He goes by Kala, and he is one of the more unusual actors to grace the stage of the Lyric Theatre.
But don’t expect Kala to take a bow after his performance in the Lyric Theatre’s production of “Big Kala and Little Toomia” later this month.
Kala is a bull elephant who stands 9 1/2 feet tall at the shoulder.
More precisely, he’s a mechanical elephant, built from scratch by the Dr. Nicholas Ewen, the play’s director and technical director and script writer. Ewen teaches in Howard Payne University’s Department of Theatre.
The play’s five-member cast consists of HPU students, and three puppeteers — one of them Ewen — control the elephant, which walks, moves his trunk, flaps his ears, moves his tail and emits elephant trumpet blasts.
The play is based on Rudyard Kipling’s short story “Toomai of the Elephants” and will be performed for schoolchildren who are bussed to the theatre. There will also be family showings.
“It’s about this young girl whose father is an elephant trainer, an elephant master, of Kala, who is the greatest of all the war elephants in the Indian Royal Army,” Ewen said.
“Kala is 70 years old. He’s been in hundreds of battles. They use Kala to train the other elephants. He’s an old, old bull. So what happens in the story is, Toomia is the daughter of this elephant trainer. She’s a young girl and she has a very close relationship with the elephant. They’re just best friends, and one night Kala escapes in the jungle, and goes out on a wild run through the jungle and meets hundreds of other elephants for with they call the elephant dance, where they just stomp down the jungle for four or five acres.”
Ewen said he built most of the elephant on the HPU campus and transported it to the Lyric, with its head separate from its body. Materials used included wood, chicken wire, papier mache, foam and tape. Kala’s eyes are actually doorstops from Home Depot.
“I’ve never been involve in making something this big,” Ewen said. I would say, if word gets out about it, people will come just to see the elephant itself.”
Late Thursday afternoon, a rehearsal consisted of the puppeteers practicing maneuvering the large mechanical pachyderm around the stage with cast member Sara Heinrichs, portraying Toomia, perched high on his back.
Lyric managing director Eric Evans said there has never previously been an elephant on the Lyric stage. “I’ve never even seen something of this size,” Evans said. “It’s certainly unique to Brownwood. It’s not a normal thing.”
School showings are Nov. 12-13 between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Family showings are:
• Sunday, Nov. 11 — 2:30 p.m.
• Monday, Nov. 12 — 7:30 p.m.
• Tuesday, Nov. 13 — 7:30 p.m.