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Friday, June 2, 2023

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The BFG and His Companions

Puppets bring the magic of Roald Dahl’s story to the stage.
By Jessica Ordon, video by Jeneene Chatowsky

The latest production at the San Diego State University School of Theatre, Television, and Film will tug at the heartstrings of anyone who has ever read Roald Dahl’s stories. In a special adaptation of The BFG (“Big Friendly Giant”), written by David Wood and directed by Margaret Larlham, puppets will bring the magic of Dahl’s story to the stage.

A special guest

Designed to be captivating for audiences of all ages, The BFG tells the story of an orphan girl named Sophie who teams up with an unlikely friend, a big friendly giant, to save the children of England.

The School of Theatre, Television, and Film was excited to meet the Big Friendly Giant in February this semester when puppeteer Eric van Wyk introduced him in a special presentation in the Don Powell Theater. The Giant traveled from Imagination Stage in Baltimore to guest star at SDSU.

An exciting challenge

The 12-foot-tall BFG puppet weighs 28 pounds and is made of mostly found materials, like rattan, aluminum, and even restaurant grade liquids tubing. He requires at least three human actors to fully operate.

“I'd have to say one of the most challenging things about the show is learning how to work my part of the BFG puppet in sync with 3 other people,” said Allison Thiss, a performer. She welcomes the challenge, as The BFG is her first theatre production.

“I think the best thing about working on the show is seeing how excited everyone involved is about making it happen and getting to contribute,” Thiss said.

A heightened, fantastical experience

The Big Friendly Giant may be the star of the show, his companions are sure to be a hit, too.

Nao Kobayashi, a costume design master of fine arts student, designed and constructed six additional puppets for The BFG. Not to be mistaken for the friendly giant, these puppets are naughty, nasty, child-eating giants who are out to get the children of England in Dahl’s story.

Each of these six puppets is operated by a single actor. Kobayashi has designed them specifically with the actors who will play them in mind, seamlessly merging the performers’ bodies with puppet bodies to create a heightened, “extended reality” experience. 

“Nao has matched the awesome vitality of the BFG puppet with her own brand of ingenuity,” said Margaret Larlham, who has directed theatre for youth at SDSU for over twenty years.

Kobayashi created pieces for last year’s production of Alice, also under Larlham’s direction. Her imaginative, fantastical sensibility as a costume designer was on display last semester in Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights.

The child-eating giants — Fleshlumpeater, Meatdripper and Gizzardgulper, to name a few — will make an appearance on Campanile Walkway on Thursday, April 21 at 2 p.m. as part of a pop-up event supported by Arts Alive SDSU.

The BFG opens on Friday, April 22 in the Don Powell Theatre at 7:30pm. The performance will be followed by an opening reception to honor Larlham and her contributions to Theatre for Young Audiences at SDSU and in the San Diego community. Performances will continue until Sunday, May 1. For more information and tickets, visit the SDSU Theatre website.