MSUM alumnus re imagines childhood classic with “Jungle Book”

BY Samantha Stark

starksa@mnstate.edu

MSUM Theatre Arts Department presents “Jungle Book,” their second play of the University Theatre Series, for the general public on Nov. 22 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. at Hansen Theatre.

When the theatre department was deciding to produce this semester’s children’s play they didn’t hesitate to call on theatre alumnus Ryan Soukup to fill the part of director and scriptwriter.

“I have always had a large passion for children’s theatre and focused my studies while in school towards it,” Soukup said.

Soukup has been involved with children’s theatre for the last six years; “Jungle Book” marks his seventh consecutive year involved in the process. 

“I was allowed to pick my show with only a restriction of having a classic title that schools would recognize,” Soukup said. “We took a look at a couple of different shows and then ‘The Jungle Book’ caught my eye.”

This play has never been performed or produced by the MSUM Theatre Arts Department before.

Soukup wrote the script when he couldn’t find one that followed his desired direction for the play. He clarified that there is no correlation between this performance of “Jungle Book” and the Disney version other than being based off the same book.

The story is about a young boy named Mowgli who was left in the jungle to be raised by wolves as an infant when his village was attacked by a tiger. His journey starts with him trying to find his place in his jungle of a world.

“The overall storyline is very similar to the book with some changes that allow us to fit it into a 50 minute show,” Soukup said.

He did a lot of self-research with the different types of animals that can be found in the jungles of India. In addition, Soukup kept most of the original names from the book and just added a few extra characters to help children follow the story easier.

“I didn’t read the full book,” Soukup said. “I did read a few sections of it so that I could understand the overall plot and flow of the story.”

He also worked in an interactive section to the play to keep kids engaged. There are parts of the show that contain moments where the kids can help out the characters.

“There is a part where a spell is being cast so that the kids can understand the animals and the kids are asked to help with the spell,” Soukup said.

Soukup would have been lost without his “right-hand-woman,” assistant director Ann Sheldon.

“I think the best part about being his assistant director was our positive connection and passion to make both children and adults entertained and inspired,” Sheldon said. “The best part about this play is that even though it focuses on children, adults can enjoy this too.”

The show will run for 15 performances from Nov. 13 to 24. Due to the overwhelming amount of performances, they ended up double-casting the last weekend.

“In other words, we have two full casts for the show,” Soukup said.

Each cast takes turns performing on different dates. For example, the lead role of Mowgli is played by senior Chris Pitner and sophomore Kyler Rayhill.

The entire cast is made up of MSUM students and alumni – mostly consisting of theatre arts, film and education majors. In addition, there is one student who attends school at Minnesota State Technical College who has worked for MSUM’s Theatre Department in previous years.

Their first performances for an all-children audience were on Nov. 13 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Hansen Theatre. Since the play was produced purely for children, performances are in the mornings during the week so schools in the area can bring students on field trips.

“The kids were very responsive and generally had some very nice things to say about the show,” Soukup said. “They are always very eager and excited to join in on the fun of the show.”

Go to tickets.mnstate.edu to purchase tickets for the only general public performance on Nov. 22 at MSUM’s Hansen Theatre.

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