The life-sized horse puppet featured in the Vancouver production of the Tony award-winning play, War Horse, is a sight to behold.
It's more than 2.5 metres tall and three metres long. Handmade in South Africa from soaked cane, aluminum, and leather, it weighs more than 54 kilograms and can support a rider weighing 72 kilograms.
But what makes the puppet truly special is the three puppeteers who bring the stunning construction to life every night on stage.
"You immediately believe it's a live animal. And that's part of our job, to make you believe that." - Puppeteer Danny Yoerges
Danny Yoerges, Patrick Osteen and Dayna Tietzen work together to make the horse trot, gallop, whinny and neigh just like a real animal.
And though some people may be skeptical of a three-person horse puppet playing a lead role in a major theatre production, Yoerges said that skepticism dissipates quickly.
"Across the board, in every city that we've gone to, the thing that we hear most is that within five minutes the people in the audience forget that the puppeteers are even there," he said.
"They are representational puppets, you can see that people are inside of them, but even still, you immediately believe it's a live animal. And that's part of our job, to make you believe that."
War Horse is the story of a young boy named Albert and his beloved horse, Joey. When Joey is sold to young cavalry officer before the start of First World War, Albert embarks on a dangerous quest to find him.
Tietzen, the rear puppeteer, was struck by the beauty of the life-sized horse puppet when she first auditioned for the part.
"They're really pieces of art in their own right. I remember just sort of staring at them in awe and thinking the people they chose for the show really see Joey as a horse and it's really hard not to," she said.
"When I get to spend a little bit of time outside of the horse, and I look at him, he feels like a character to me and a real animal."
War Horse is adapted from Michael Morpurgo's 1982 novel of the same name. The play won five Tony awards in 2011, including the honour for "Best Play."
War Horse is playing at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from Sept. 24 to 29.
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