Jerry Hager directs and tours his own adaptation of the classic tales
Twenty years ago, when Jerry Hager met the chair of the Grossmont College Theatre Arts Department, he noticed a picture of Marcel Marceau hanging behind the desk.
“It was kismet,” says the 28 year-resident of Santee, who is a ‘mime artist’ like the renowned Marceau. Hager has been teaching at Grossmont ever since that first meeting, and he helms the only Theater Mime Class in Southern California. It’s one of many techniques he uses to tell stories, which has been the cornerstone of his life.
Hager also came up with the idea of taking a Grossmont College touring show into local schools.
“I had expertise with children’s theater,” he says, “and a long association with Young Audiences of San Diego.” Every spring, he tours a new show to high schools. But Fall is elementary school time.
“All the shows we do,” Hager says of his annual adaptations, ”connect strongly with literacy. I select a children’s book, adapt it for elementary school students, and then, when we depart, we leave a copy of the book for their library.”
This year, his show is “Aesop’s Fables,” composed of 15 classic tales that teach lessons about human foibles, common sense and morality.
“I determined 15 different ways we get our stories,” says Hager, “from church sermons or slide shows, in classrooms or at bedtime, around a campfire or from a political debate. So, each fable is presented in a different storytelling package; one is even done in song.”
Hager chose many lesser-known tales, such as “The Mice in Counsel,” “The Moon and Her Mother” and “Two Bags.”
Making use of his background in movement theater, he encourages “physical action, imagery, gesturing and posturing” in the ten student actors who comprise the cast.
“This is a specific and unique type of theater presentation,” Hager explains. “The actors themselves become the set components, through a process called ‘figurative mime,’ where they posture themselves like a sculpture to create an image closely related to the real world.
“For example, in ‘The Dog and His Reflection,’ actors become the dog, the town, the butcher shop and the bridge. It’s fun and imaginative. It sparks, ignites and fires up the imagination of both performers and audience.”
Continuing the theme of the timelessness of stories, Hager suggested that the students’ clothes come from different occupations or time periods. So the costumes are wildly varied, from pirate to gypsy, ballerina to cowgirl to butler. At first, the cast is seated in the audience, and they engage their neighbors with stories (each knows five additional Aesop fables).
Aesop was thought to be a Greek writer who lived in 600 B.C. But there are few details of his life, and Hager notes that scholars believe his fables are a compilation of tales from multiple anonymous writers.
“I wanted to embrace that notion with the look of the actors,” he says. “The stories were not just from one region or time. Story is so much a part of the world, and always will be.”
The 45-minute show, targeted for grades K-6, will appeal to older students and adults as well, “just like modern animated films.” Three public performances will be held this weekend; then the show tours for eight weeks.
There are still openings in the schedule (the reasonable $125 fee makes a great gift from parents to cash-strapped schools, Hager suggests). So far, no Santee schools have responded to the call.
So come on, Santee! Support a local director, and foster the learning of life-lessons that have endured for thousands of years. You may just pick up a few pointers yourself.
“Aesop’s Fables” runs for three performances, October 20-21: Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and Saturday at 2pm, at the Stagehouse Theatre on the campus of Grossmont College, 8800 Grossmont College Dr.
Tickets ($10-$12) are available at 619-644-7234.