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'Moby-Dick' is told with puppetry, paper scrolls, and folk music in world premiere performance

January 20, 2016

Puppet performance of Moby Dick
Blair Thomas & Co. Puppet Theater perform a preview of "In the Shadow of Moby Dick."

BLACKSBURG — The words of the great American novel “Moby-Dick” are brought to life on the stage by Blair Thomas & Co. Puppet Theater for the premiere of the work, “In the Shadow of Moby Dick,” at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 5.

Presented by the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech, the performance will be held in the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, located within the Moss Arts Center’s Street and Davis Performance Hall at 190 Alumni Mall. 

Blair Thomas, artistic director of Blair Thomas & Co. Puppet Theater, has been creating work inspired by the words and contemplations of Herman Melville’s classic work, “Moby-Dick,” where famed narrator Ishmael recounts his journey on the Pequod as Captain Ahab's relentless pursuit of the white whale leads the entire crew to the depths of the ocean's great unknown.

Thomas brings the story to life on the stage using bunraku puppets, rolling paper scrolls, and a unique combination of folk songs by Michael Smith and the sounds of percussionist Michael Zerang. The work has been under development for five years and has been co-commissioned by the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech.

Melville articulated a vision of the American experience in “Moby-Dick,” with Captain Ahab leading a group of men on a righteous mission to rid the world of evil as he perceived it to exist in the white whale, Moby Dick. Ahab could not have had this adventure without his crew.

“In the Shadow of Moby Dick” imagines a time after the rescue of Ishmael, when a group of men who are still wrestling with the issues raised by Ahab and his crew attempt to liberate themselves from torment by forming the Monastic Order of Ancient Mariners. The group’s performance is part ritual and part religious service and functions as the rhythm recounted by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Ahab’s story is a cautionary tale, but the stories of the other sailors of the Pequod resonate anew with the performing members of this new devotional order.

While small-scale previews of the work have been performed in Chicago, Illinois, and Brooklyn, New York, the company’s performance at the Moss Arts Center will mark the world premiere of “In the Shadow of Moby Dick.” The performance is recommended for ages 13 and older.

Tickets

Tickets are $25 for general public and $10 for students and youth 18 years old and under. Tickets can be purchased online; at the Moss Arts Center's box office, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday; or by calling 540-231-5300 during box office hours.

Thomas will also complete a two-week residency at Virginia Tech, with engagement activities including:

  • A class visit with graduate students in Virginia Tech’s joint master’s degree program in Material Culture and Public Humanities, which is a collaboration between the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Thomas will discuss the literary and aesthetic challenges of adapting “Moby-Dick” to the stage.
  • A workshop with students in an “American Romantics” class at Community High School in Roanoke, Virginia, focused on the performance practices of Japanese puppet theatre style bunraku.
  • An informal dialogue with Virginia Tech undergraduate students in the Residential College at West Ambler Johnston on the adaptation of “Moby-Dick” to the stage.
  • Blair Thomas & Co. Puppet Theater will present a school-day performance for students in grades 9 through 12 from the City of Radford and Floyd, Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski, Roanoke, and Tazewell counties.

Founded in 2002, Blair Thomas & Company is an internationally recognized Chicago-based theatre company creating innovative puppetry performances incorporating musical, literary, and puppetry traditions to create uniquely expressive spectacle theatre. The company is devoted to the advancement of contemporary puppetry through intimate original productions, festival and guest presentations, training opportunities, and educational programs.

Led by artistic director Blair Thomas, the company’s productions have twice received the highest international honor for original work in the medium, the UNIMA Excellence in Puppetry Award. Thomas has received the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship Award, the After Dark Award, and a number of Joseph Jefferson Citations. On faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for 25 years, Thomas has taught at the University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, and held the first-ever Jim Henson Artist-in-Residence position at the University of Maryland, College Park.

“In the Shadow of Moby Dick” is a National Performance Network Creation Fund/Forth Fund Project co-commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in partnership with Virginia Tech, College of St. Ben’s/St. John’s University, and the National Performance Network. The Creation Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Forth Fund is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Additional lead commissioning support for “In the Shadow of Moby Dick” is provided by Elizabeth A. Liebman and The Jim Henson Foundation. Further support comes from Ellen Stone Belic.

Event parking is available in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street. Virginia Tech faculty and staff possessing a valid Virginia Tech parking permit can enter and exit the garage free of charge. Limited street parking is also available. Parking on Alumni Mall is free on weekdays after 5 p.m. and on weekends.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please email Kacy McAllister or call her at 540-231-5300 during regular business hours at least 10 business days prior to the event.

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