J is for Joey from War Horse

I received complimentary tickets from the Omaha Performing Arts to attend a performance of War Horse at the Omaha Orpheum Theater. This post is my opinion and was in no way influenced by the tickets I received. I was not asked to write this post or provide any promotion of the show other than to share my experience with friends and family.

Lessons Learned from War Horse

I don’t know about you, but I love the theater. I love getting dressed up, I love being right there, live while a performance is going on, I love seeing the creative genius in how they’re going to tell a story and make it come to life.  I just love the theater.

You can bet I was thrilled when Kim from the Omaha Performing Arts invited me and the girls to see Joey the War Horse up close and meet the puppeteers who control him. To top it off with a ton of sugar, Kim threw in a couple of tickets to the opening performance! How’s a theater girl going to say no to that?!

Over the course of the next few days I learned more about World War I, puppeteering, creative story telling, horses, communication and more.  I did some of my own research on it, Kim sent me an amazing teachers guide to War Horse she found (thanks Kim!) The kids are still a bit too young to learn about most of the stuff I want to teach about War Horse, but I can still include some education like learning about horses and puppets, as well as a bit of theater.

When we met Joey, they introduced him to the local mounted police. It was amazing to see how the horses interacted with Joey. One even tried to follow Joey back into the Orpheum! It was quite the sight and everyone had a good laugh.  This video shows the Providence Mounted Command horses interacting with Joey, much like our local police horses did.

Later that night, my husband and I attended the opening night performance. Again, thanks to Kim at the Omaha Performing Arts for the tickets and seats right up front!

I still haven’t read the book, so I wasn’t entirely sure how the story would go, but I went in optimistic that they would give me an amazing show, and they did. The cast was fantastic. Below is a picture from the production showing Joey interacting with Albert, the boy who owns him (I didn’t take the picture, again thanks to Kim for taking care of me with a great production picture…she’s really wonderful, isn’t she?)

Production image from War Horse

Some of the educational take aways I pulled from the show are these (which is why I think this is an excellent book and show to have middle schoolers get involved in and makes for a great unit study):

  • Horses: Learning a little zoology, horse anatomy, personality and how horses have been involved in growing our societies for hundreds of years.
  • World War I: This story takes place during the war and tells the story of the hardships horses in war experienced, what soldiers during that time experienced, what the families back home experienced and more.
  • Communication: I loved that through the production we were introduced to different modes of communication. There is the interaction between horses and humans, people who speak different languages, horses interacting with horses, writing letters, sketches as well as the way the story is communicated by the actors to the audience.  You could even take this further to discuss the translation from the author writing the book, to the script for the play being written, then how the actors translate that into the performance and communicate the story.
  • Engineering: The ability to create detailed puppets who can interact with people and become lifelike is phenomenal! The puppeteers are actors and dancers who had to learn how horses moved and reacted to their environments.  We also learned from our time interviewing the puppeteers (Danny Yoerges, Adam Cunningham and Dayna Tietzen) that all the horse sounds in the production are made by the actors. And wow do they sound just like a horse, it’s unbelievable!  I probably wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t heard them, right then and there, work together to make a life like horse sound. It was crazy realistic (and loud, very very loud.) The video below shows Joey in action and describes how the actors are able to control Joey to give him life.

War Horse is well worth your time to see, not just for the story, but for the ability to bring these seven foot tall horse puppets to life on stage. You’ll forget you’re watching puppets on occasion. Sometimes I even felt like I was watching a dance because the movements of the actors have to be so coordinated.

Have you seen War Horse or read the book? Tell me what you thought in the comments.

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