Green Wanderer teaching tolerance to kids through thoughtful theatre
By: SHAWN CONNER
The Vancouver Sun
The Green Wanderer
May 6, 12:15 p.m. | Port Moody Fingerling Festival
May 13, 3 p.m. | B.C. Children’s Hospital
May 25, 11 a.m. | Surrey International Children’s Festival
Tickets and info: All performances are free. To learn more visit: facebook.com/vancouverpolishtheatre/
If The Green Wanderer doesn’t sound familiar, there’s a good reason. You’d probably have to be well-acquainted with Polish children’s theatre to have heard of it.
Originally created by Polish writer Liliana Bardijewska, Julia Siedlanowska has translated the play from the original for English audiences.
“I’ve known it (Polish) since I can remember,” said the Vancouver actor/director. “I don’t really have a second language. My parents taught me Polish while I was growing up, and I would go to Polish school every Saturday. So I grew up in the Polish community here.”
The Green Wanderer is a presentation of King Matt Theatre, a Vancouver company that’s dedicated to producing English translations of work by Polish authors for young audiences.
An offshoot of Vancouver Polish Theatre, King Matt is named after Polish-Jewish playwright Janusz Korczak’s novel King Matt the First, an adaptation of which marked the company’s inaugural performance at the 2010 Vancouver International Chutzpah! Festival.
“I think there’s a huge tradition of taking children to the theatre in Poland,” Siedlanowska said. “From what my parents have recounted, they were always going to theatre. It’s ingrained in society in how you bring up kids.”
Described as a “poetic fairy-tale about friendship and the need for dreams,” The Green Wanderer is aimed at theatregoers as young as five. Its hero is a green inhabitant of grey Creatureland. In the King Matt version, the hero is referred to as the gender-neutral “they,” though the character is a boy in Bardijewska’s original.
“We cast it with a female actress,” Siedlanowska said. “And the story is all about tolerance and friendship. I think it’s important to include that, and broaden that. I don’t want to make it too political. But there are some messages there that are important to hear.
“And I feel like in so many classic tales, the boys are the ones who go on adventures.”
The creature is played by Sarah Roa, but the other characters are played by local actors-turned-puppeteers Elizabeth Kirkland and Lissa Neptuno. Neptuno plays a few different characters, but her recurring role is a hedgehog.
“I try to figure out what characteristic belongs most to each puppet in that particular scene, and from that characteristic I dig through the annals of my memory of who that would remind me of,” Neptuno said.
“Lately I’ve been playing with full-flight Woody Allen and Liza Minnelli, and Joan Rivers for some reason has popped up as well. My hedgehog voice is the closest to me, in the mornings actually.”
The story moves through different coloured lands, so there are several costumes changes for each puppet as they morph according to their surroundings. The puppets have been designed and built by Randi Edmundson.
The Green Wanderer, which is making its Canadian premiere in Siedlanowska’s translation, is a personal project for the director. “I direct for kids about once a year, and it’s always special,” she said.
Her recent credits include assistant-directing Classic Chic’s all-female Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather and acting in Redcurrant Collective’s version of the speculative fiction play The Nether (with Neptuno).
She has only once performed in a play with puppets, when she was a dodo bird while studying theatre at the University of Wales.
“When you’re working in the world of adults, it’s nice to remember the young people who will be going to the theatre in the future.”