Sunday, August 6, was a solemn day for the cast and crew of The Logos Theater. It marked the closing performing of the theater’s stage adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s fantasy novel A Horse And His Boy, which the small South Carolina-based theater company has toured at Washington DC’s Museum of the Bible for the past half year. While the curtain closed one final time on the small stage, it was also a happy occasion for the group, which says it is on the cusp of creating a new age in Christian stage adaptations.
The Logos Theater is not the first or only theater putting on adaptations of C.S. Lewis’s works. The Fellowship For Performing Arts has been touring adaptations of Surprised By Joy, The Screwtape Letters, and The Great Divorce for years. Bird and Baby Productions is similarly touring its shows An Evening With C.S. Lewis and Christmas With C.S. Lewis across the country. The biographical Shadowlands has also been a popular play and film for decades. However, The Logos Theater brings a renewed ambition to Lewis’s works, having premiered their stage adaptation of The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe in 2014 — and they are eager to keep growing.
The Logos Theater’s artistic director Nicole Stratton and puppetmaster Justin Swain spoke with Geeks Under Grace this past week before the final showing of their current play in Washington DC. While they expressed sadness that their current run of shows is over, they made it clear their efforts are nowhere near exhausted. They say their small ministry is on the cusp of a national breakout, with nationally touring shows and larger stages.
“We’re sad to close here at the Museum Of The Bible. It’s been an amazing experience for us and for the museum and audiences. But this is just the beginning of the show!” says Stratton.
How The Logos Theater Adapted Narnia
Seeing their newest play take off with national attention, and watching the popularity of the books grow and fans react to them, Stratton has been surprised by how spectacularly the adaptation has been received.
A Horse And His Boy is the third Narnia adaptation the theater has thus far staged, following up their successful adaptation of Prince Caspian in 2016, in addition to multiple other productions the ministry performs in South Carolina. Their newest show began its life three years ago, but the theater itself began life as part of The Academy of Arts in 1971, founded by Stratton’s father. Their family’s goal was to stage plays and productions as a ministry and promote the arts among Christians.
The Narnia adaptations came about from a need for The Logos Theaters to promote its works better despite lacking funding. The theater’s goals necessitated a familiar project with a large following. One member of the company suggested the Narnia books, but the company was reluctant to do the play unless they could find a respectful way to depict Aslan on stage.
“It was a real journey to bring these books to life. It’s been life-changing. I never thought I’d be working on the Narnia series — which is so beloved and I didn’t want to not do it justice. It is difficult to do them without CGI and special effects. But the Lord has had different plans. We worked with [C.S. Lewis’s stepson] Douglas Gresham and it was a highlight of my life. He really loved the adaptations and okayed my Horse And His Boy adaptation with only two notes — a missing comma and a misspelling. He’s come from Malta twice to stay with us and promote these shows.”
Swain claims Gresham preferred Stratton’s script for Prince Caspian over the one Avengers and Captain America scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely wrote for Disney’s 2008 adaptation of the book, and would have pressed for it had it been written at the time. The ministry would love the opportunity to work with Netflix on its upcoming adaptations with Barbie director Greta Gerwig.
Bringing The Horse And His Boy To Life
The Horse And His Boy initially premiered in March 2019 at the theater’s South Carolina location. It was only a fluke or a strike of fortune that their shows were given the ability to play at The Museum Of The Bible.
Stratton happened to mention in a meeting that places like the museum ought to do more cultural outreach with theaters like Logos Theater and engage with the arts. By chance, a woman in the meeting revealed she worked with the museum and offered to connect them. Within a day, the museum was inquiring about the theater. The Museum has now become a great partner to the theater. The Horse And His Boy is already on its second run after its premiere early this year, running from January 20 to March 3.
While Horse And His Boy isn’t historically considered one of the more popular books in the franchise, Stratton has been surprised by how many fans have told her it is a favorite. She also says that, of the adaptations she’s done, it has proven to be one of the best to adapt for the stage thanks to its flowing narrative and emotional story.
“After you realize your calling and what you need to do, you can get very tired because there are so many obstacles and so many things that come at you. I was at that point, saying ‘Lord we need your help.’ We needed funding and advertising, and I got to the point in the book where it says ‘You must run my boy, you must not stop running,’ and the floodgates opened for me. The Lord was saying ‘Don’t stop running.’ Now we’re in DC and who knows what is next? We’ve gotten incredible feedback!”
A Unique Challenge For A Puppetmaster
The titular stars of the play are of course the massive full-size puppets that serve as the play’s representations of the lion Aslan, and the horses Bree and Hwin. Similar to larger Broadway productions like The Lion King and Life Of Pi, the production uses large complex puppets, some of which require multiple actors coordinating inside a large suit with limited vision. As one of the puppeteers told me, it takes weeks to train the puppeteers to coordinate and work together in the suits.
Some of the problems with touring the Narnia plays are the logistics of moving large animal puppets from city to city. As Swain notes, “There’s upkeep — the puppets take a beating night after night. It’s hard to develop a new show when we’re touring because I need to be there and keep up maintenance, which means I am not developing the next show.”
Thankfully, there have only been a few show-stopping mistakes with their massive puppets, but something breaks or goes wrong at least once per night. “Sometimes a piece tears and it’s not a big deal, but other times we’re like ‘as soon as this character gets off stage, slap a toolkit on it and get it back out there,'” says Swain.
Also, as Swain was proud to point out, Mythbusters star Adam Savage gave a shoutout to The Logos Theater in an episode of his series Tested, after one of his colleagues sold him a set of Telmarine armor props from the Disney adaptation. He was very complimentary of the show’s approach to puppeteering.
The Future Of The Logos Theater
The Logos Theater has an aggressive and agile approach to production. The theater moves fast and has been able to get its productions from script to stage in a year. The company is currently developing The Silver Chair but is taking the process slower while they currently have multiple plays being staged.
It eventually plans to have adaptations of all seven Narnia books completed, but it is taking its time doing so. The three adaptations they have already completed give the theater some latitude to perform existing plays while preparing larger ones. Unfortunately, some of the books will require more resources than the Logos Theater currently has. It does not want to stage Voyage Of The Dawn Treader or The Last Battle without a larger and more technologically adept stage.
“There is always a way to do it without the added scale and effects, but I want the books to get world premieres at places where they can be blown out of the water with promotion and press. These books deserve that attention. They are top-notch,” she says. “We won’t do Dawn Treader until we can find a stage that can handle the boat that is in my head. Silver Chair is the last book I can produce on a stage that isn’t designed for Narnia. In my mind, we have an idea for a stage called ‘The C.S. Lewis Theater.’ Think of it with a similar design to Sight & Sound, with lifts and turntables that allow us to put ideas forth in a way that isn’t underwhelming.”
While Horse And His Boy has officially closed in Washington DC, the show has not permanently closed. It will be staged again in Branson, Missouri from December 7-16. The Museum of the Bible is also set to stage Logos’ adaptation of Prince Caspian between February 23 and April 28.
The Logos Theater in Taylors, South Carolina is currently staging The Scarlet Pimpernel: An Original Musical from September 22 to November 11. Previous Productions are available online through the Virtual Logos Theater.