Practically overnight, Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins at New York City’s Central Park Zoo, became international celebrities.
Just like the other bonded animals in the zoo, they walked, swam and played together. When the duo tried to hatch a rock, a zookeeper gave them an egg instead, and they soon found themselves a real chick named Tango.
This heartwarming story has been adapted for the stage by Cahoots NI, an internationally-acclaimed theater company based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and is coming to South Florida.
“At its heart, it is a story about love, family and celebrating our differences, which I think is a message we are all in need of hearing,” explained artistic director Paul McEneaney.
The show is non-verbal, meaning the actors rely on physical movement, dance and music to tell the story.
“This (was) a great opportunity to make the show accessible to all ages, with no language barriers, and it makes our audience members lean in that bit closer to really concentrate on our story and connect with our characters,” he said. “For our performers, it means they really need to use their faces and bodies as their storytelling tools. In the rehearsal room, we work off a kind of ‘unspoken’ script, so that everyone on stage knows exactly what thought and emotion is being portrayed at every moment.”
The creative team and actors spent a lot of time observing penguins, noting that, on land, penguins are quite clumsy, but then suddenly moved gracefully in the water.
“We wanted to stay away from the stereotypical penguin ‘waddle,’ but I think we’ve found a great balance and our performers do a great job of embodying three mischievous penguins,” McEneaney said.
That said, there are still challenges for the actors. The show is very physical, and although the penguin enclosure on stage looks suitably frosty, the costumes are made of a very thick wetsuit material, so the performers can get very hot. The set is made up of numerous icecube-like boxes, and there are moments where all three performers squash into one box, which after a particularly warm show, McEneaney said can be “a not too pleasant experience.”
“Penguins” is designed for audiences of all ages. The company has earned a reputation for engaging storytelling for children and their families.
“It’s nice when you hear families interacting (in the audience, asking and answering questions during the show. Sometimes you will hear a child say, ‘They are in love!’ and you know they have connected with the story,” he said. “I think some of the most interesting conversations will take place in the car on the way home from the theatre and hope that ‘Penguins’ has provided a starting point to talk about different kinds of families.”
McEneaney conclude, “And, of course, we hope our audience have been inspired and entertained by what they have seen on stage!”
Cahoots NI presents “Penguins” at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach on Saturday, Feb. 15 and at the Arsht Center in Miami on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 21 – 22. Tickets are available at Kravis.org and ArshtCenter.org.