Pinocchio / by Jeni Whittaker
Cast in order of appearance:
When this was written. it was a short piece for about 30 children between ages 8 and 10. I wanted to make sure everyone spoke, hence the number of small speaking sections - and I wanted to ensure that everyone was actively involved all the time. Hence, everyone becomes Pinocchios and Gepettos, the train, the schoolchildren, circus acts, puppets, undersea creatures and so on. It worked very well.
Of course, it is easy to adapt to almost any number from about 10 upwards.
Depending on the extra improvised material - for which ideas are given - that you add with your cast this play lasts between half an hour and forty minutes.
Sample Pages from the script
That night, Gepetto had the strangest dream. He dreamt he was in a great echoing room full of mirrors.
In front of him was a piece of wood and his precious tools.
As he touched the wood, a strange thing happened. It was almost like an electric shock, as if the wood were somehow alive.
He began to shape the wood in front of him, but it was as if the tools had minds of their own.
They flew over the wood much faster than usual and in a very short time, lying on the ground by Gepetto, was the figure of a boy puppet, more lifelike than any puppet he had made before.
Having mimed all the above, the Gepettos
now stand and pull their Pinocchios up into a sitting position.
Gepetto admired his handiwork.
Oh, how real he was!
The wood was so smooth and warm it felt like skin.
And as for his mouth: the wooden lips seemed ready to open....
The eyes to blink ...
And even the heart to beat.
But it was illusion. Poor Gepetto.
He bowed his head over his creation and wept.
The Gepettos first bend over their puppets and cry, then turn away, overcome with sorrow. Behind them, the puppets start to stir.
But what's this?
Miracle of miracles! Where Gepetto's tears fell on the wooden puppet's joints, the hard wood softened.
The puppets begin to move, becoming more and more fluid. Finally, they walk over to their Gepettos and tap them on the shoulder.
Gepettos all turn and embrace their Pinocchios.
Pinocchios and Gepettos perform a little dance of joy. Three new Narrators come forward.
You'd think everything would be happy now, wouldn't you?
Well, mostly it was. Pinocchio seemed to be a real boy, but he wasn't quite.
GEPETTO [the main one]
How can that be? Explain yourself please.
PINOCCHIO [the main one]
I want to be a real boy and I want it now!
ALL PINOCCHIOS stamping their feet at the same time
Now! Now!! NOW!!!
As you can see, life with Pinocchio has its ups and downs!
If I don't get what I want I'll be very angry. I'll kick and I'll stamp.
All Pinocchios demonstrate.
I'll break things!
Pinocchios demonstrate this too.
And if that doesn't work, I'll scream!
All Pinocchios scream and roar at once. Gepettos clap their hands over their ears.
All right! All right! All right!
The Pinocchios calm down.
Now, sit down and listen. [Sulkily, all the Pinocchios do. The other Gepettos mime Gepetto's actions as he speaks.] To be a real boy, you need to learn lots of things. Boys go to school with lots of other children to do that.
Then I'll go to school!
A school bell rings loudly and the cast all reassemble themselves as children playing games in the playground. Allow this bit of movement work to run for about half a minute before the bell goes again and they sit down on the floor as if in a classroom.
Now, children. We have a new boy today and he's called Pinocchio. Say hello nicely.
O.K. clever clogs, that'll do. Now who's going to have Pinocchio sitting next to them?
The group all squish together so that there's no room.
Don't be silly, there's plenty of room. Try a bit harder.
The class all shuffle around again and form a different, even more tightly packed, shape.
Still no room.
We don't want Pinocchio sitting here. He's not a proper boy.
The class all move around him chanting
Not a proper boy! Not a proper boy! etc.
Suddenly, Pinocchio runs out from the middle of the circle and pushes, miming hitting and kicking, the group, who all react as if they've met a hard object very painfully, as indeed they have! The stage area begins to build more and more pockets of vocal misery with the Teacher running futilely around trying to intervene, whilst saying 'Pinocchio! Pinocchio! Come here!; etc The episode ends with Pinocchio miming kicking the teacher. Everybody freezes. Pinocchlo runs off. The teacher unfreezes long enough to say:
You're right; he's not a proper boy. No real boy could be so hard!
So the next day Pinocchio left to go to school again.
His father gave him a bright new coin to buy his dinner. [Gepetto waves after this and leaves.]
