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Elizabeth LeePublished: January, 2013

Award-winning show also incorporates a unique interactive exhibit

The North American Tour of the Tony Award-winning show “War Horse” will be showing at Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa, tonight through Sunday, Feb. 3. Audience members will not only be treated to seeing the performance of life-sized puppet masterpieces created by the Handspring Puppet Company in South Africa during the play, but will also have the opportunity to explore an interactive lobby exhibit featuring the artistry and history behind the show.

Based off a novel by Michael Morpurgo, the play found success on stage in London and New York, and was also adapted into film by Steven Spielberg in 2011. The story of “War Horse” revolves around a young boy named Albert and his horse, Joey. The horse is enlisted to serve in the war, but Albert, who is not old enough to enlist, is left behind.  The theatre follows the experiences of Joey, who eventually ends up in no man’s land after serving both sides of the war, and Albert, who embarks on a great journey to find his horse and brings him safely home.

Aside from the remarkable tale itself, the main attractions of the show are its two life-sized horse puppets named Joey and Topthorn. Engineered by Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler, the steeds are operated by a total of three performers each: two inside the horse’s frame and one in front of it. These performers vocalize breathing, snorts, and whinnies while operating the movements and the horse’s visual inhalations and exhalations, things that Jones explains may seem small, but have a huge effect. “We realized that moving as little as a quarter of an inch resulted in an effect that you could see from the back of the theater. It's one of those little things that make the experience magical. Everyone mentions it afterward.”

Joey weighs 120 pounds and was handmade by 14 people. His almost 10-foot-long frame is eight feet tall, and is made of a variety of elements that include cane, aluminum, leather, carbon fiber glass, resin, hosiery-like Georgette fabric, and Tyvek, a plastic-like paper.

Orange County native Brian Robert Burns is one of the puppet operators in the North American Tour cast. As the primary puppeteer for Joey and Topthorn, he acts as the heart puppeteer that controls breathing and the front legs. “[The job] is tremendously demanding. It draws people from all kinds of backgrounds. There are several former athletes. But there's no way to prepare yourself before actually doing the job. It's just one of those things where your body learns over time how to be more efficient,” said Burns.

The show’s exhibit will highlight the artistry and history behind the show by giving the guests the chance to learn more about the Joey puppet, by watching behind-the-scenes footage featuring Kohler and Jones creating the puppets. Furthermore, attendees will be able to learn what life might have been like during World War I from Center Arts Teach artist Jon Monastero, a former history teacher and actor, who will be a part of the lobby exhibit as a WWI soldier. Puppetry artists from Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ Arts Teach artist Rogue Artist Ensemble will also play a role in the exhibit.

*Tickets can be purchased through the Segerstrom Center for the Arts website.

*Segerstrom Center for the Arts is offering a military rush discount to performances of “War Horse” for shows through Feb. 3. Active duty military personnel with current ID can purchase specially priced $20 tickets at the Center Box Office located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa one hour prior to performances. Limit two tickets per ID. Tickets are available when rush is offered and subject to availability. To find out if rush tickets will be available, please call the Center Box Office on performance day of at (714) 556-2787.


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