Andy Belser directs the "movement-based ensemble work," featuring original music by John Nuhn. People's Light & Theatre is the resident professional company in Malvern, PA.
"Crispin: The Cross of Lead" is author Avi's 50th book and won a Newbery Medal. This People's Light adaptation by resident playwright Davis is part of the Adaptation Project, an NEA-funded program that brings award-winning children's literature to the stage.
According to production notes, "England in the year 1377 is ravaged by plague and ruled by despotic noblemen. After being declared a 'wolf's head' for a crime he didn't commit (meaning that anyone can kill him for a reward), an orphaned 13-year-old boy must flee his village. He meets Bear, a traveling entertainer, who becomes his protector and teacher and shows him a world full of music, juggling and torch-lit intrigue. As Crispin's secret identity is revealed, he learns about loyalty, friendship and the courage it takes to discover your true self."
The work is "best appreciated by ages eight and up."
Davis stated, "I did not know about 'Crispin' until my agent asked me to read it. Her 11-year-old son loved the book and she knew we could get the rights. I immediately realized that I liked the medieval world it creates, and I also liked the character of Bear very much because he is a juggler." Davis has been a juggling and unicycling instructor for the Big Apple Circus' Circus Arts in Education program, and led circus workshops at various theatres, universities and schools.
Avi gave his permission to move forward with the adaptation and also approved the first draft of Davis' script. Davis added, "I am a playwright myself, but in this instance, I felt that it was my job to be true to the book. I did my best to bring the story to life without making any radical changes. It takes a whole different set of skills, and that made this project both interesting and challenging."
Director Belser is the founder and artistic director of The Gravity Project and director of the Juniata Theatre Conservatory. The Gravity Project "is a multi–disciplinary, movement-based ensemble of artists based out of the Juniata College Theatre" in Huntingdon, PA.
Many of the cast members are also ensemble members for The Gravity Project. Belser directed other Davis works including The Second Death of Priscilla and The Wild Goose Circus.
The character of Bear is played by People's Light company member Christopher Patrick Mullen. Russell has been working with him on his juggling skills for about a year. "Chris is a very talented juggler," stated Davis. "For a long time we were looking for a juggler who can act. With Chris, you have an excellent actor who has been trained to become an excellent juggler. I think he is very adept and will make a great Bear."
The cast includes Josh Beckel, Erin Brueggemann as Crispin, Kathleen Lisa Clarke, Nathan Dryden, Michael Lopez, Stephen Novelli and Julianna Zinkel.
The creative team includes scenic designer Randy Ward, costume designer Marla Jurglanis, lighting designer John Ambrosone, sound designer John Nuhn, movement conceiver Stephanie Skura, dramaturg Megan Monahan and stage manager Kate McSorley.
Opening is Jan. 18. For tickets and information, call (610) 644-3500 or visit www.peopleslight.org.