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'The BFG' Brings Roald Dahl's Giants To Life in Louisville


There are giants among us.

They’re between 11 and 12 feet tall. They have lumpy green heads with sharp teeth, and they have great names: Bonecruncher, Child-Chewer, Flesh-Lump Eater, Blood Bottler, Meat Dripper and Gizzard Gulper.

Stage One Family Theatre starts its new season this weekend with "The BFG" — that stands for "big friendly giant" — based on the book by Roald Dahl. The theater company hired Squallis Puppeteers, the Louisville-based company whose work you might have seen at the Forecastle Festival or various events around town, to create most of the giants.

Sean Hennessey of Squallis was responsible for most of the design and construction. He had a very important in-house helper.

“I have a 4-year-old son who loves to be scared, and so we read the original Roald Dahl book together over the course of a week, and I watched the things that piqued his interest, and then started making drawings from there," Hennessey said.

The giants are what Hennessey calls “backpack-style” puppets: The actor wears the puppet on a backpack-like frame and manipulates the arms and head from within. Like most of Squallis Puppeteers' work, Hennessey used recycled materials and common household items to create the giants’ heads.

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“Laundry detergent bottles, soda bottles, plastic cups that are cut and formed and taped together, and then I used that pallet-wrap stuff, that shrink-wrap plastic on a wand," Hennessey said. "And some small pieces of recycled foam, like out of couches — mattress pads, I think my old mattress pad is on a lot of the heads."

Andrew Harris, associate artistic director at Stage One and the director of this production, said the puppeteers have much to think about at once.

“For those actors, having to learn to maneuver in that, to simultaneously have arms that need to be maneuvered, controlling the mouth when they speak, it takes time to remember, 'Wait, I’ve got to make the mouth move when I’m talking,'” said Harris.

Lucas Adams is the actor playing Bonecruncher. At a recent rehearsal, he wore shorts and a T-shirt, with a back brace and knee pads because of the physical demands of wearing the giant puppet. In addition to the physical challenges, Adams said he also had to learn to inhabit the character.

“But also developing more than just a voice, the way he moves or the way when he’s just standing, to keep him constantly in character," Adams said. "If they fall limp, they’ll start to look like totem poles.”

In addition to the backpack puppets made by Squallis, there’s a small puppet used by the main character to show the contrast in scale between giants and a little girl. Shadow puppets are also used to tell parts of the story. Some children might find the giants scary at first, but Hennessey said that can ultimately be a good thing.

“The thing that I think is interesting about kids being afraid of things like this is, they might be afraid for a few minutes, but when they get over that fear, that is a very powerful moment for them,” Hennessey said.

"The BFG" opens this weekend at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and runs through the end of October. You can get more information on the show here.