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‘Life of Pi’ heads to the ART, then on to Broadway

It takes eight puppeteers to portray the Tiger in “The Life of Pi.” And even with the eight of them, creating the creature is a ferocious task.

The puppeteers create a menagerie’s worth of animals for the stage show based on Yann Martel’s novel. But the role of the tiger is so demanding that teams of three rotate through the responsibility nightly.

“The heart puppeteers needs to have eyes in the back of their head so they can serve the person in front and serve the person behind while having access to different physical qualities, like very explosive movements and very delicate movements,” puppeteer Scarlet Wilderink told the Herald.

“The hind puppeteers have to spend a lot of time on the ground so flexibility and mobility and strength is very key to that position,” Winderink added. “They have to have quite a bit of awareness about what’s around them and quite a bit of calm.”

The roles call for strength, agility, dexterity and endurance. But what comes across on stage is nuance and spectacle.

A smash on London’s West End, “Life of Pi” arrives in America when Broadway audiences seem ready to take chances – the production plays at the ART’s Loeb Drama Center Dec. 4 to Jan 29, 2023 before moving to Broadway in the spring. The ART has been sending bolder and bolder shows to Broadway – see “Six.”

The story of “Life of Pi” is simple: After a shipwreck, 16-year-old Pi is stranded on a lifeboat with four other survivors. The delivery is more complex: The other survivors are a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a Royal Bengal tiger, who are all brought to life by puppeteers.

“I would say the show is incredibly accessible,” said Wilderink, who, in addition to being a puppeteer,  serves as the associate puppetry and movement director. “There’s a lot that you can take away visually and aurally. The sound, the set, the video and the lighting are quite extraordinary. Anyone who enjoys cinema will also enjoy this.”

“If you feel puppets aren’t really you thing, there is a beautiful story line,” she added. “There is something for everybody… there’s an extraordinary amount of artistry on display all in one show.”

Considering the physical demands of the show, Wilderink’s endorsement means a lot. She was part of the original team that put it on in London and was thrilled to do it all again in the States – although Wilderink does have a high threshold for physically demanding puppeteer work (she worked on “War Horse,” another London theater smash).

“On my journey with ‘War Horse,’ I remember thinking I can’t believe I have 15 or 16 months of this,” she said. “But once you find that nice point with your team where you are working so effortlessly and fluidly, it just becomes so enjoyable.”

Wilderink says the cast has to give their bodies a lot of care to make sure they stay fit during the run. But leaving pain behind comes with becoming better at your craft.

“You feel like you are never going to be able to do it, then you are doing it,” she said with a laugh.

For details and tickets, visit

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