Bringing Jack London’s ‘Call of the Wild’ to life onstage at the Wheeler Opera House
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘Call of the Wild: Illustrated Edition’
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Saturday, Oct. 27, 5:30 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: wheeleroperahouse.com
Jack London’s timeless novel “The Call of the Wild” has been beloved by young readers for more than a century. The Austin, Texas-based Theatre Heroes has created an immersive new stage adaptation of this classic tale about a domesticated dog tapping into its wild roots in the Yukon, aiming to enthrall the book’s generations of fans.
“What’s great about this story is it brings together three generations of people because it’s such a classic,” said Noel Gaulin, who will perform “Call of the Wild: Illustrated Edition” on Saturday, Oct. 27, in a free presentation at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen. “Kids are still reading it in school today. And grandpa remembers reading it, too. It brings together the whole family.”
The acclaimed and innovative show is currently on its second national tour.
It is, at heart, a one-man show performed by Gaulin. He plays the heroic dog, Buck, and 30-plus other characters as Buck goes on his rugged journey of self-discovery as a sled dog in the Gold Rush. The production brings the novel to life around Gaulin with the help of three large projection screens that display original Philip R. Goodwin illustrations from the 1903 edition of the book, archival photographs from the Klondike Gold Rush and new original animations by artist Michael Rae. The show also boasts an original score.
“My job is to bring it all together,” Gaulin said.
Gaulin created the show with the late Jason Tremblay and developed it over three years before launching the tour, adapting it into a stage-ready script and pulling together all of the multimedia elements. They founded the Theatre Heroes with the idea of creating thoughtful and high-quality productions for kids aged around fourth grade and older — the kinds of shows that can edify as well as entertain, and that don’t talk down to young audiences.
“We were thinking about what kind of adventure story inspired us, and we immediately went to ‘Call of the Wild,’” Gaulin recalled.
The augmented one-man-show adaptation, he said, gives the production the abiding intimacy and thrill of a good campfire story — albeit one with 21st-century technical flourishes.
“It allows the kids to use their imaginations and fill in the gaps between projections and what I do onstage and really be a part of the show,” he said.
After Theatre Heroes performed an early version of the adaptation for test audiences of kids, they got feedback that the audience wanted to see more of Buck and hear more of the dog’s perspective. The producers heeded the advice, and Gaulin perfected his canine character.
“It was a big challenge for me, to act like a dog convincingly and have the sense that Buck is there,” he said. “I find that the most fun part, bringing Buck to life.”
The show is a pure acting challenge, also pushing Gaulin to create a snowbound world of adventure worthy of Jack London and dozens of characters with the use of some simple props and the atmospheric backdrops.
“I have to use everything, in terms of my voice, my body and my experience to make this story dynamic,” he said.
Gaulin wishes for the production to send kids running to the library to read “Call of the Wild,” if they haven’t yet, and to nurture future booklovers and theater-goers.
“I hope to inspire kids to go read the book and dive into the classic stories and get lost in books again,” he said.
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Last Thursday, locals marked the Thanksgiving holiday with various traditions such as running in a socially distanced race to cutting down a Christmas tree in the forest to small dinners at home with family.