For his first full-length, all-new piece of puppetry theater in five years, Michael Sommers has gone back to the same well that fueled his last one. In 2007, Sommers opened Open Eye Figure Theatre's new space with an adaptation of Goethe's Prelude to Faust. This time, he picks one of the German author's most famous works, bringing Der Zauberlehrling to the stage, or, as it is better known to Americans (and Disney fans), The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
"I really understood last week why we are doing this. It's about really embracing the form. This isn't going to be a post-modern stance. It's just going to be a straight-up piece of figure theater," Sommers says.
Adapting the work "came from a desire to do a straight-ahead piece of figure theater," he says. "I hemmed and hawed a bit, but I decided to do The Sorcerer's Apprentice for the marionette stage. Marionette theater can be boring, so how does a contemporary audience react to this? I thought we should go for it and see how it happens."
Sommers consulted several translations to get a sense of the original work. "The poem resonates with Frankenstein and the stories of the golem," he says. "There is also an incredible sense of humor in his writing. There is a lot of sly joy," he says.
"How do you adapt the poem and make it a springboard? That has been exciting for me. For this piece, I have brought in a creative team who are really masters at their work," Sommers says.
One of the interesting advantages of marionettes is the scale. "We can create giant tragedy -- something operatic -- in this small, compact scale," he adds.
"We've really gone back to the poem for the source of the language of the play," Sommers says, noting that the script has added to the details of the story, expanding the 17-stanza original into a full-length piece.
Much of this has come from the team assembled for the production, who are made up of top talents from different disciplines. Those masters include Eric Jensen, who has crafted music for the production. It will be performed live each night with a small orchestra that includes xylophone, trombone, viola, and clarinet. "In the scale of the show, it feels like a giant orchestra," Sommers says.
Sommers and the team have looked for low-tech, traditional solutions for the production. "We want to do it as simple and direct as possible," he says. "For figure theater to work there needs to be a suspension of belief. They are just pieces of wood on a string. For the flood, we could have shot something with an underwater camera and projected it on the screen. Instead, we are probably just going to pull a cloth across the stage.
"It's been fantastic to have this creative team and the other collaborators. They know their stuff. It's not just Michael in his basement making things. All of them are really adding to this. It's really been organic. They find their way to bring the best they can bring to the project," Sommers says.
IF YOU GO
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Previews Wednesday and Thursday, opens Friday and runs through March 4
Open Eye Figure Theatre
506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis
For tickets and information, call 612.874.6338 or visit online.