By Aaron Chatha
Aslan is the kind of larger-than-life puppet that puts every other larger-than-life puppet to shame.
Operated by two very talented actors and puppeteers, Bruce Horak and Jarod Blake, the lion sits on both their shoulders and is operated by a series of interlocked pulleys and levers. Created by the Stratford Festival, it’s graciously been rented to Alberta Theatre Projects for the current production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Both performers grip their arms through Aslan’s thighs to move his front and back legs. There are pivot points on the knees and paws to make the movement look organic.
Aslan’s head is on a spring, so it can naturally bounce as he moves. When Horak, who also voices the mighty lion, needs more control, he lets go of the paws and can take control of the head handles directly.
At the same time, Blake can operate the tail from the back, or work his knees to bring Aslan to more of a sitting or kneeling position.
“What’s been really important, what we’ve discovered, is the importance of keeping the puppet alive – even when Aslan’s not speaking or moving,” explained Blake.
Both actors studied lions and other animals to nail the movements.
The actors need to be completely in sync for the movement to feel believable – an unenviable task, considering both actors just met through this production. Naturally, stairs have been one of the biggest challenges. If one of the actors is off, the whole puppet could go toppling over.
And of course, this isn’t just any old lion.
Aslan, the King of Beasts, son of the Emperor-Over-the-Sea and the King above all High Kings in Narnia is a major character is C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, and plays a key role The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Which means he talks.
In the movie version, Aslan was voiced by Liam Neeson. Inside the puppet, Horak is rigged with a microphone to amplify his already resounding, bass-heavy voice.
Horak said he drew his version of Aslan from the audiobook versions of the book – which was how he first experienced the story as a child.
“There’s a little bit of Patrick Stewart, and a touch of the guy who voices Optimus Prime,” Horak chuckled.
As mighty as the lion is, it’s just one part of the magic and wonder that is Narnia.
“It’s caked in wonder,” said Horak. “That’s the true magic in the story. Every single audience member wonders what’s on the other side when Lucy goes through the wardrobe.”
You can find out for yourself, as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe runs until December 29 at Alberta Theatre Projects.
We’ll see you on the other side of the wardrobe.
For tickets, visit albertatheatreprojects.com or call 403-294-7402
Top Photo: Bruce Horak and Jerod Blake as Aslan the Lion and members of the Children’s Chorus in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.’ Photo by Benjamin Laird. Set/Costume Design by Hanne Loosen. Lighting Design by Siobhán Sleath.