Dark fairy tale Fall Away Home finds its forest
If ever there was a place to stage a dark fairy tale, it’s Stanley Park, a setting that’s equal parts Brothers Grimm and Lewis Carroll with its lush and shadowy canopy.
The local theatre innovators at Boca del Lupo have known this for years: starting more than a decade ago, they’ve staged works that scaled high into the forest—shows like The Last Stand and The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces.
Now, to help mark the park’s 125th anniversary, the troupe is one-upping itself with Fall Away Home, a show that melds all the large-scale outdoor spectacle of its previous creations with the projection technology of its smaller, indoor works like January’s Photog at the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. The resulting piece is a metaphorical story that follows a young girl on a dark adventure, in which she’s held captive and tries to escape down a hole through the planet. The action takes place in, around, and on top of stacked shipping containers, and amid fantastical hand-painted animation by Kunal Sen.
“It’s the convergence of a bunch of trajectories that the company has been on,” explains the show’s cocreator and Boca cofounder Jay Dodge, taking a break from rehearsal in the humming offices of the East Side’s Progress Lab 1422. “We had been doing multimedia work indoors for a while, and we felt like we wanted to do it at scale. Partly, it’s that the technology is there now, because you want high definition. But it’s also because here you’re entering this character’s imagination, and it felt like animation was the way to go.
“And then once you start working with shipping containers, they’re begging to be projected on,” he adds, explaining that the use of containers as a set will allow the company to remount the show elsewhere.
Ming Hudson, who plays the show’s heroine, says working with the animation, as well as Boca del Lupo’s usual acrobatic rigging, can be a surreal experience.
“You know, you can do so much with your own body and so much with animation to create something that neither could create on their own,” says Hudson, joining Dodge on a break from playing a character that Dodge says is styled somewhat after the girl in Marc Caro and Pierre-Jean Jeunet’s surreally dystopian 1995 movie City of Lost Children. “People who have seen me do something without the projections a million times see it with the animation and say, ‘That actually looks like you’re running!’ or ‘That actually looks like you’re falling!’ It’s funny because I can’t ever see it, but I hear people saying that.
“It’s a little unforgiving because it [the animation] is not going to mess up but I might,” she adds with a laugh.
Surrounded by the shipping containers, the audience will become a part of the action, as Boca del Lupo ups the crowd interaction with this show. “It’s sort of theatre in the round in reverse,” as Dodge puts it. “The audience is in a mass: at one point they become the ocean or they become Ming’s fellow wards of the state.”
Viewers will don blue blindfolds to imagine what it would be like to cross the ocean in a shipping container, or hold them up to become those waves. For Fall Away Home, Boca del Lupo also offers chances to learn a song and dance via video or workshop that people can later perform with the group as part of the show. (Find out more at the Boca Del Lupo website.)
During the show, most audience members will start making connections between what they see happening to Hudson’s character and the theme that inspired the play: human trafficking. Dodge goes to great lengths to stress that Fall Away Home is not an issue-based piece of theatre. But each scene along the way—the abduction, the captivity, the buying and selling of human beings, the escape—is based on research into the disturbing subject.
“It’s about children finding themselves in circumstances beyond their control. How do you distill all that and make it more metaphorical and fantastical?” says Dodge, who created the work with partner and fellow Boca founder Sherry J Yoon, and contributing writer James Fagan Tait. “We call the show all-ages and we take that pretty seriously—but the work has to have some underlying meaning.
“It is a really tricky balancing beam to walk,” he admits. “We talk about it in the room quite a bit, from the style of acting to content. It’s keeping it simple when we’re talking about complex issues.”
In the end, the best way to approach Fall Away Home may be to join the heroine on her journey, just as you might follow Alice down the rabbit hole, or Hansel and Gretel deep into the woods.
“She’s one of those children that has a really strong sense of what’s right and wrong. She just knows that this doesn’t feel good,” Hudson explains. “She has a curiosity but she’s grounded. She’s just going where the journey is taking her and hoping it will take her home.”