Thursday, September 19, 2002

It will take five people to operate Jim Davenport's huge dragon in Kennedy Theatre's "The Boy Who Stole the Stars."

Savior of the stars

Careful work brings the dragon
guardian of the stars to life

The Boy Who Stole the Stars'
Where: Kennedy Theatre, UH-Manoa
When: 8 p.m. tomorrow; also 8 p.m. Sept. 21 and 28, and 2 p.m. September 29
Tickets: $10; $9 for seniors, military, and UH faculty and staff; $7 non-UHM students and children; $3 UH-Manoa students w/valid Fall '02 photo ID
Call: 956-7655

By John Berger

At first it sounds like a simple children's tale: A boy steals stars from heaven to save his beloved grandfather from a dementia-like disease. Good job, young hero!

But suppose God put those stars in heaven to remind Adam and Eve of all they had forfeited by defying him in the Garden of Eden, and there is a dragon to protect the stars from people who would steal them -- presumably in defiance of his will. Now whom do we cheer for?

That's one aspect of Kennedy Theatre's production of "The Boy Who Stole The Stars" that Jim Davenport doesn't have to worry about. Director Tamara Hunt cast him as the grandfather, so he has a character to develop and lines to memorize, but his biggest concern is the production's huge dragon. Davenport designed it as part of the requirements for his MFA degree in Set Design, and the creature is so large it takes a five-person crew to animate it.

"It's manipulated by three actors on the ground," he said. "One operates the head and two operate the front feet. It's also operated by two people up in the fly rail. The head and tail are on separate pipes, so they move up and down, not only by the (movements of the) actor on stage, but also from the line crew people pulling on pipes up above."

Despite the size of his creation and the challenges of coordinating the movements of five people, Davenport said it took less that a week and a half for the crew to get the knack of bringing the huge puppet to life.

"When I sit in the house and watch (rehearsals), we break it down so we find specific movements that make it come alive," he said.

Davenport got his undergraduate degree from UH "years ago" and spent roughly a decade doing theater on the mainland before returning to Hawaii and accepting a UH-Manoa graduate assistant post so he could complete work on his MFA. He credits local scenic design veteran Joseph Dodd with first whetting his interest in the discipline back in his undergraduate days.

Since returning home three years ago, Davenport has been taking graduate-level classes and doing design work for both local theater groups and UH-Manoa Ernst Lab Theatre productions. This is his first Kennedy Theatre mainstage design project and includes the entire set, but the stars and the dragon are the key to the production.

"Through the play, the grandfather and the boy talk about the different constellations in the sky, and the constellations that I designed are kind of ... star mobiles. The dragon is basically made out of the same material, so the dragon comes out of the stars," Davenport said, adding that there is a real-life dragon constellation named Draco that lies "wrapped around the Big and Little Dippers" above the northern hemisphere.

"My challenge was to make a dragon that was from the stars, that would come out of the stars. And so (when) I went to China and Japan this summer, I took a lot of pictures of dragons, so I kind of compiled a bunch of different designs that I saw. I wouldn't necessarily say it's a Chinese dragon, but there's definitely an Asian influence."

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