aladdin jr theater picFor the first time in its 64 year history, Davenport Junior Theatre is featuring a show starring… a puppet.

It’s both a surprising and not-so-shocking turn of events for the local stalwart. Given the nature of kids’ shows, one might have thought a puppet would’ve made its bow as the narrator or lead by this time, but, there’s a first time for everything, even this great moment in puppet equality rights.

“The Magical Lamp of Aladdin,” a tale of adventure, genies and magic adapted by Tim Kelly features an evil magician trying to trick a young street urchin into stealing a genie’s lamp, but the clever Aladdin claims the magic lamp for himself, using its power to woo the princess and impress the sultan.

The show features a cast and crew consisting entirely of local youth, continuing DJT’s tradition of theatre “for kids, by kids.” Local professional theatre artists work alongside the kids to create a dynamic theatrical experience while training them in theatrical production.
For Aladdin’s monkey sidekick, director Jessica Sheridan reached out to local puppet maker Seth Chappell of FoamFoolery. “There is a magical connection between a human interacting with a puppet. An audience picks up on that relationship,” says Chappell. “Puppets help create a world outside of the norm. Puppets increase the fantasy, the magical, and possibly the absurd.”

This marks the first time in DJT’s 64-year history that a puppet plays a leading role. Student Emily Baker serves as puppeteer, and has put in many hours learning the techniques required to bring a puppet to life. Of the puppet, she says, “He’s new. He’s different. Everyone is expecting a human dressed as a monkey, so the puppet is really a wonderful surprise. Also, he’s small and fuzzy and more animal-looking than a human, which I feel makes him more believable.”

“I come home exhausted every night after rehearsals because it takes so much work to target all of your energy into the puppet,” says Baker. “He’s really developed his own personality. He’s my little buddy!”

Puppet maker Chappell echoes Baker’s thoughts on the personification of the monkey. “He has truly evolved into a fully-fledged cast member,” he says. “This evolution in due in large part to his puppeteer, Emily Baker. She and I have been working closely to create a very engaging character that the cast and audience enjoy. Emily has added so much to this character and she has made him what he is today.”
“We constantly seek new ways to challenge our students,” says Artistic Director Daniel DP Sheridan. “We’re incredibly proud to offer these kind of unique opportunities for them to expand their skills. Where else would a student spend months developing, co-creating, and operating a puppet? That kind of education takes a huge investment of time and financial resources, but we know that our young artists are worth it.”

Founded in 1951, Davenport Junior Theatre is the nation’s second-oldest children’s theatre.  Classes and camps are offered year-round in theatre and dance for students ages three to eighteen. Classes are as varied as acting, improvisation, character development, and sound design. In the quickly-growing dance division – which is only a few years old – young dancers learn poise and confidence while having fun and making friends in a non-competitive dance environment. Through all these opportunities, DJT prepares kids for a lifetime of success, no matter what path their lives may take.

The Magical Lamp of Aladdin
April 30, May 7 at 1 and 4 p.m., May 1 and May 8 at 2 p.m.
Davenport Junior Theater, 2822 Eastern Ave, Davenport
Tickets: adults $8, ages 3-17 $6, under 2 free, sold at the door
(563) 326-7862

Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.