We had a chance to sit down and talk with CTYP Artistic Associate and The Jungle Book Director Kayla Dunbar about her plans for The Jungle Book and what audiences can look forward to experiencing this spring.
Q: What appealed to you about this project?
A: I was very excited when I was asked to direct The Jungle Book at Carousel Theatre for Young People. I loved the Disney animated version of the story when I was a kid and watched it over and over. When I read the script, I loved the play, but I realized it is not the version I remembered. That excited me, too. So I went back and read Rudyard Kipling’s original stories and got even more excited, because it showed me how it was possible to interpret the story in a different way.
Q: What is different about this version?
A: It’s darker. The Disney version is so much fun, and happy and cheerful, that it makes you forget about the threat of danger. You don’t in this version. Shere Khan is always looming. Because only five actors play all these parts, it’s more imaginative and more about the relationships among the characters.
Q: Why do you think The Jungle Book is relevant for kids today?
A: Rudyard Kipling felt caught between two worlds – Indian and English. He felt a sense of belonging in both, but never fully belonged to either. This torn feeling is such a part of coming-of-age stories, and so many kids experience this struggle with belonging. We’ve taken this notion further and set our production on a contemporary playground that becomes the jungle. This dramatizes that internal struggle in a non-literal way. The audience can relate to Mowgli’s experience, because they see how these struggles play out in their own world, with characters like The Bully, The Followers, and The Outsider they can easily recognize. Mowgli goes on a journey that leads to understanding complex emotions for the first time, and I think this is a very beautiful and important moment in children’s lives.
Q: How will you make this idea come alive onstage?
A: In addition to our playground that becomes a jungle, our actors will be humans who become animals. Our set will give us lots of raised levels and nooks and crannies to play with, and lighting effects will help us change from one location to another. I’m especially excited about what will be happening with sound design. We will have a live musician playing a range of instruments to create the sounds of the jungle.
Q: What would you like parents and teachers to know about this production?
A: It’s important to understand that this isn’t the Disney animated version of the story. Ours is darker, and the animals are not always as friendly. In this story, the stakes are very high – Shere Khan is trying to kill Mowgli, and Mowgli has to make choices with very serious consequences. This show will raise a lot of questions about fitting in and belonging. The script doesn’t shy away from these questions. I think children see these sorts of stakes literally, emotionally, as well as figuratively in their own lives.
Q: What are you most excited about as you prepare this show?
A: I’m looking forward to exploring the movement of the animal characters with the actors. I come from a dance and choreography background, so I’m very interested to see how we develop the movement of these characters. Also, this isn’t a musical, but music will be very important. I think we will learn a lot together as a team of artists, and the characters, costumes, and masks will help guide us.
Q: What are you finding most challenging?
A: The script does not have specific stage directions for an important scene involving a buffalo stampede. Two characters describe scene, but we are not given direction for how to show that. Right now I am giving a lot of thought to how to stage that very important moment and its effect on the other characters and the audience.
Q: You are also a performer. Which part would you most like to play?
A: I find Tabaqui the Jackal very interesting. Her role in the story is as a sidekick to the villain, Shere Khan, and sometimes she provides comic relief. She’s very unpredictable and wild, and sometimes this makes her scary to the other characters. But she has a very nice journey over the course of the story.