Portland's new wolf pack

Going Lobo
By CHELSEA COOK  |  June 8, 2011

tji_wolf_puppets_main
COMING ALIVE A wolf skeleton marionette reanimates in Wolf Song.

A poetry collection adapted for the stage has been taken up as the inspiration for a new Portland theater troupe. Annie Finch's Wolf Song, a collection of writings based on her experiences researching wolves in Montana's Glacier National Park, will come to life with dance, music, and puppetry at Mayo Street Arts this week. The performances will be the debut of Finch's newest effort, Poets Theater of Maine.

Finch, who directs the Stonecoast Writers Program at USM, has collaborated with Stonecoast poetry grad student Erica Vega, director and USM theater professor Assunta Kent, choreographer Brigitte Paulus of Vivid Motion, and composer Christenia Alden-Kinne (whose day job is as a USM School of Music staffer), intending to enhance the language in the stage performance.

"Existing companies weren't dealing with the full poetic possibilities of theater — engaging all the senses including the sense of rhythm," says Finch, who has been working on Wolf Song for the past two years.

In Montana one day, Finch was walking down a "wolf trail," and had not spotted a single wolf. She voiced her concerns to a biologist colleague. The reply was simple: "They let you see them when it's meant to happen." Finch returned to Portland with the decision to "call forth the wolf, or rather, its spirit."

She originally intended to compile her poems into a book, but decided the work would be far better suited to the stage. The underlying theme is the conflict between wolves' reputation as "villains," and their key role as a top predator in a healthy ecosystem. In Act Two, Scene One, for example, the Deer Chorus sings: "When the wolf is here we let some trees alone,/we let the brush grow thick and the animals come,/we let the fish and birds and the butterflies thrive/we help the whole planet come alive!"

Backed with $1000 in Kickstarter funding, Finch remixes folk tales from around the world: The story of Little Red Riding Hood occurs in a dream had by the Boy Who Cried Wolf (who is here given a name, Fenris, another wolfish in-joke). The mythical figure of La Loba, the "bone woman," enchants a wolf skeleton with her song. The skeleton is a marionette made from local pine, "with a heart of pure cherry wood," says its creator, Blainor McGough, director of Mayo Street Arts.

Puppets were a part of the production "from the beginning," says Finch. With Wolf Song's myriad of myths and legends, Kent agreed "something tangible was needed." Vega felt poetry and puppetry were an ideal match for the production. "Anybody can come to a poem and bring life to it," she says, "and puppets are inanimate objects waiting for someone to come and give life to them."

Wolf Song | June 9 & 11 @ 8 pm | Mayo Street Arts, 10 Mayo St, Portland | $10, students $7 | mayostreetarts.org

  Topics: This Just In , Music, Montana, Theater,  More more >
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