Updated (June 6th, 2018): The following interview took place in May, 2018 ahead of Theatre Anon’s original production of The Little Prince at the Earlybirds Centre in Shanghai. We’ve updated the information at the bottom of the article again ahead of their encore performance June 23rd & 24th, 2018.
EastIndie: So, you’re doing a stage adaptation of The Little Prince this month in Shanghai. This is awesome! For those who aren’t already familiar with the story, what is it about?
Arran Hawkins: Well, in a nutshell, it’s about a pilot who has crash landed in the desert and who meets a mysterious boy from outer space. The boy is from a tiny planet and has come on an adventure across the galaxy to find a way to save a flower who is his only friend. He makes a new friend in the pilot and ultimately saves the pilot too, more or less. That’s the short version.
EI: Sure, but what is it really about?
AH: What it’s really about, for me, is childhood, and the loss of it—the loss of innocence, if you like. It’s about how, as we age, we tend to perceive the world in a less fantastical way. We lose our imagination. We lose our capacity for joy. We give up on our dreams in order to make money and exist within the respected, socially-acceptable way of ‘grown-ups’. In the story, the Little Prince helps the Pilot rediscover the world through the eyes of a child.
EI: What do you think it is about Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book that has made it one of the most beloved stories in the world?
AH: It’s like any classic children’s story—grown-ups read it to their kids, who read it to theirs, who read it to theirs. The memories of childhood last and parents get joy from seeing their children get the same joy from the stories they were once read—if that makes sense? I don’t think The Little Prince is any more or less loved than Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz, yet whenever I mention it to people they say it was one of their favorites when they were young.
EI: Is the show just for kids or should adults come and see it with their friends, too?
AH: Absolutely, come and see it. There is something for the grown-ups, of course, whether you’re bringing your own kids or just coming yourself. It’s a magical show that grown-ups will love—especially if they are fans of the book.
Hopefully the final version will reward and entertain and not upset any purists in the audience too much.
EI: Where did the idea to stage this show come from and how long have you been working on it?
AH: It’s a project that Rich Bochniak—who plays the Pilot—and I had been mulling over for the last year. I started adapting it in October, but it’s taken a while because the book doesn’t really have a narrative structure. The challenge was to find a narrative that would work theatrically, be entertaining for an audience, have something in there for both kids and adults, be original, but also stay loyal to the book. It was tough, and several early drafts were scrapped. Hopefully the final version will reward and entertain and not upset any purists in the audience too much.
EI: This is the second production—the other one being The Jungle Book—that you’ve done in less than a month with Earlybirds. What has it been like working with them?
AH: The Earlybirds team are always supportive and it’s wonderful to have that support from them. The Jungle Book was a huge undertaking, with a huge cast and crew, a large theatre, and all the problems that come with it. Little Prince is a three-hander that I’m adapting, directing, and producing under the Theatre Anon banner. Earlybirds are executive producers, so they’re providing financial support as well as their wonderful new black box space at their Jinqiao venue for the show.
EI: How have rehearsals for the show been going so far?
AH: They’ve been going very well. We started when it was snowing and now it’s summer and we’re just about to open. It’s been fun. Working with Rich, Dominique Siqueira Koo, and Will Potter as performers is a very rewarding experience. They bring so much to the table. They are completely committed to giving their all to make the show great. They aren’t afraid to try things out and make suggestions. They trust me and I trust them and the whole process has been very relaxed and fun.
We almost feel bad at the end of the day putting them back in their boxes.
EI: What has been the most exciting part about working on this project?
AH: The show combines the use of actors and puppets. The excellent Janel Sullivan—along with a bit of help from Will—created some amazing puppet performers and watching them come to life during the rehearsals has been great. I’ve worked with puppets before in the past, but having your team create them, build them, and then bring them to life is magical, really.
EI: What has been the most challenging aspect about putting the show together?
AH: Trying to bring inanimate objects to life, and then get them to tell a story is a huge challenge. The actors don’t just manipulate and operate the puppets, they also have to voice them and give them feelings and emotions. It’s a difficult task and certainly a very different way of performing. That said. Will is a natural and has helped guide the construction of the puppets as well as helped the other actors work with them. They have quickly taken on a life of their own and we almost feel bad at the end of the day putting them back in their boxes.
EI: Rumor has it you’re planning to leave China this summer. Is this the last chance we’ll have to see your work in Shanghai?
AH: Well, this isn’t quite the last chance, as I have one more show lined up after this. In June we’ll be doing The Absence of Reason again for Shanghai Pride. But this is the last family show— for the time being. I’m planning to leave, but that doesn’t mean I can’t return in the future with new shows. Shanghai has been a great platform for trying out new things theatrically and I still see potential to return—either bringing shows over from wherever I end up or returning to work on future shows. I’ve been here for ten years, so I’m not going to never return. We’ll just have to wait and see.
EI: Oh, and one more thing! If you found yourself out in the desert and you came across the Little Prince and you could ask him just one question, what would it be?
AH: Do you have any water?
Updated (June 6th, 2018): Theatre Anon’s encore performance of The Little Prince runs for two night on June 23rd & 25th, 2018 at the Earlybirds Centre 366 Hongfeng Road (near Biyun Road), Jinqiao, Pudong District, Shanghai / 早启鸟浦东中心，浦东新区红枫路366 号（近碧云路）. Tickets are 180RMB in advance or 200RMB on the door. Scan/extract the QR code from the poster below to buy.