The Man Who Planted Trees

Seattle Children’s Theatre welcomes Puppet State Theatre Company of Scotland to Seattle for The Man Who Planted Trees by Richard Medrington, Rick Conte and Ailie Cohen. The Man Who Planted Trees is based on the beloved book by Jean Gionoand directed by Cohen. Hear the wind, feel the rain, smell the lavender and laugh with Dog in this multi-sensory theatrical delight. Based on Jean Giono’s classic novel, this play is an unique blend of comedy and puppetry and tells the inspiring, ecologically-oriented tale of a human being who saw a need and decided not to ignore it but "to put things right." In spite of wars and hardship, a French shepherd sets out with his dog to plant a forest and transform a barren wasteland, one acorn at a time. This uplifting and unforgettable story shows us the difference one man (and his dog!) can make to the world.

“This is a completely charming story of the difference one person can make in the world,” says SCT Artistic Director Linda Hartzell. “The remarkable actors/puppeteers from Puppet State Theatre Company manage to bring this early 20th-century world alive in a funny and energetic way, engaging all of our senses in an unforgettable day of theatre.”

The Man Who Planted Trees is the story of a French shepherd, Elzéard Bouffier, who sets out with his dog to plant a forest and transform a barren wasteland one acorn at a time. Across a lifetime and through two world wars, Elzéard maintains his steadfast commitment to “put things right.” Puppet State Theatre Company’s production is multi-sensory, inviting audiences to hear the wind, feel the rain and smell the lavender in this theatrical delight.

“We have performed this production over a thousand times in venues from tents on windswept hillsides, tiny village halls on remote Scottish islands to the Lincoln Center Institute and the Sydney Opera House,” says Puppet State’s Medrington. “There is something about this story that seems to strike a chord wherever we go and for that reason – as well as the fact that we get to make up new bits all the time – we never tire of performing it.”

The story itself has an interesting history. Though it has been published in book form, it is more accurate to characterize it as a short story at just about 4,000 words. While it is the work he is best known for outside of his native France, Giono refused to accept any royalties for the story and granted free use to anyone who wanted to distribute or translate it. In a 1957 letter, Giono said, “The goal was to make trees likeable, or more specifically, make planting trees likeable (this has always been one of my fondest ideas). And if I judge based on the results, it seems to have been attained… It is one of my works of which I am most proud. It does not bring me a cent, and this is why it is able to achieve the goal for which it was written.”

An amazing man, a talking dog, and an entire forest—this is the beautiful story of how one person can make a difference in the world.  In 1913, Jean Giono left the city to explore the French countryside in search of space and air and peace. What he found there was a barren wasteland, devoid of water and greenery and hope. The people who lived in the village he stumbled upon were hard and deliberate, barely eking out a living by continually cutting down whatever vegetation they grew. The land was arid and unworkable. Or so it seemed.

Luckily, as he ran out of water, Jean found a rough-hewn, but sturdy, shepherd’s hut, and with it a stoic and serene shepherd who knew love and heartache, peace and hope. Elzéard Bouffier, and his boisterous dog, collected acorns, carefully, so that he could plant hundreds of thousands of them to get tens of thousands of trees to grow. To save his land from “dying for lack of trees” the shepherd strived to achieve beyond himself to “put things right.”

As WWI marched across Europe, Elzéard continued on with his project. Collecting acorns and planting trees, farther and farther from his home, determined to change the very landscape of his country. After the war, Jean was drawn back to that airy hilltop with Elzéard’s trees. Though his heart was rimmed with the grim realities of what he had seen in the war, he longed for that simple, pure place. The trees grew and died, flourished and failed, as it is in life. But still Elzéard continued and the forest grew. Soon, the government took notice of the gorgeous young forest and declared it a protected area, until WWII descended on France and that protection turned to exploitation as the need for fuel overshadowed all else. Luckily, Elzéard’s forest had grown so vast that it was largely unharmed, and at the war’s end the government was in uproar and turned their attentions away from deforestation.

Again, Jean felt compelled to return. The barren land that had greeted him so harshly thirty-three years earlier was replete with trees and rivers, the air full of birdsong and lush smells. The once desolate village was now a place of life and laughter, hope and happiness. By then, Elzéard was 87 years old and still planting his trees. Two years later, Elzéard Bouffier died. The people who enjoyed the fruits of his lifelong labor had no idea that one man had made their homes and lives possible. One man, and his dog, selflessly, for the sake of doing good, truly changed the world.

 

Puppet State was founded in 2003 by Medrington, who has worked as a professional puppeteer since 1984. In 2006 he teamed up with Conte and Cohen to develop this production.  Aided by stage/office manager Elspeth Murray and administrator Jennifer Williams, the first three years of touring saw The Man Who Planted Trees performed more than 800 times in all corners of the UK, Ireland and the Channel Islands, Bermuda, Malaysia, and the USA. Awards include the Eco Prize for Creativity 2007, Total Theatre Award for Story Theatre 2008, Victor Award for best show at the International Performing Arts for Youth Showcase in Cleveland, Ohio and Best Children's Show at the Brighton Festival 2009.

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The Man Who Planted Trees

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