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Credit: Li Zhou

The Jungle Book

Earlybirds brings Kipling's classic to Shanghai.

Things get a bit wild in Shanghai as Earlybirds prepares to bring Mowgli, Baloo, and friends to the Changning Culture and Arts Center for a musical stage adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. In the run-up to opening night, we talk with director Arran Hawkins about prepping for the show, inspiring others to get into theatre, and get a few tips on how to survive out there in the jungle.

EastIndie: So, it looks like you’re pretty busy these days working with Earlybirds on a stage adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. How did this show all come about?

Arran Hawkins: I’d worked with Earlybirds on an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz a few years back. They approached me again last year to direct a version of The Jungle Book and we decided to do it again this year, only to make it bigger and better, with new original songs by OJ Ryan and myself, and new choreography. And, a whole lot more kids!

EI: You’ve been involved in the Shanghai theatre scene for a number of years now. How does this show compare with some of the other shows you’ve done?

AH: Most of the productions I’ve worked on have been self-funded with minimal cast and crew. So, working with Earlybirds, it’s good to have a budget to work with and fun to have such a large cast. It’s a family show, for kids, starring kids, and several adult actors who I’ve worked with before. Katherine Robbins [who worked on the show last year] is also back with some great make-up and costumes.

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Credit: Li Zhou
Panthers & Bears: Dominique Siqueria Koo (as Begheera) and OJ Ryan (as Baloo) in the Earlybirds production of The Jungle Book, opening April 28th at the Changning Culture and Art Center.

EI: Next year will be the 125th anniversary of the publication of Kipling’s work. What do you think it is about The Jungle Book that has allowed it to maintain its popularity?

AH: Well, it’s basically a coming-of-age story, and a story about the importance of family. Mowgli is lost in the jungle, pursued by Shere Khan—a ferocious tiger—and taken in by a family of wolves. He’s protected and educated by Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther. He’s accepted as part of the jungle family, even though he is different, and he comes to love them.

EI: What is it about the story that appeals to you personally?

AH: For me, it’s that sense of “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?” All kids go through that. I know I did, and still do. Mowgli is a child who ultimately has to make a choice between the family he lost and the family who took him in—in that way, the story is universal.

It’s worth all the effort to have a final product you can be proud of.

EI: How much work has been involved in getting the production off the ground this time around?

AH: Well, we originally cast for the show back in November 2016. We rehearsed it for four months and staged it for the first time at the Ke Centre last May. So, a lot of stuff is already in place. But, moving it into a different venue—and a much bigger theatre—has its own set of problems to solve. The adult actors are the same ones as last year, but we have cast a whole troupe of new kids, and we have had less rehearsal time this year, so the work has been just as much.

EI: What has the biggest challenge been in making the show happen?

AH: A show this big has many challenges. Scheduling all the cast is always tricky, getting them all at the same rehearsals, and working with so many kids—as great as they are—as their attention does wander a bit. Moving into a bigger space has brought up technical challenges which we have to solve. But, it’s worth all the effort to have a final product you can be proud of.

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Credit: Li Zhou
Ferocious Tigers: Awesta Zarif (as Shere Khan) in Earlybirds’ musical adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, opening later this month in Shanghai.

EI: What has been the most exciting part for you personally about bringing this production to life?

AH: Getting to work with some great actors and some fantastic kids mainly. Also, writing some new songs with OJ Ryan for the show—that’s always fun. This is our third collaboration with OJ as musical director, having worked together on The Snow Queen and Oz.

EI: Are you able to pick a favorite character or moment from the show so far?

AH: There are many. Seeing the kids dancing under the excellent instruction of our dance choreographer Sofy Renier. Hearing the new songs performed. Watching a well-timed comic moment that works. I can’t pick a favorite.

Hopefully, it will inspire a lot more kids to get into drama.

EI: The show starts on April 28th and continues until May 1st. What are you looking forward to the most about opening night?

AH: My job being pretty much done. Once the show is up, it belongs to the cast and crew. I can sit back and, hopefully, relax a little and enjoy watching it as an audience member.

EI: What do you hope people will take away from seeing this show?

AH: A love of theatre. The magic of bringing a story to life, live on stage, in front of your eyes. And, possibly a desire to try it out and get on stage themselves to perform. Hopefully, it will inspire a lot more kids to get into drama.

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Credit: Li Zhou
Golden Jackals: Rich Bochniak (as Tabaqui) in the Earlybirds stage adaptation of The Jungle Book.

EI: Is there anything else about the show you’d like to mention?

AH: I urge everyone to come and see it. And bring your kids, if you have any. It’s an hour and a bit of fun for all the family.

EI: Oh, and one more question! Do you have any good tips about how to survive out in the jungle?

AH: Keep hydrated… and take lots of bug spray!


Earlybirds’ production of The Jungle Book runs from Saturday, April 28th to Tuesday, May 1st, 2018 at the Changning Culture and Art Center in Shanghai. Check the poster below for details and scan/extract the QR code to purchase tickets in advance.

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Michael Thede

Michael Thede

Founder & Contributor

Michael Thede is a Canadian screenwriter and story consultant. He studied Film & Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario and is a graduate of the Writing for Film & TV program at Vancouver Film School. He came to Asia nearly 15 years ago and is currently based in Shanghai, where he is also the founder and organizer of the Shanghai Screenwriters Workshop. WeChat: michaelthede78

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