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Getting into the Pooh Mood is Easy for Actor

Photo by Angela Staggs, courtesy of Improbable Fiction Theatre Co.)
The cast of Improbable Fiction Theatre Co.’s “The House at Pooh Corner” rehearses this week in front of Pooh’s Cottage for the upcoming children’s comedy, which will run Friday through April 24 at The Ivy Tech Auditorium in Noblesville.

If you’ve ever wondered if seeing a grown man dressed in a Winnie-the-Pooh costume is worth the price of admission, you will have gotten your money’s worth attending this show.

Yes, you can almost taste the honey.

Noblesville’ Daniel Shock — who has identified with the honey-loving Pooh since Shock was “a skinny kid” — not only puts on the costume, he does the walk, the mannerisms and “the voice” of Pooh.

“I have watched the Disney Pooh cartoons so many times. I know how Pooh moves and talks. He has a wobble because he doesn’t have knees. He does not try to hide his tummy. I am often doing whatever I can to make my tummy look smaller … (but) now it’s all out there … loud and proud,” said Shock, who stars as the beloved fictional teddy bear that belongs to Christopher Robin in A.A. Milne’s “The House on Pooh Corner.” The “gentle” children’s comedy, adapted by Bettye Knapp, opens Friday at The Ivy Tech Auditorium in Noblesville. Performances continue through April 24. Tickets are still available.

“It was my Pooh voice and my love of Pooh as I discussed the character with Dana Lesh, our director, that inspired us to find a play and produce it,” Shock said.

“Daniel Shock was, of course, Winnie-the-Pooh from the beginning,” Lesh added. “He perfectly embodies the character. It’s amazing to watch.”

She said, “As long as I’ve known Daniel, he has been able to do the Pooh voice perfectly and would sometimes just throw it out during a normal conversation, making everyone laugh.”

(Photo by Angela Staggs, courtesy of Improbable Fiction Theatre Co.)
Diann Ryan of Carmel as Piglet (from left), Daniel Shock of Noblesville as Winnie-the-Pooh and Geoff Lynch of Noblesville as Tigger, rehearse this week for Improbable Fiction Theatre Co.’s “The House at Pooh Corner,” which runs Friday through April 24 at The Ivy Tech Auditorium in Noblesville.

Shock couldn’t help but share his story about growing up with Pooh, who was voiced in the original Disney films by character actor Sterling Holloway. “He has a soft melodic voice that is so expressive, you can almost taste the honey. All my life, I’ve tried to do the voice, singing along with the film, listening to the storybook record as a child and (as an) adult. I found it very, very difficult initially,” Shock said. “However, as my voice has aged, it has become much more Pooh-ish, and it’s become much easier to do.”

Shock said, “He’s a character I can’t play without doing the voice.” While some may want to put their own style into it, Shock would rather inhabit the Pooh he grew up loving.

Winnie-the-Pooh has been at Shock’s side since he was very young. “My mamaw gave me my first stuffed Pooh bear at the age of 5 for Christmas. On the way home from their house, somehow it fell out of the car and it was lost. I cried and cried. When my grandmother heard about it, she immediately sent me a replacement. I was overjoyed. I still have that little bear,” he said. “I have memories of my mother reading the books to me, baking Pooh cakes for my birthday, and my father telling me bedtime stories of my adventures with Pooh … I don’t know what it was about the gentle mustard-colored bear who is always hungry. But I connected with him.”

If readers are wondering about Pooh and other show characters’ costumes, they’re all altered character pajamas by talented costumer Tamara Rulon of Noblesville, Shock said. “They are not full face. Our human faces are framed with a character hood.”

In the costumes, actors’ faces are completely visible so that their expressions can be easily seen and their voices clearly heard. Miriam Posluszny of Noblesville is also helping with costumes.

While the costumes were a “chunk of the budget,” the director said Rulon’s wizardry managed to keep down the costs. When IFTC was founded in 2017, the thespians received an Indiana Arts Commission Regional Initiative Project grant, and again the year after that. The theater used the grant money to fund its first few productions and, from there, were able to fund the next year’s projects based on ticket sales from previous shows. IFTC works in conjunction with fiscal agent and partner Nickel Plate Arts nonprofit, which has supported IFTC’s endeavors from the beginning, Lesh said. Show rehearsals were in the Visitors Center conference room.

Shock said the actors in their costumes will instantly call to mind the characters we grew up with and loved. One drawback is that the costumes are quite warm, and the cast is “likely to be drenched in sweat after every performance, but it will be worth it,” he said.

“You might look at me now, a chubby, sweet loving guy and think – of course he likes Winnie the Pooh. But I was not always chubby. I was a skinny but soft kid. As a 6-foot-2-inch senior in high school, I was only 180 pounds. But, even when I was skinny, I identified most with Winnie the Pooh,” Shock said. “Pooh is a gentle friend. He isn’t looking to make anyone conform to his way of life – the pursuit of honey. However, he is willing to share with any who want to join in.”

Both Lesh and Shock have loved Winnie-the-Pooh since they were kids. Lesh’s older child’s nursery theme was Pooh Bear.

(Photo by Kelly BeDell, courtesy of Improbable Fiction Theatre Co.)
Noblesville’s Daniel Shock has mastered the walk, the mannerisms and “the voice” of Winnie-the-Pooh, the character he portrays in Improbable Fiction Theatre Co.’s production of “The House at Pooh Corner,” opening Friday at The Ivy Tech Auditorium in Noblesville.

Lesh has been involved in local community theater since 2005 as a director, actor, producer, stage manager and crew member, with “The Foreigner,” “Harvey” and “The Cemetery Club” being her favorite shows. She has a husband, Mark, and two children.

