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Saturday, October 10, 2015

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In the heart of a War Horse

Tags: Arts
War Horse Canadian cast 2012 [Photo by Brinkhoff / Mögenburg]

Toronto-based actor Troy Feldman has done a lot of things. He’s a breakdancer, parkour (urban acrobat) artist, acrobat and stuntman.

But the Hamilton native knows his latest role inside and out – literally. Feldman is performing the role of the horse’s heart in the award-winning show War Horse, playing at Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto until June 30.

“It takes one actor who with a steel pole manipulates the head with cords and triggers on it,” Feldman says. “Then me, I’m the heart. I control the front legs and the breathing, which is done through my own breathing and through the legs of the horse. Another actor is the hind.”

War Horse begins in England, at the start of World War I. Joey, the beloved horse of young Albert, is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France. Joey is soon caught up in enemy fire. Fate takes him on an extraordinary journey. Albert, never forgets Joey, and embarks on a treacherous mission to find his horse.

It takes three actors to manipulate each puppet horse. The puppets were created by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones of Handspring Puppet Company. The horses are life-size and lightweight, yet very strong so that they can be ridden. Each horse’s skeletal frame is made of cane and detailed with wood, elastic, leather and wire. Feldman’s team rotates playing horses Joey, Topthorn and the German gun-team horses. He also plays a crow puppet.

Feldman was trained to manoeuvre the puppets especially for War Horse; before this production, his closest role was some mascot work. Feldman enjoyed learning this new skill, which is constantly evolving for him and the other actors, six teams in all that perform within the horse puppets. Feldman says he strives each night for a perfect show, which he feels takes a lot of strength and endurance.

 “When you get onstage, for me it is a bit harder to see because the head and mane is right in front of me. The hind has more vision. It is super important when you are in the horse to use your peripheral vision, because when you are in the horse it is teamwork. For example, the person playing the head is running backwards most of the time. He is the only one out of the horse, and he can see everything behind us as we are going forward.”

In the starring role of Albert is Alex Furber. Also joining Feldman onstage in lead roles are Brad Rudy, Tamara Bernier-Evans, Steven Yaffee, Patrick Galligan, Melanie Doane and Richard McMillan, who Feldman worked with in Mirvish Production’s Lord of the Rings.

Feldman’s other theatrical offerings have included The Forbidden Phoenix; Off The Wall; A Soldier’s Tale and Jesus Christ Superstar. His film credits are Score: A Hockey Musical, White Collar Criminals, Stepping Up 2 and Stuntman. 

War Horse is produced by the National Theatre of Great Britain, National Angels, Bob Boyett and David Mirvish. It is based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo and adapted by Nick Stafford, in association with Handspring Puppet Company

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