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The stage is their world

Five actors enacting 39 characters and travelling 80 places on one stage. That’s what artistes from B Street Theatre, California, will do when they premiere their play Around the World in 80 Days later this month at the NCPA. In a tête-à-tête with SUNDAY MiD DAY, director and producer Buck Busfield reveals the method behind the madness

Stampeding elephants, raging typhoons and runaway trains — these are some of the crazy stuff that the audience will be privy to as they watch Phileas Fogg and his manservant race to beat the clock and travel across the globe in 80 days. French writer Jules Verne’s 1873 classic adventure novel titled Around the World in 80 Days has seen umpteen adaptations into plays, television series and films. Now, B Street Theatre, a theatre company from California in association with Jose Thomas Performing Arts Centre (Kochi) will stage their version of the novel later this month at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA).

The play follows the adventures of Phileas Fogg and his manservant; (below) Director-producer Buck Busfield discusses a scene with his crewThe play follows the adventures of Phileas Fogg and his manservant; (below) Director-producer Buck Busfield discusses a scene with his crew

Based on an adaptation by writer Mark Brown, the play, which premiered in 2001 and has been staged at Broadway, Canada, England and South Africa, features five actors playing 39 characters. Director- producer Buck Busfield talks about the making:

The play follows the adventures of Phileas Fogg and his manservant; (below) Director-producer Buck Busfield discusses a scene with his crew

What prompted you to stage Mark Brown’s adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days?
Mark’s adaptation is the perfect balance of simple effective storytelling with heart combined with opportunities for broad theatrical interpretation.

What were the biggest hurdles that you faced while directing this play?
The challenge of a script with 20 plus scenes and five actors playing over 39 characters is to create a unique sense of place and person. As we didn’t have time for lengthy, elaborate scene shifts, we had to pay great attention to where each scene takes place and who are the characters. This demanded talented, versatile actors who had precision in staging. Having said that, using only five actors adds theatrical pop and madness to the production and keeps costs way down (smiles).

Why do you use a foley artiste to create live sound effects rather than recorded effects?
Seeing the sound man create sounds live gives an added theatricality to the production. It also provides immediacy to the work. Canned sound effects work well but having them created and synced to the actor by a sound man is more fun. Audience members love watching him work.

How did you encompass so many diverse places in the play Around the World in 80 Days on stage?
Without fixed sets, locations are established by additions of simple props such as a plat or a sign etc. The real work of portraying the diversity of the place is live sound and the actor’s physical orientation. Fogg’s journey takes him from England to Egypt, India, China and to different regions of America. Regional costumes help create different locations.

Which literary work do you wish to adapt in the future?
I’m excited at the prospect of doing a similar adaptation of Don Quixote.

When: February 21, 7.30 pm
Where: Tata Theatre, NCPA, NCPA Marg, Nariman Point
Call: 22824567, 66223724

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