Aesop’s tale of The Ant and the Grasshopper is a well-known one. During summer, Ant works industriously to store up food for the coming winter while Grasshopper wastes away his days in leisure. When winter arrives, the Ant is well prepared and survives while the Grasshopper languishes in his folly.
The moral of the story is obvious, “Be industrious like the Ant and don’t be lazy like the Grasshopper.”
With such a simple storyline, how can the plot be expanded into a fresh and an engaging full-length musical theatre production?
This is the task undertaken by I Theatre in choosing to stage a version of The Ant and the Grasshopper. Little Day Out was given a chance to go into one of their rehearsals and get a sneak peek at how they did it.
In the original The Ant and the Grasshopper, the story involves only the two title characters. In I Theatre’s version, audiences have the chance to meet two others – a Caterpillar and a Bee, who have been written into the script.
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Why were they introduced?
“They are in the landscape,” said Brian Seward, Artistic Director of I Theatre and the play’s director. Elaborating further, Brian explained that the introduction of these new characters was to bring additional perspectives on the development of the plot. Caterpillar and Bee act as commentators, providing their own points of view, on Ant’s and Grasshopper’s actions. This gives audiences multiple angles to consider the events taking place on stage.
Growing a Personality
The Ant and the Grasshopper were typecast by Aesop in the original tale for their innate animal characteristics. However, on the stage, their traits needed to be developed further. To do so, I Theatre gave each character an individual personality and personal backstory.
Erwin Shah Ismail, 27, plays the ukulele-strumming Grasshopper. He describes his character’s personality as “free and easy” and obsessed with “music and painting”. This brought to mind our own schools days where there would always be a group of students in the canteen strumming away on the guitar – even during exam times. These happy-go-lucky souls remained carefree while the rest of the world was in a panic. These are the people we immediately imagined Grasshopper to be.
With colourful inspirations at the back of the actors’ minds, it is no wonder that the actors turned in fleshed-out, rib-tickling performances at the rehearsal Little Day Out attended.
So while we have an inkling of what to expect from the hardworking Ant and the fun-loving Grasshopper, what is Caterpillar, a new character, like?
“Caterpillar is afraid of change,” says Brian, “Caterpillar has an uncontrollable urge to eat but she does not want to change.”
With a story set against the changing of seasons from summer to winter, audiences will find out how Caterpillar copes with change and if she eventually makes the metamorphosis to “butterfly-hood”.
The introduction of themes such as “Change” is another way that I Theatre has adapted The Ant and the Grasshopper for the stage. By introducing different themes into the script, the performance takes on multiple facets, making it not only entertaining theatre but one serves as a starting point for discussions between parents and children.
Taking the Old and Making it New
Using the various techniques, I Theatre has adapted Aesop’s tale from a simple moral story and elaborated it into a musical theatre performance that both children and parents can enjoy. The key to doing this was summed up by Brian, who says his job is “keeping it true to the story but making it new and filled with three-dimensional characters that audiences can relate to.”
These are instructive words indeed for bringing any story from the page to the stage.
The Ant and the Grasshopper is showing from 26 February to 15 March 2014 at the Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel. Most suitable for 3 to 12 year olds and families. 50 minutes with a meet-and-greet. Tickets are available through SISTIC.
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About the “Behind The Scenes” Series
This special feature is part of Little Day Out’s Behind-The-Scenes Aspects of Theatre Production series to help young and old understand more about theatre productions. Want to find out more? Click here for more Behind The Scenes feature stories.