How to stage a children’s show
On Wednesday 28 September, our adaptation of best-selling author and artist Oliver Jeffers’ beloved children’s book, How to Catch a Star, will open at our Pier 2/3 home on Sydney’s glistening harbour.
Our newest Family Show, How to Catch a Star has been adapted by Sandra Eldridge, and features a brand new score from the brilliant composer Elena Kats-Chernin, performed live by an ACO quartet.
“The talent in this room is mind-blowing,” Tara Smith, Director of Learning & Engagement at the ACO, says. “And I’m particularly blown away by what Set and Costume Designer Melanie Liertz has achieved in bringing Star off the page and on to the stage.”
Illustration: Oliver Jeffers
A warm, welcoming space
The show, which will be premiered in our beautiful custom-built concert hall at Pier 2/3, The Neilson, is being realised on a stage the shape of a pier, brought to life with details that have the same soft, watercolour painting-feel of Jeffers’ 2004 book.
“All the action happens on this pier,” Melanie says of the set design. “We’ve built a narrow pier for our actor to run along, with the musicians in the middle. Then we’ve got a foreground area that becomes the ocean.”
A truly immersive experience
Similar to our last school holiday family show, There’s a Sea in my Bedroom, the warmth and inviting nature of our concert hall will allow young audience members to sit cross-legged and close to the action, so that they become totally immersed in the magical tale unfolding around them. The lighting in the space is being used gently, but to dazzling effect to create a mesmerising, twinkly atmosphere too.
“It’s nice to see a beautiful book like this come to life on the stage. I just fell in love with it the minute I read it,” composer Elena Kats-Chernin told us on the first day of How to Catch a Star rehearsals. “It touches you really deeply. it’s not just a children’s book, it’s something more profound somehow.”
Beautiful, imaginative props
Our staging of How to Catch a Star does the book’s story of kindness and friendship justice in its use of beautiful props. They match the exquisite delicateness of Oliver Jeffers’ illustrations.
“We have tried to replicate the beautiful watercolour images from the book in the textures of our staging, taking what I think of as the essence of the Oliver Jeffers book,” Set and Costume Designer Melanie Liertz says. “We’ve taken, for example, a beautiful painting of the starry night sky by Oliver Jeffers and made it into a bedspread for the boy in the story.
“We also have some lovely sharp and shiny materials to bring this glittering, starry world to live, including mirrors.”
The props are ingenious. There’s a window frame that our sole actor, William Bartolo, playing the boy from the book, will be adapting into a lively rocket. And there is a beautiful wooden block sandwich, which has a “bite” out of it that can flip down at the crucial point in the narrative to enhance the action.
Captivating live music at the heart of the action
And the performers are the night. Melanie explains: “The musicians are going to wear clothes reflecting the beautiful night sky, with diamanté sparkles to reflect the sea of stars in the sky. It’s very important to get a mix between comfort and classiness so I’m going for a tailored look, but with a bit of bedazzle!” she laughs.
Director Sandra elaborates on the concept of the ACO Musicians as integral to the theatre of the piece: “What we are thinking is that the musicians are the stars, so some of the voice over, the narration, will come from a speaker amongst the musicians, and the play will be book-ended by the stars ‘telling’ the story of the boy.”
“[As a musician in How to Catch a Star] you’re the star, and you’re the storyteller, so there’s room for us to explore finding room for the musicians to comment on the action and help drive the narration.”
The musicians are certainly not the backdrop here. There’s even a rumour that one theatrically-inclined musician will be called in to help portray a regular cameo in seaside romps: the ever-present seagull.
The world premiere of exquisite new music
And, of course, that’s true of the musicians due to the music itself. Another star of this show is the exquisite music of composer Elena Kats-Chernin, who says of her score: “I ended up composing something that is really spirited: there’s a lot of plucked string sounds and there's a lot of lightness, sparkle, uplift and joy.”
Yet another star of How to Catch a Star, of course, is the star. Set and Costume Designer Melanie describes a magical star puppet that will be revealed towards the end of the show, which is a beautiful design with heartstring-pulling hugging capabilities.
Director Sandra describes working on How to Catch a Star as “a life-saver.”
“Creatively, it’s really joyous to be catching some stars,” she smiles.
Composer Elena Kats-Chernin agrees: “It’s been a really wonderful process. I’ve been throwing things at Sandy, and changing my mind quite a lot when it comes to the score. She always knows instinctively what will work best.”