so many different ways. Plus, I love hearing about people who see Flight, then go home and read The Little Prince for the first time!
Q: What future plans and hopes for the piece do you have after this run?
A: We hope to find more opportunities to bring Flight to cities around the US. Whether that means a longer New York run, regional productions, or presentations at festivals, we love this story, and hope to find ways to keep it alive. I’m also working to find a publisher for the script, so that once we finish performing, this story can continue with other incarnations.
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Venue: Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St at 7th Ave, Greenwich Village, Manhattan
Dates: SAT 9/24 3pm, SUN 9/25 3pm, TUES 9/27 7pm, THUR 9/29 7:30pm, FRI 9/30 7:30pm
Running Time: 50 mins
Tickets: $22, SEE www.BarrowStreetTheatre.com
Web: flighttheplay.com =============== Twitter: @flighttheplay========= Facebook: @flighttheplay
Three acrobats morph into cactuses, waves, and far-off islands as we invite the audience to discover this classic tale like they’ve never imagined. SYNOPSIS: Six years after the original, the Pilot has forgotten the Little Prince’s secret, so he embarks on a quest to find his lost friend and remember the secret. But nothing is as he remembers: planets are islands, the rose is a cactus, and the Little Prince is a tiny girl who proclaims that girls can be prince,s too.
Produced by Curbside, which is led by LeBank, an internationally acclaimed professor of movement, and author of the newly released book CLOWNS (Routledge, UK). Curbside is based in Long Beach, California. Images and information at www.GoCurbside.com/Press
NITELIFE EXCHANGE ORIGINAL REVIEW OF THE PRODUCTION AS PART OF THE FRINGE FESTIVAL:
FLIGHT —- REVIEWED BY ROB LESTER…..
The classic book, The Little Prince, is a gem about the important things in life— non-materialism, responsibility, relationships, seeing with the heart— which many of us relate to and have learned from. However, it hasn’t always translated well to another medium, as troubled Broadway musical versions and the underappreciated film with a score by a reunited Lerner and Loewe have evidenced. Instead of retreading where others have trod with literal stage re-tellings or condensing or changing the fragile tone, Ezra LeBank has tried another path with Flight. He has brilliantly and lovingly created a kind of Part 2 that is not just a sequel, but a retelling of the story’s main events and the prince’s travels in a kind of alternate universe where, instead of telling of tiny planets with one human inhabitant each, the prince and those he meets are instead sole residents of miniature islands.
And, while the story and the way it’s told through speech and inventive acrobatic movements with synchronized teamwork by himself and two remarkable women— Taylor Casas and Cynthia Price (Price is our Prince)— can be enjoyed by the uninitiated, devotees of the Antoine de Saint-Exupery fable will especially appreciate the many parallels— instead of a self-important deluded king giving commands that can’t be followed, it’s an army general, etc., and the travels through the air with a flock of birds becomes under-the-ocean travel via a school of fish, and the waves become coveted rather than the stars. The prince’s beloved rose protecting herself with thorns has its equivalent in a prickly cactus. And the snake with its plot-turning bite has as its equivalent the ocean’s stingray. We again meet the pilot who originally befriended the prince, but now his plane is downed again while he’s seeking to remember the lesson the prince taught him and, instead, he meets a tiny female who claims to be a prince (not a princess). And so on. As the three performers float, fly, balance, and billow, they twist and turn and turn into the many characters with their bodies and voices, deftly directed with discretion by Olivia Trevino. The affection for the key parts and details of the story and its sensibilities is remarkable and delightful. Like the original tale and the original prince, Flight is pure of heart and pure enchantment.