Junior Theatre's Jungle Book pushes the envelope

Posted Online: April 23, 2013, 2:17 pm
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Press release submitted by City of Davenport Parks and Recreation

Local artists bring design elements to new levels

Davenport Junior Theatre (DJT) may be theatre "For Kids, By Kids," but do not let the children's theatre tagline lower your theatrical expectations. Striving for excellence, DJT continues to push the envelope in theatrical design for the area.

"This is the first time in 61 years we are doing a full mask production of this caliber," shared Kristin Meyer, DJT President. "Not only have we expanded in the last few years to hire professionals in costume, lighting, sound, props and scenic designs, our production of Jungle Book features half-masks created by local artists."

The show begins in a late 19th century boarding school where the young author of The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling, is seeking inspiration for a writing assignment. Soon we are swept up into Kipling's imagination, as the adventure comes to life with characters like Mowlgi the Man Cub, Shere Kahn the Tiger, and Baloo the Bear.

Founded in 1951, Davenport Junior Theatre is the second-oldest children's theatre in America. Classes and camps are offered year round in theatre and dance for students ages three to eighteen.

The local artists recruited to build the 18 masks for this production were husband and wife duo Daniel and Jessica Sheridan. Daniel is also the Artistic Director of DJT and Performing Arts Supervisor for Davenport Parks and Recreation. Jessica is a DJT instructor, director of Jungle Book, owner of Shared Light Photography and the general manager of Midcoast Fine Arts.

"I studied mask in graduate school at UConn," stated Daniel. "I have wanted to do a mask production with the kids for years now. It is such a magical experience for the actors and the audiences. We're finally pulling it off."

"It takes a tremendous amount of time," added Jessica. "Each mask takes between 20 - 25 hours to complete. We converted our basement at home into a design studio. Needless to say, it gets messy."

The process involves sculpting a mask out of clay, making a plaster cast of the sculpture to create a negative, pouring in neoprene latex, letting it sit many hours, pouring out the neoprene, removing the mask, trimming it down to size, fitting it to the actors face, adding straps and then painting.

"I think Daniel initially thought he could handle it all on his own," smirked Jessica. "It's safe to say he couldn't have done it without me."

"I concede that's true," replied Daniel. "Jessica is a far better painter and visual artist than I am. My strength is in structure and performance skills. Plus, she is the director. So it has been nice to work side by side with her to get exactly what she was looking for."

Not only have students been rehearsing the play itself, they have also undergone 20 hours of intensive mask training on the weekends.

"Performing in mask is a skill the needs to be developed," said Daniel. "The mask teaches us about poise, energy, precision and using the whole body to communicate."

"To do a show like this well is a tremendous challenge," added Jessica. "But one thing I have learned about the kids at DJT, they are always up for a challenge."


General Information:
The Jungle Book
Written by Rudyard Kipling
Adapted by Joseph Robinette

Saturday, April 27 : 1:00pm & 4:00pm
Sunday, April 28 : 2:00pm
Saturday, May 4 : 1:00pm & 4:00pm
Sunday, May 5 : 2:00pm
$5.00 for anyone 3 years and up, tickets sold at the door
(Show runs approximately 60 minutes)

Davenport Junior Theatre
Annie Wittenmyer Campus
2822 Eastern Avenue
Davenport, IA 52803


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