Entertainment » Theatre

Meet Jon Riddleberger :: He Makes the War Horse Gallop

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Nov 28, 2012

Jon Riddleberger is an out actor and writer who is game for talky roles from Shakespeare to Ibsen; but he is currently mute in his role as actor-puppeteer as he animates those amazing horses Joey and Topthorn in the National Touring company of the Tony Award-winning drama "War Horse." Edge spoke to the actor recently.

Without giving too much away about the design and engineering of the life-size puppets designed by South Africa's Handspring Puppet Company, Riddleberger said that audiences all over the country are fascinated with the stagecraft of the production. The challenge for him as an actor, playing Joey, is to stay in the moment of the performance.

"There is a lot of choreography with the horses, so we have marks to hit, they give us point A and point B, but how we get there is really ours. As an actor that is continually exciting to have that freedom," he added. "This is a large cast of 32 people onstage at times, so we have to be a tight ensemble. If an actor delivers a line slightly louder for instance, or move differently, as horses, we react differently to that sound."

Even though Steven Spielberg filmed Michael Morpurgo’s popular children’s novel last year, Riddleberger thinks of this more as a theater piece because of the elaborate stagecraft involved and he notes that the Steven Spielberg film is based on a book and has a completely different focus.

The versatile actor is currently "a single gay man on tour so... yes, the world is my oyster," he joked, but he said, without doubt, touring for extended periods does upend your life and he misses family and friends. The actor has been blogging and tweeting about his experiences on tour on his website and he is looking forward to a having a speaking role again.

Last year, Riddleberger played a caustic Madame Pernelle in "Tartuffe" and that he is missing both the heels and the avalanche of Moliere’s dialogue.

When he finishes the tour next year, Riddleberger will get back to the unconventional classics at Theatre Reconstruction Ensemble, a New York based collective of theater artists launched in 2010 that is developing plays and experimenting with new ways to present classic theater.
TRE recently staged Chekhov’s "The Seagull" and "Three Sisters" titled "The Three Seagulls or MASHAMASHAMASHA!" at HERE Arts Center in Manhattan.

"It included all the characters from both plays. It’s a unique approach and I can’t wait to get back to it," Riddleberger said.

Riddleberger received his BFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts Experimental Theatre Wing. His full-length play "The Ballad of Thimblebear" is currently in development and was last seen workshopping in Louisville. Meanwhile, he’s unbridled and galloping onstage in "War Horse."

"War Horse" runs at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia, continues through Dec. 2, 2012. For more information, visit the Kimmel Center website.

Upcoming engagements for the production include Chicago, 12/18/2012-1/5/2013 and Denver, 1/8 - 1/20/2013. For more information, visit the "War Horse" website.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.


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