Theatre That’s Handmade // by Ken Fallin
Illustrator Ken Fallin is invited to participate in ONCE UPON A MATTRESS in an unconventional way.
I am a freelance artist who has tackled everything from big ad campaigns for major corporations, to drawing Renee Zellwegger’s parents for their 50th wedding anniversary celebration. I have also spent 25 years (yikes!) drawing the famous and infamous for The Wall Street Journal.
Luckily, I now have the luxury of being able to accept less conventional projects that excite and stimulate my imagination—if I’m fortunate and such an opportunity presents itself.
In 2015, this sort of opportunity did present itself when Transport Group, an extraordinarily inventive theatre company I greatly admired, inquired if I would be interested in creating whimsical drawings as scenery for their upcoming production of the classic fairy tale musical, Once Upon A Mattress (composer Mary Rodgers, lyricist Marshall Barer, and book-writers Jay Thompson, Marshall Barer, and Dean Fuller’s hilarious take on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Princess and the Pea) starring John Epperson (“Lypsinka”) as Queen Aggravain (“Lypsinka”) and Jackie Hoffman as Princess Winnifred, the role originated by Carol Burnett in 1959.
As a devout theatregoer and regular contributor to Playbill Online and Broadway World, this was too good to turn down. The idea of having my drawings incorporated in a super-professional theatrical production was frankly irresistible.
At my first meeting with Transport Group’s creative team led by set designer Sandra Goldmark, things got even better when I learned that they had come up with an even more exciting concept: not only were my drawings to be in the show but I was actually asked to be in the show as well.
The idea was to seat me at a desk at the rear of the theater under a video camera that would be filming me drawing “live!” Those drawings would then be projected onto a screen at the back of the stage during each scene change, allowing the audience to see the settings being drawn in real time before their eyes. Brilliant!
Truthfully, my enthusiasm was tempered with some anxiety as to how rapidly could I draw each scene change within the allotted few seconds. Fortunately, Sandra had already realized that some compromises would have to be made. So, instead of my struggling to draw the whole backdrop in an impossibly short amount of time, she decided to open with large portions of each set pre-drawn and my magnified pen in hand popping up to complete the new set.
It was a wonderful idea and at the first preview I saw how magically it all worked. The audience responded with applause and laughter, obviously taken with the cleverness of the concept.
A final note: my hand and pen were actually included in the curtain calls with my projected waving hand taking the final bow! How wonderful to have been involved with a company that believes in taking the fresh approach to all aspects of each production.
Everything about Once Upon A Mattress received special attention and creative thinking that I know is typical of Transport Group productions. It was a rewarding and gratifying experience to have worked with such inspired talents.
About the author: