Stories From Planet Earth
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Dramatizations of NINE different tales, each presented in a style that
honors the stories country of origin.
By Mark Bedell

KRACKERJACK THEATRE CO. Toured this show from 1993 to 2000.  Any three of the nine stories make up a 45 minute show.  KTC toured with all nine in one "road box" and allowed each individual elementary school or theatre to choose ANY three of the nine stories.  

This made STORIES FROM PLANET EARTH seem like a custom made show to our clients.  It was (and still is) a great concept... very educational... very artistic... and very saleable.







Folktales are one of the oldest teaching tools on Planet Earth. Every culture, from ancient times to the present, has created folktales. Stories teach us about human nature, right and wrong, good and evil. Stories help us develop everything from a strong work ethic to good manners. Stories explain, in fascinating, fanciful ways, the otherwise "unexplainable". Most important of all, these stories are entertaining! Without that quality, folktales would be useless...who would listen? Humor, suspense, mystery--these are the keys that open minds both young and old, allowing us all to understand and remember the ancient messages woven into these special tales.

The nine stories included herein are from nine widely different cultures, from ALL parts of Planet Earth--every single inhabited continent is represented. Each story has been written into a (roughly) 15-minute play that is understandable, easy to follow, and--above all-- entertaining! These plays are presented more simply than other KRACKERJACK KLASSICS, but not quite as simple as the DRIFTWOOD Series.

What makes STORIES FROM PLANET EARTH unique is that the school/theatres who book you can choose any three stories from a "menu"! These can be stories that best complement individual existing curricula. 

In producing these plays, Playwright/Director/Actor Mark Bedell researched (as much as possible) the way of life, both past and present, in each represented part of the world.  He also studied the appropriate theatre and/or storytelling styles, folk costumes, music and traditional masks.  Mr. Bedell used all this information while creating the script for the story, and while building the costume pieces, props, settings, music, and masks.

During the play, the audience witnesses these facets of the production in action; however, the focus  is on character and story, more than "culture". In this way, you can impart a bit of "foreign culture" to your audiences without becoming didactic. We especially want to reinforce that stories are a FUN way to learn! 


From Japan
THE SINGING TURTLE

Although this is not the most famous story in Japan, it is certainly well-known there. Two of the main characters in this play are represented by actors wearing replicas of traditional Japanese Noh-style masks. The feel of the play is a variation of the Japanese theatre style known as Kyogen--which is similar to Noh, only it is more comedic, the language is less formal, and music is NOT an integral part of Kyogen, as it is in Noh. Much of the play, however, IS underscored by Japanese music. The turtle is represented by Kuruma Ningyo-style turtle puppet. Kuruma Ningyo is a Japanese puppetry art that is somewhat similar to Bunraku.)  Another, character is represented by a shadow puppet. Although shadow puppetry originated in India, it is extremely popular in Japan.  Characters are very clear-cut, either good or evil. This is the tradition in Japanese theatre of all types. Basic themes of hard work,  duty, honesty and honor are presented.

 

 



From Sweden
THE SAUSAGE

 Variations of this story are found in many cultures, but our research has found that, while THE SAUSAGE may not have originated in Sweden, it is more well-known within Sweden's borders than in any other country. When the wife of a woodcutter is unexpectedly granted three wishes for a good deed, she soon finds out that when you can have anything you want in the whole world, it's not so easy to decide what to wish for. The style of this production is a mixture of northern European theatre styles (Swedish theatre has always reflected a mix of European styles). By the end of this uproariously comic play, both husband and wife learn that, while they   would love to have rich, fine possessions, their happiness is much more important than material wealth.


From Nigeria
THE TALKING SKULL

One of the most common of all tales in Africa, THE TALKING SKULL is told by many different tribes. We have chosen the version told by the Nupe' of Nigeria because it is probably the most well-known. This extremely funny tale warns against speaking out of turn, or talking too much. Replicas of traditional Nigerian ceremonial masks are used to portray the characters. This story is told with drums, a narrator, and an occasional short chant in which the audience may participate. With a little imagination, the whole audience   will feel like a part of a Nigerian community, sitting at a fire listening to the storyteller.

 




From the Iroquois/Seneca
THE TURTLES WAR PARTY

Specifically, this tale is from the SENECA, one of the six members of the IROQUOIS League of Nations. Realistic animal masks, clever staging, and a replica of the traditional Hage'ota (storyteller) costume complement this faithful and humorous dramatization of a classic North American Iroquois tale. In all other STORIES FROM PLANET EARTH where masks were required, Mr. Bedell made the masks as replicas of the traditional story-telling or ceremonial masks of the culture. We had to do considerable research just to find photographs of traditional Seneca masks; but in doing so, we learned that it would be offensive to the Iroquois Nation to display even a replica of their masks. So the masks in THIS story are of Mr. Bedell's own design. In this clever tale, a turtle tries to become "a leader of great warriors". He fails, but in the end learns something about himself that he might've not learned if he hadn't at least tried.


From Russia
THE MASTER & THE LABORER

This story is not as well-known as the other STORIES FROM PLANET EARTH, but there are few Russian stories that are short enough to dramatize in this format. And it is such a FUN story that Mr. Bedell didn't want to pass it by simply because of its relative obscurity.  As you know by now, This play tries to "borrow" the theatrical style for each story from its country of origin. This story is no different. The great Russian actor and director Constantin Stanislavski said: "You act for children the same way you act for adults... only better!" In this story, the antagonist can only be defeated by the cleverest wit, and the cheater is done in by his own dishonesty! It is a story with comedy, drama, suspense--all in a traditional theatre style...only better!




From France
THE RICH MAN & THE SHOEMAKER

 The only one of the STORIES FROM PLANET EARTH which can be attributed to an author, this delightful tale was written by Jean de La Fontaine (1621 - 1695), one of the most beloved French fabulists. (La Fontaine is well-known for being one of the first French writers to write in the everyday conversational language of France, rather than the formal, more academic written language.)  The comedic style is reminiscent of comic theatre in France. A hard working shoemaker is so happy with his life that he sings while he is   working. This annoys a nearby miser who sleeps during the day so that he can guard his gold from thieves at night. The miser, having tried all else (and apparently having a great understanding of human nature), gives the shoemaker a bag full of gold! We have all wished that a fortune would drop into our laps; but while watching this play, we learn from La Fontaine's 17th-century wisdom a valuable 21st-century lesson.


From India
THE TIGER THE BRAHMIN & THE JACKAL

This is arguably the most popular tale told in India. 
Replicas of traditional East Indian masks are used to present some of the characters in this story. The design of these masks was inspired by the masked dances in northeastern India called Chhau. Since shadow puppetry originated in India, some shadow puppets are also used. The style of the production was loosely borrowed from the   East Indian theatre style called Sanskrit, in which the story is told using a combination of narration and dialogue. East Indian music accompanies much of the performance. This tale teaches both the rewards of honesty, and the punishments of dishonesty.




From Argentina
THE GREAT BIRD IN THE CAROB TREE

Perhaps the most difficult culture to research was Pre-Columbian Argentina. That hurdle, however, made creating this play all the more important and rewarding. Very little information exists about these almost extinct people who lived on the grassy pampas (plains) in what is now Argentina, just east of the Andes. They were a part of the great Inca nation and so, due to a lack of specific information on the natives of the western highlands of Argentina, the mask and costume design were inspired by Inca art. It is the story of people suffering in a severe drought, and of one girl who overcomes great odds to make it rain once again in the pampas. A small amount of audience participation is used to make this story feel more like an adventure than a play.


From Australia
THE KOOKABURRA & THE SUN FIRE

Every culture on Planet Earth has used "creation stories" to "explain the otherwise unexplainable". Australian Aboriginal stories have been passed down from generation to generation--by storytellers and rock paintings--for over 40,000 years. Yet these fanciful and humorous tales had never been written down for outsiders to understand and enjoy until very late in the 19th century. 

THE KOOKABURRA AND THE SUN FIRE tells of a time before humans were born, when there was no sun and the animals lived in constant darkness. The story explains how the sun came to be, and why it still burns today. Clever use of  masks and movement bring this ancient story to life, with universal appeal.



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