The day was warm and sunny and soon Pinocchio felt so tired that he sat down for a rest.
Just for a little while. I won't be late to school.
But the little while became a long while.
And soon Pinocchio was fast asleep.
The strangers, at least 6, come on and surround Pinocchio - though making sure he is still visible.
When he woke up, he was surrounded by a number of strange people.
Each of these speeches is followed by wheezy laughter from them all - more like hissing than anything else.
Bet you don't know what we're doing here.
We've come to take you to school.
Oh, not that school.
You don't want to learn boring stuff like reading and writing, do you?
Well, yes, because ...
Oh, come on now! Surely you can do better. A clever chap like you.
The groupings of the strangers form and reform with dazzling speed as they mime each of the following in turn - quick bursts of mimed movement ending with bezazzy freeze­frames.
How about yo-yoing!
And throwing mudpies!
Making faces at the teacher!
Bet you can't make as ugly a face as she can! [She points to 5th Stranger.]
5TH STRANGER proudly
No one can! [She demonstrates and Pinocchio tries it too.]
Not bad! Well?
What do you think?
Sounds like fun, but is it school? My father said I must go to school to be a proper boy.
School? 'Course it is.
Who ever said school couldn't be fun!
This school is the best there ever was.
Fun all the day long!
And plenty of sweets to eat and fizz to drink.
And no homework ever.
6TH STRANGER changing tone as all the other lean in
And all it costs is two bright pounds.
Oh, well that's that, then. I've only got one pound. [He starts to leave.]
Stop! [He beckons the others and they all go into a rugger scrum type huddle.]
1ST STRANGER breaking out of the huddle. The others form a group behind him
We've decided to be generous.
ALL OTHER STRANGERS
We'll accept your offer of one bright pound.
Call it a deal!
Out of the sincere generosity of our hearts. [All nod exaggeratedly, with mock sincere expressions on their faces.]
You can owe us the rest. [The strangers start to surround Pinocchio, batting him to and fro between them. Pinocchio acts more and more confused.]
Say, a week, shall we? And we'll come by for it.
We can't say fairer than that.
I think you'll find our offer is more than generous and won't be bettered anywhere.
ALL STRANGERS now standing over the bewildered Pinocchio in a threatening grouping
We'll call it a deal then, shall we?
1ST STRANGER sticking out his hand
Shake on it!
And your pound?
Pinocchio hands over his pound reluctantly. The 2nd Stranger takes it very quickly and there follows a bewildering series of moves as they pass the coin around, up and over, between legs and behind backs till it is pocketed by one of them.
There! That's done!
5TH STRANGER leaning confidingly towards Pinocchio and, with the 4th Stranger, putting an arm round his shoulders, one on each side.
I think you'll find you won't regret your decision.
That night, Pinocc hio in his stable had a dream.
In it, he clearly saw his dear father Gepetto in the belly of the enormous fish.
He was filled with great sorrow that he had brought such terrible misfortune on the kind old man.
He realised how selfish he had been.
His heart filled with love.
And he determined to escape and find his father, however difficult it might prove to be.
The cast enter and form themselves into all sorts of symbolic obstacles. Pinocchio weaves his way around them. The sequence should go on for some time, once again establishing strict rhythms and perhaps building up its own soundtrack of sounds made by the cast, appropriate to the movements they use.
cages endrding Pinocchio
doors slamming in his face
complicated shapes which he must wriggle in and out of areas of floor covered in spiky objects, or snakes and other similar dangers. This could move from one type of danger to another in rapid succession
Group 'machines' through which he must pass safely by avoiding being cut, sliced in two, etc. The machine must establish its rhythm and movement and Pinocchio has to watch and dart in the spaces between movements such as, e.g. arms slicing down
Each of these above suggestions can be used in sequence - perhaps worked on in groups. Each thing should have appropriate sounds added by the group responsible, or the rest of the group.
Finally, Pinocchio comes out of the last obstacle and stands at the front of the stage, exhausted, hardly able to remain upright, panting and gasping. Behind him the cast are grouping at the back of the stage. At the appropriate moment of narration, they will pick up the canes and black cloth used before and form into the shape of the monster fish. A smaller cloth, perhaps red, held by two cast members, is stretched from side to side of the mouth to conceal Gepetto behind, within the enclosure of the black cloth.
