“Charlotte’s Web,” adapted for the stage by Joseph Robinette, is a classic piece of children’s literature that teaches young audiences about the meaning of friendship and sacrifice. Produced by the Department of Theatre and Dance, the play follows the life of Wilbur, a piglet runt who turns to his newfound barn-mates for the miracle that will spare his life. Through this journey, they all discover what it means to be a true friend. The show will run for a six show weekend at West Chester University, and then hit the road to bring the story to life in several surrounding area elementary schools.
To highlight the child-like wonder of Wilbur and his barnyard friends, Associate Professor and Director, Charlie DelMarcelle, decided to put a spin on the adaptation. Each animal Wilbur meets in the barn is a carefully crafted handheld puppet made by Puppet Fabricator Victoria Naftal (‘25). The actors that voice and handle the puppets are clad in black, bringing the focus to their fuzzy counterparts. DelMarcelle and Naftal worked together to find just the right style for the puppets that would delight an audience of restless elementary schoolers. Naftal said, “With these puppets having a hand-made style to them, it explores the idea of a child playing with stuffed animals and toys.” The animal puppets are soft and textured, with glossy eyes and felted features, and would look right at home in any child’s playroom.
There is something truly beautiful about the way the puppets invite audience members of all ages to become invested in the stakes of a little pig’s life. Naftal admits that making an audience care is one of the trickier things about live theater, hoping that “the magic of puppets will draw them into the story and allow them to believe there are talking animals running about the stage in front of them.” In seeing the animal characters take up real space and reacting and fully living in their outrageous reality, the audience grows attached to them. Naftal continues, “To me, puppetry is about reaching everyone’s inner child.” The puppets bring a tangible reality to a story chock-full of disbelief; talking animals, spelling spiders and piglet-saving miracles.
Not only do the puppets engage an audience, but they offer the actors a new opportunity to connect with their characters as well. Eli McBride (‘26), playing Wilbur, handles three different Wilbur puppets in the show, each one larger than the last. He elaborates, “It’s fun getting to work with each puppet! It’s difficult because I spend a different amount of time with each puppet, but I need to learn to operate them all with ease. I needed to learn how to make them move realistically and similarly, since they’re all the same character.” McBride at first found it difficult to balance focus on the puppet with focus on the story. But after time, he said, “I’ve read and reread the original book, and I’ve begun looking at the puppet as an extension of myself rather than a separate being.”
Though “Charlotte’s Web” is a children’s tale, there is truly something to be loved in the show for all ages. On his childhood experience with the beloved story, McBride says, “Getting to bring a story to life that I’ve loved so dearly is a dream come true. I love “Charlotte’s Web” because I think it teaches a variety of lessons to not only children, but to everyone. These lessons include learning to deal with death and grief, understanding our own individual skill sets, seeing beauty in every place we can and maturing as you grow. This story was incredibly important to my development in life, and I hope it can give the same thing to the children who see this show.”
West Chester University’s “Charlotte’s Web” is a display of honest acting, beautiful craftsmanship and the product of joyful teamwork. At every turn, there is a lesson to be learned and artistry to admire. Naftal says, “I want my art to be a positive vessel for the art of others, and I believe that is exactly what is happening through this play.”
Performances of “Charlotte’s Web” are Friday, March 3 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 4 at 2:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m. (ASL Performance), and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 5 at 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. at the Mainstage Theatre in the E.O. Bull Center for the Arts. Tickets are available for $12 at the door, or online at the following link for The West Chester University Box Office: https://wcupatix.com/theatreanddance.
Hope McGinnis is a fourth-year musical theatre major with a minor in creative writing. HM932869@wcupa.edu