Shock, born to a United Methodist preacher and a registered nurse, both who were in school plays, got his first taste of acting in elementary school, then eventually high school and college. He has performed in more than 50 theatrical productions in Indiana, North Carolina and Oklahoma. “There was a time when I thought I wanted to do it professionally, but I’ve come to find community theater is a perfectly balanced place to find friendship and to have artistic experiences that would just not be possible as a pro.” Besides son, Paxton, who wants to be an actor in Hollywood, Shock has a wife, Audra, and two daughters, Madelyn and Gloria, all who also love theater.

“The House at Pooh Corner” came to be after Lesh and Shock were talking once about their love of the character and how much they would enjoy doing a play about Pooh. Lesh said, “It all bloomed from there.”

Lesh started reading any Winnie-the-Pooh plays that she could find. “But as soon as I read this one, ‘The House at Pooh Corner,’ I was hooked,” she said. “The story was both hysterically funny and beautiful. Christopher Robin’s growth is touching to see, as he faces the challenge of education with the loving support of all of his animal friends.”

Christopher Robin turns to his friends Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, and the rest when he finds out that he’s going to be sent away to school. They can’t bear to be separated, so they come up with a bold plan to run away to the South Pole.

“It’s a show that kids will really like, but adults will absolutely love,” Lesh said. “Anyone who has ever loved the Winnie-the-Pooh stories will laugh at the antics of the animals and appreciate the love Christopher Robin has for his animal friends … After five weeks of rehearsals, I still crack up every night. It’s just such a fun play.”

The cast is primarily adults.

“If you know Ryan Shelton (of Noblesville), you know that he is somewhat typecast as (the gloomy, sardonic and cynical) Eeyore,” Lesh said.

Barb Weaver of Noblesville was originally cast as Kanga in 2020 — when the show began rehearsals pre-Covid — but in 2022 she took on the challenge of a new role, as Rabbit, a “prickly character” who delivers some of the funniest lines.

Jennifer Poynter of Carmel became the new Kanga, who walks the line between being overprotective and strict but also loving.

Scott Prill of Carmel was cast as the Owl (who throws his teapot at Tigger and breaks on Tigger’s head) due to taking one of his previous IFTC characters “a little too pompous and somewhat British.”

Diann Ryan of Carmel does a wonderful Piglet voice. And Jeff Bick of Noblesville is the voice of a parent.

Christopher Robin, the owner and best friend of Winnie-the-Pooh, is played by a female, Gabby Morrison of Noblesville, who fully embodies the character, showcasing both young spirit and maturation, the director said.

While the cast is mostly adults, there are three students: Evelyn BeDell of Fishers and Paxton Shock of Noblesville, as Rabbits, Early and Late, who play off each other well. And Sean Wood, a Noblesville High School sophomore, portrays Roo, a character that the director expected to cast with an adult. “She has added so much to the role,” Lesh said.

Paxton is Daniel Shock’s 11-year-old son, a Noblesville West Middle School student. “I try to treat Paxton just like I would any other castmate on stage,” the dad said.

Geoff Lynch of Noblesville plays the energetic and accident-prone Tigger, known for being a bit of a braggart while bouncing on his tail.

“But in the play, Tigger has some real things that he’s trying to work through … and the other animals are trying to figure out how they can help and interact with this animal that does not act like him.”

And as far as bouncing on his tail, Lynch said, “I’m still trying to earn my stripes in that department.” Tigger, Lynch’s favorite Pooh character, is the largest role that Lynch has portrayed had in a while (since the arrogant Bamatabois in Grace Church’s “Les Miserables.”), as he’s been focusing more on audio engineering.

“I’m thankful to be getting back on stage with this particular group of people. That’s what has made it fun,” Lynch said. “I wasn’t necessarily looking to be a part of a theatrical production this spring, but when the opportunity presented itself with this cast, I bounced in with all paws.”

– Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.

Want TO GO?

What: Improbable Fiction Theatre Co. presents A.A. Milne’s “The House at Pooh Corner,” adapted by Bettye Knapp and directed by Dana Lesh.

When: April 15-24, with shows at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 24, no show on Easter.

Where: The Ivy Tech Auditorium at Ivy Tech Hamilton County Campus, 300 N. 17th St., Noblesville.

How much: $15.

Good to know: The play is a gentle children’s comedy with a run time of just under 90 minutes, plus a 15-minute intermission.

Info: https://www.iftheatrecompany.org/

MEET THE CAST

Here’s the cast of “The House on Pooh Corner:” Christopher Robin, Gabrielle Morrison, Noblesville; Winnie-the-Pooh, Daniel Shock, Noblesville; Piglet, Diann Ryan, Carmel; Owl, Scott Prill, Carmel; Eeyore, Ryan Shelton, Noblesville; Tigger, Geoff Lynch, Noblesville; Kanga, Jennifer Poynter, Carmel; Roo, Sean Wood, Noblesville; Rabbit, Barb Weaver, Noblesville; Early, Evelyn BeDell, Fishers; Late, Paxton Shock, Noblesville; and voice of parent/assistant director, Jeff Bick, Noblesville.

MEET THE CREW

Here’s the production crew of “The House on Pooh Corner:”

Director/producer, Dana Lesh, Indianapolis; Producer, Kelly BeDell, Fishers; stage manager, Becca Bartley, Noblesville; set design/decorations and build, Kendall Roberts and Dana Roberts, Indianapolis; Patrick Wolfe, Claudia Macrae, Michael Bick and Kiersten Clifford, all of Noblesville; Props, Sherri Byer, Noblesville; lighting design/operator, David Melton, Indianapolis; spotlight operator, Natalie Long, Indianapolis; sound operator, Paul BeDell, Fishers; and costumes, Tamara Rulon and Miriam Posluszny, both of Noblesville.