Pinocchio mimes to the following narration.
At last he came to the mighty ocean.
That very same ocean before which Gepetto had hesitated, some weeks before.
Like his father before him Pinocchio stepped into the sea. Unlike Gepetto he did not hesitate, because his heart was filled with both love and a sense of urgency.
As soon as he stepped into the water, the last shreds of his donkey skin fell from him.
Pinocchio straightened and stood tall. He was himself again.
By now the cast have formed their frightening shape behind him, as described already. Pinocchio faces front with the mouth moving up and over him behind.
This is the very fish that ate my father in my dream. I must be very brave. [He turns to face the monster and calls out.] Father! I'm coming!
He enters into the mouth and the cast start to move backwards, drawing the black cloth with them. The red cloth is raised to reveal Gepetto and then moved behind them, so that it is now stretched taut behind the pair. All cast freeze except for the two, who embrace. They then begin a foot-stamping, clapping dance, rather like a clumsy folk­dance. Gepetto begins the dance and Pinocchio starts to follow. They time their movements to correspond with the following:
Gepetto couldn't believe his eyes.
His heart felt as though it would burst with joy.
So full was it, that he must express it somehow. His joy began in his toes and feet..
... which began to stamp and skip ...
His body followed, arms raised above his head, hands clapping ...
Until feet and hands combined to such a rhythm of joy that Pinocchio couldn't resist and joined in with him.
There were the two of them, deep in the belly of the fish, leaping and clapping, laughing and shouting...
... and irritating the tender stomach-lining of that unfortunate creature so that his belly began to heave... [The cast behind undulate the black cloth throughout the next few lines.]
NARRATOR 11 His throat to gasp...
His mouth to open and shut until, in one huge convulsion....... [The cast with the black cloth move it about in a frenzied fashion. Gepetto and Pinocchio become muddled up with it.]
... Part belch,
He shot the offending particles - Gepetto and Pinocchio - out of his belly, indeed up and up in the air [The cloth descends over a single stage block placed at the back of the stage, Pinocchio and Gepetto standing on the block, covered with the cloth. The cast raise the sides of the cloth and undulate it gently around the central position of block with the two central characters standing on it. The effect should be that they are buoyed up by the cloth.]
So that for a moment, astonished people on the earth ...
Farmers, officeworkers staring out of their windows, housewives hanging out their washing ...
...Saw two specks that might or might not have been human, hanging suspended in the air, far far away -
As if balanced on top of a giant water-spout -
- There they hung until, gradually, the water-spout fell, slowly, slowly back towards the sea - [The movements of the cast holding the cloth become more and more serene and lower and lower.]
Carrying Pinocchio and Gepetto with it, cushioned by water, cradled in the arms of the ocean, earthwards again
Until with a tiny puff of air from the great fish's lips as they came down ... [The cast face the front, making an interesting shape.]
NARRATOR 11 ...The softest pfff - [The cast behind blow out with their lips, making the same sound.] ...soft as thistledown,
NARRATOR 12.... they landed on their own two feet on dry land once more.
Sample Pages from Production Notes
PRODUCTION NOTES + TECHNICAL CUES etc.
N.B. These notes are suggestions only. You may find them helpful to follow; or they may act as a springboard for your own ideas; or you can choose to ignore them entirely!
INTRODUCTION: THEMES, THE PLAY'S INTENTION.
The main intention of the play is to practice the use of a combination of script and other skills. The play makes an ideal 'first script' for young people, but it also stretches their skills in improvisation, devising, mime and physical theatre. Because of the teamwork invoved throughout, it is a good training ground for the discipline necessary in putting on a production of any kind, but particularly of the physical theatre kind. The script covers narrating skills as well as brief forays into a number of character roles.
Though it was written for 8 -10 year olds, it is the kind of script that could be done with any age-group and could be stunning with a group of sixth-formers, say, wanting to explore the potentials of story-telling in a visual way.
