Calgary·Q&A

All-female ensemble tells Andre the Giant's story through wrestling and puppets

Andre Rene Roussimoff was better known as iconic professional wrestler Andre the Giant and an actor in the 1987 hit motion picture The Princess Bride. A new play involving puppets, live actors and lots of wrestling sets out to tell his story through the eyes of the daughter he left behind.

'Our necks got very strong,' says actor, puppeteer and wrestler Jamie Konchak

Giant is the story of wrestler/actor Andre the Giant told from the perspective of the daughter he left behind. The Ghost River Theatre production runs at Calgary's Grand Theatre from March 12 to 24. (Ghost River Theatre)

Andre Rene Roussimoff was better known as iconic professional wrestler Andre the Giant and an actor in the 1987 hit motion picture The Princess Bride. A new play involving puppets, live actors and lots of wrestling sets out to tell his story through the eyes of the daughter he left behind.

Actor and puppeteer Jamie Konchak told The Homestretch about the challenges of bringing this kind of production to life.

This interview has been edited and paraphrased for clarity and length. You can listen to the complete interview here.

Jamie Konchak plays a variety of roles in Giant, the story of Andre the Giant. (Tracy Fuller/CBC)

Q: Please tell us about the show.

A: There is so much to tell. We are learning a lot about him.

The show is told from the surprise perspective of the daughter he left behind.

Q: How much did you know about Andre the Giant, the wrestler, the actor, before getting involved in this?

A: I must admit, very little. Mostly The Princess Bride was my exposure to him.

Q: How does Ghost River Theatre tell this story?

A: With the aid of five incredibly talented women and a gigantic team of designers and creators and choreographers.

It's from his daughter's perspective and he didn't really have much of a relationship with her. So she's left with the question, who was this man, because she didn't know him personally, but everyone knew him from wrestling and The Princess Bride.

He was this icon, this giant and extraordinary human being. Early on, one of the characters poses the question, "What would it be like to live inside that giant body?"

The show is the exploration of that very question.

A cast of five women tells the story with a raucous high theatricality that bodyslams professional wrestling’s hyper-masculine culture. 1:32

Q: How did the puppet show concept come to be?

A: The creators David van Belle and Eric Rose dreamt it up in a car trip on the way to a retreat. They thought it would be so cool to create a show about Andre the Giant.

Q: Describe the show for us.

A: The things that make him extraordinary — he was seven foot four inches and more than 520 pounds — are the things that make casting him for a show absolutely impossible.

That's one of the central questions. How do we tell this story of this extraordinary man?

There are different explorations of scale. How do we make a much smaller actor feel like she's dominating the physical space?

The puppets run a real range of styles as well.

Q: What is your role in this?

A: I am a puppeteer, an actor, a co-creator. I play a lot of the different characters. It's an ensemble of five women and I am one of them.

Q: Is there wrestling involved, too?

A: Is there ever. It is such a visceral thing and it's so incredible to watch these women, who you rarely see wrestling, honestly, engaging in that kind of heavy, physical language with one another and controlled violence.

It is really, really very exciting.

Q: Do the puppets wrestle or do the actors or is it a combination of the two?

A: You will have to come and see the show. It is a real combo platter. There are all kinds.

Q: Is it like Avenue Q in that you forget about the actors after a while?

A: It is integrated a little bit more.

There are times where the puppeteer disappears but there are times when the puppeteers are very present. That is part of the storytelling.

Q: Did you have any wrestling background?

A: I had zero. Zero.

We spent three weeks training back in the spring. Our fight choreographer Brianna Johnston went to Vancouver because she didn't have specific wrestling experience.

She took a crash course and learned how to teach others. Our necks got very strong.

The Ghost River Theatre production of Giant runs March 12-24 at the Grand Theatre.

With files from Tracy Fuller and The Homestretch

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.