Wednesday, October 19, 2011

War Horse

By Kitson

Topthorn (left) and Joey, the main horse character.
Both photos by Paul Kolnik, courtesy of Lincoln Center Theater.
After I’ve written an article, I love the moment when the magazine fwops through my mail slot and reveals the glossy finished product. They are like scrapbook pieces documenting incredible people and horses that I’ve met through my writing life.

I’ve been freelancing for Young Rider magazine for more than ten years and it’s one of my favorites.  So back in March when my YR editor, Lesley Ward, gave me a heads up that the press person for the Broadway play “War Horse” was poking around, I got in touch and netted an invitation to Lincoln Center to see the play on one of it’s press production nights. I had wept my way through Michael Morpurgo's novel – an emotional children’s story about a boy and his horse separated by war -- but seeing the enormous horses brought to life on stage with handspring puppets was an amazing experience. It was a Thursday night in April in New York. Even my non-horsey husband said it was the best play he’d ever seen. The night had many extraordinary moments, like watching a young boy meet his horse on stage, or when one the huge horses clip clopped right up the stairs through the audience or the moment when one of the horse characters, Topthorn, dies.

I woke up the next morning still thinking of Topthorn’s death as if he had been a member of my family. From our hotel room, still in my pajamas, I called Adrian Kohler -- one of the owners of the South African Handspring Puppet Company – we had an interview scheduled and I enjoyed our long conversation about the creation of the puppets.

Later that day I returned to Lincoln Center to interview three of the actors who make up one of the horse teams in the play. I chatted with actor Joel Reuben Ganz (he serves as Topthorn’s “heart” and front legs from inside the puppet’s aluminum frame), Jonathan Christopher MacMillan (he controls the horses head),  and Tom Lee (also inside the puppet, he moves Topthorn’s back legs with two hand-controlled grips). They talked about the art of making an inanimate object breathe, and the physical challenges – and the thrills – of bringing an aluminum puppet to life. Inspired, I spent the rest of that Friday writing. You can check out the stories in the September/October 2011 issue of Young Rider and the August 2011 issue of Horse Illustrated.

Also, check out this public service announcement about how producers of the play are supporting the U.S. military. Net proceeds from ticket sales for the Friday, November 11 Veteran’s Day performance will be donated to the USO for programs specifically designed to support the 3,000 troops and families of the New York National Guard who are being deployed through the end of the year to Iraq and Afghanistan. For more information the play, check out

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