He may not have had thread whiskers, a button nose, or ears lined with pink sateen, but to me, my pet lion was real.
Leo was a stuffed animal –– and I mean that literally as he had a pouch on his back where you could “stuff” your pyjamas –– that I loved dearly.
Many a dark night was comforted with my orange, woolly-maned friend by my side.
And I’m not the only one whose childhood “stuffie” was dragged around everywhere.
Decades later, as I’ve placed various stuffed toys by my children’s bedside, I’ve often thought of Margery Williams classic tale The Velveteen Rabbit.
“When a child loves you for a long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become REAL”, explains the Skin Horse in the story that speaks to the love between a child and his plush toy rabbit.
On April 17, the Toronto-based Erewhon Theatre brings the beloved fable to the Vernon Performing Arts Centre. It’s a production the company has been performing for children and their families throughout Canada for more than a decade.
Adapted from Williams’ book by Erewhon Theatre’s Santo Cervello, The Velveteen Rabbit is performed by the theatre’s co-founder Kathryn Popham, a B.C.-based actress and singer, who splits her time performing the show here and in Ontario.
“I’ve found a lot of the success over the years is that adults like it because it is a fairly sophisticated story,” said Popham. “It’s more the subject matter that is for kids because it is about toys.”
Erewhon’s staging of The Velveteen Rabbit is also unique in that it includes audience participation.
Ten children from the community will be chosen at random before the performance to play various roles throughout the production.
“The kids can be anybody, they don’t need to audition or anything like that, as long as they’re willing to do it,” said Popham, adding she will rehearse with the children about an hour before the show.
“They play the parts of the boy who has the rabbit, and then eight of them play wind-up toys that live in the boy’s nursery, and one of them plays a rabbit –– not the Velveteen Rabbit, but just a rabbit.
“I show them what they’re going to do in the show and then they come in at the right times and they do it. It gives it a different quality depending on the age of the kids, but it’s always cute regardless.”
The Velveteen Rabbit is also full of beautiful masks, puppets and props, which all fit into a trunk and help to illustrate the story, said Popham.
“You’d be surprised how much you can fit into a trunk. It’s probably 100 pounds of equipment that I ship around with me,” she said, adding the play is a close adaptation of the original story, but does contain some differences for theatrical purposes.
“There is a gardener who is referred to in the book that is actually a character in the play in my version.”
Popham uses her training in speech arts and theatre in narrating the tale.
“I started out taking speech art when I was eight years old and I used to go in the annual speech arts festival and recite poetry in competitions and do dramatic monologues,” she said. “I did that… right up till I was about 18 years old. And that was how I started out. I always used to do plays as a kid and it led to it from that.”
Popham has also loaned her voice to an audio CD which contains an unabridged performance of The Velveteen Rabbit, along with a collection of her original songs inspired by the timeless children’s story with titles such as the rollicking Get Up, Something Mysterious, and the touching What Is Real?, among others.
The CD won a Parents’ Choice Recommended Award, and will be available in the lobby at the Performing Arts Centre, allowing listeners –– both young and adult –– to take The Velveteen Rabbit home.
The Velveteen Rabbit is the last in the Performing Arts Centre society’s 2010/2011 kids series. Shows takes place Sunday, April 17 at 2 and 4 p.m. and all seats are $12, available at the Ticket Seller, 549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.