‘The Pied Piper’ comes to CCA’s Proscenium Theater

The unofficial tag line of Canyon Crest Academy’s latest play, a puppet version of “The Pied Piper,” is “This ain’t your little sister’s puppet show.”

In a unique collaboration with the San Diego Puppetry Guild, the show threatens to “trash” the Proscenium Theater in its re-telling of the dark story of a man brought to a rat-infested town to drive out the vermin but ends up luring all the kids away, as well.

“The Pied Piper” will play at CCA’s Proscenium Theater at 7 p.m. March 20 and 26; 4 p.m. March 19 and 5 p.m. March 27.

CCA will cap its performances with a more child-friendly Puppet Festival from noon to 5 p.m. March 27. The festival will feature short puppet plays written and performed by the students, works by the San Diego Puppetry Guild, a puppet parade, and interactive activities where kids can make their own puppets and masks.

Michael Schwartz, the director of Canyon Crest’s Envision arts program, was responsible for pulling the strings to get the San Diego Puppetry Guild’s Lynne Jennings to the school for the play.

Jennings, whom Schwartz calls a “one-woman puppetry tour de force,” was first called to CCA to make the giant, spooky skeleton mask used in the school’s production of “The Corpse Bride” in 2007. That mask, as well as other puppetry and mask examples, will be on display in the lobby during the festival.

She also created puppets for a previous CCA production of “King Stag,” and Schwartz has added puppetry to the offerings in the school’s Conservatory Arts Program.

Schwartz said puppetry is perfect for students who may be insecure about being on stage. He said a whole new performer can emerge when “you remove people looking at you from the equation.”

For “Pied Piper,” Jennings tapped the husband-and-wife director team of Mike Sears and Lisa Berger to help write and stage the show. The resulting work is a highly stylized update to the traditional Pied Piper story. Sears says it has a modern-day Gotham City and “hard core” rock ‘n’ roll flavor.

The play uses shadow puppets and 3-D puppets, as well as human actors — some performers wear masks in the production. The 3-D puppets are almost life-sized, with dangling legs similar to the Muppets. The actors play rats using masks and there is one monster rat puppet that takes a few people to bring to life.

Jennings said the puppetry work is very challenging, especially the shadow puppets.

“The shadow puppets are the hardest because you need to make it look alive,” said freshman Jessica Tierney, who plays the psychic Lola, as well as helping manipulate the giant rat’s claw.

Freshman Daniela Camilleri, who plays an old cat lady and works rat masks and a shadow puppet, said she is most challenged with acting behind a mask.

“It’s been a really great experience, something that you don’t get to do every day,” Camilleri said.

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