Arts and Humanities
3:30 pm
Tue February 4, 2014

Louisville Writers Pull Back the Curtain on Robin Hood Play

As two of the six co-artistic directors of Louisville’s Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble, Abigail Bailey Maupin and Greg Maupin have built dozens of original shows from scratch. But when Stage One Family Theatre commissioned them to write a new play about Robin Hood, they faced new challenges.

In Le Petomane, the ensemble collaborates on every aspect of show, from design to choreography. There is no single director, nor a designated playwright. “The Glorious Adventures of the Mighty Robin Hood” (exclamation point implied) is the first script the Maupins have penned together and then handed off to a separate director, cast and design team.

“It’s like sending a kid off to school,” says Abigail. “It’s good for them, and you want that kid to go off into the world, but you know when that kid comes home at the end of the day, it’s going to be a different child than when you sent them away. And that’s hard.”

It’s also their first script aimed specifically at the elementary school set. Greg says writing for kids mostly affects their vocabulary choices, but like their Le Petomane shows, there’s still a strong Looney Tunes aesthetic at play.

“We tried to keep that spirit in it,” he says. “Not to talk down, to aim high – to aim not above their heads but at the top of their range. In our experience performing for children they will adjust to that.”

So this is no ordinary Robin Hood tale. It’s a play-within-a-play about a troupe of actors rehearsing their own Robin Hood play before performing at the village market. That means they can write an equal number of female and male roles, Greg says, thanks to the tradition of the “pants role”– women playing young male characters.

“A Robin Hood story means a whole bunch of dudes and no ladies,” says Greg. “As working actors, there are not enough roles for women, and we didn’t want to throw out into the world like a seven-man, one-woman show, again, like anyone needs that.”

“But we also didn’t want to write a phony spunky warrior princess, which has nothing to do with the story of Robin Hood and inevitably takes over the story in a weird way,” he adds. “[Stage One] didn’t ask us for that. They didn’t want Katniss Everdeen and the Merry Men.”

So there’s a Maid Marion, of course – traditionally the only main female role in a Robin Hood tale. But in the Maupins’ version, the director of the play-within-a-play is portrayed by a woman. And then there’s the apprentice – a young woman trying to learn a number of different parts with her more experienced castmates.

“It’s a teamwork thing. And that allowed us to focus on the Merry Men more than Robin,” says Greg. “There is no auteur theory going on in this show, it’s a bunch of messy people out in the woods trying to make this show work.”

“Unlike your usual Hitchcockian children’s show,” he muses, with a laugh. “Your Truffaut Winnie-the-Pooh.”

This is a show for young audiences, so some of those teamwork themes are very clearly articulated – how to listen to others, why emergency plans are a good idea, when to offer a helping hand. It’s life lessons dressed up in a “this is how a play is made” costume.

“Which is delightful in some ways, but a real challenge in others,” says Abigail. “We don’t want to be patronizing to the kids, because they get that, they understand when you’re doing that.”

Even the diction of the play aims high. The language of the play-within-the-play is a modified Elizabethan-style verse – after all, the Maupins are also accomplished Shakespeare artists, and the show is set in a pre-Industrial age. But when the action in rehearsal stops the actors speak a more contemporary English, to give the kids a break and to keep them on their toes.

“A whole show of the verse and the higher language might be tough for the kids to handle for an hour and fifteen minutes,” says Abigail. “Switching up between the ridiculous melodrama of Robin Hood into the rehearsals, where the actual conflict is, forces them to stay engaged in a way that they might lose if it was all one or all the other.”

“The Glorious Adventures of the Mighty Robin Hood” is playing now for school audiences. A public performance is scheduled February 21 at the Kentucky Center’s Bomhard Theatre.