As the red curtain rose at IU Cinema, the screen showed a crowd at the National Theatre in London preparing to watch a live performance of “War Horse” starring a marionette horse.
Sunday evening, the IU Cinema presented National Theatre Live’s production of “War Horse,” a performance art piece that is played from the theater in London to cinemas across the country.
The show was performed with actors and a horse that was created by the Handstring Puppet Company in England, controlled by three puppeteers who move the horse in realistic ways.
IU Cinema director Jon Vickers said the puppet’s movements are very convincing and the object has a distinct personality given to it by the puppeteers.
Sunday’s performance of “War Horse” is a Broadway production based on a book by Michael Morpurgo and follows the life of a young horse from Ireland as he is sold to various owners and serves in World War I. The play won the Tony award for “Best Play” in 2011, along with six other awards. The story was also adapted into a 2011 film directed by Steven Spielberg.
National Theater Live is a popular theater group in London that has expanded to bring performing arts to a cinema audience, making it cheaper and more accessible, Vickers said.
To do this, they allow their performances to be played in cinemas, sometimes streamed live.
When the IU Cinema began showing these performances a year and a half ago, it became the second venue in the state of Indiana to host them. The only other venue was the cinema at Notre Dame, where Vickers worked before coming to IU.
“There has been a desire to bring this to IU and the IU Cinema,” Vickers said. “We resisted for a while because we wanted to be mainly focused on film, but there was a need in the community to do this.”
Vickers said the cinema had been getting a lot of emails from students and faculty from the theater department who wanted to include tzhese programs and offer them on campus.
Coming from Notre Dame, where the films have been wildly successful, Vickers decided to add them to the cinema’s programming.
The program has been met with a lot of success, Vickers said.
People traveled from neighboring states including Ohio, Illinois and Kentucky to see the performance.
The programs haven’t been widely adopted around the country.
English professors De Witt Kilgore and Ranu Samantrai brought their two children to see the performance because of their love of IU Cinema and the National Theatre in London, where they have attended performances many times, Kilgore said.
“Bloomington used to be a place that didn’t have a venue to see independent cinema,” he said. “The big chains have been spotty at best. IU Cinema has put Bloomington on the map.”
Kilgore has lived in Bloomington since 1996 and said he sees these performances as a great addition to the community.
Since the Cinema began its live performances, Indianapolis has begun to show performance pieces at the Keystone Art Cinema, becoming the third venue in Indiana.
Previous live performances have included the Shakespeare plays “Othello,” “Macbeth” and “Coriolanus” and other genres such as comedy, drama and tragedy.
The Cinema is still waiting to hear from National Theatre Live about next semester’s performances, but it tries to include at least one a
“This has been a successful program for us and we intend to continue it,” Vickers said.