The play tells the familiar story of Pinocchio in a very different way. It is different physically in that, though there is a 'main' Gepetto and Pinocchio, there are also times when everyone is Gepetto or Pinocchio. But it is also different in its impact from the often confusing and rambling original story. It seeks to expose the emotional central core of the story, using often poetic means to explore it: the lonely person who wants a child is the simplest thread - and Gepetto is rewarded for his good heart. The more complex thread is really an exploration of what it means to be human; Pinocchio is on a journey to discover this -and he learns about loyalty, kindness, patience, persistence and, above all, the capacity for love. It is the latter that breaks the shell of his wooden body and makes him human and, like in many of the greatest tragedies, it is suffering that is his real school master. Through suffering he learns to value the best thing about humanity: its ability to gain strength and focus through the power of an unselfish caring for someone else.
CHARACTERS - all of whom will be 18/19 years old
The characters are not developed into fully fleshed creations. Briefly, the PUPPETMASTER needs to be a confident person, since it is he/she who opens the play. He is bossy and organising, needing that tone of voice - but he can be softer, as when he addresses Gepetto with sympathy. He should walk with a swagger - he is, after all, a showman. Big gestures, using the whole space of the playing area fully.
The TICKETSELLERS need good loud brash voices. They are advertising and need to attract attention, so use the full range of the voice. They need courage, since they have to move amongst the audience and address them directly.
GEPETTO is a gentle, kind old man. There needs to be a frailty about him, so emphasise his age and his physical weakness. Voice is difficult because it needs to be both strong and quavering.
The NARRATORS, all 12 of them, need all the usual range of skills - capacity to interest an audience, direct address, making sure the eye travels over the whole audience, not just aimed at one spot. Plenty of variation m pace and tone- err on the slow side rather than taking things too fast. These narrators too have to be quick on the uptake - they often have to pick up a cue instantly to finish the sentence for a previous narrator. This takes concentration and listening skills - to pick up the tone.
PINOCCHIO runs through a range of skills. He / she must be strong vocally and physically. He can be sulky and brattish, hesitant and unsure, angry and certain. He needs to express wonder. After he is formed, I don't feel he has to move like a puppet. He is, after all, stringless.
TEACHER is a typical primary school teacher - rather patronising and slow in delivery. Her human side is discovered when Pinocchio kicks her!
The PUPPETS need strong physical skills. I used more for this section than the four who actually speak, because I wanted to explore the transition from the jerky puppet movements to the fluid human ones.
The STRANGERS are played as naughty school children - rebels, truants. Their voices are tempting and calculating. Their laughter mean and insinuating.
OVERSEERS have cruel, strong movements, loud bullying voices. The rest are obvious.
The play is best performed on an open empty space, not so big as to be intimidating to the youngsters, but big enough for such numbers to fill and all be seen separately. A studio is ideal. We performed on a vast stage which I reduced with black curtains to studio size. The neutral black curtains were also helpful, because the whale could blend into them, suggesting an even bigger size for it.
The cast create the environment with their bodies, so there is no need for any scenery. A single square block, painted black so that it blends in with the background, should be placed at the very back of the space. The only extra item that is needed is the whale. This, we also had laid out at the back of the space throughout, with the cane handles carefully placed so that it could just be picked up and moved straight into position. Behind the light black cloth is placed a shorter piece about five foot square, of red cloth, which is used in the last whale sequence. At the sides of the stage place short bamboo canes, three feet long, as many as needed for every 'donkey' to have two. Whatever pieces of cloth and equipment you are using for your circus acts, should also be placed neatly at the sides and back of the playing space.
These are very simple. The stage needs to be evenly lit with bright warm light. Apart from blackouts, no fancy coloured light is needed. Indeed, in the black surroundings [which emulate being swallowed in the whale's stomach, perhaps - a symbol for losing one's path in life?] colour would be largely ineffective.
Beginning of play. Bring lights up to full on whole stage area.
Near bottom of page. Cue: Gepetto -'Someone I could love as if he were my own son.' Fade lights to dim. Hold at dim until all cast are in place, in their pairs, and then raise lights up again - this time to about three-quarters bright.
Near bottom of page. Cue: Narrator 3 - 'Miracle of miracles! ...'start to brighten the lights here up to full bright.
Just over half way down page. Cue: Teacher - ' No real boy could be so hard.' Fade lights to dim as the cast move to new positions at the side or offstage. Puppets move into position at back. Bring lights back up to bright.
Half way down the page: Cue: The jaws of the whale swallowing Gepetto. Sudden blackout of lights. Bring them up again slowly, so that they are not up fully till the cast start to create obstacles.