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Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher Opens Friday

During the three-day run of the March production of Bagdad Zoo, Fort Wayne Youtheatre’s executive/artistic director Todd Espeland used a moment of his audience welcome to tease their season finale, Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher. As he described the puppets being used, thanks to a loan from Western Michigan University, he explained how they were being driven down in batches, the largest of which required seven operators to handle it. That tidbit never failed to get a gasp from the audience, one which will hopefully translate into curious and eager audience members.

The show allows 19 talented performers a chance to share their talents, but as Espeland says it was a show a few years in the making.

“In 2019 the head of theatre at Western Michigan, who is a friend of mine, called about this show,” said Espeland, who is directing the puppeteers for the production. “The TYA – the Theatre for Young Adults – developed this script with the blessings of the author. I was told it was a great show, and they really wanted the puppets to get used again.”

That was 2019…and things got a little crazy for awhile after that, leading most theatre companies to rearrange some plans.

“We kept kicking the can down the road,” Espeland said. “In December 2021 we decided we were still interested and contacted the author again and got the rights. It’s been a long journey.”

“The author, Bruce Colville, gave us permission and was very pleased that we were staging it,” said Christopher J. Murphy, who is overseeing the direction of the play. “He was especially excited that it was being staged with young people, too.”

Before auditions, Youtheatre hosted a workshop with puppets to aid in preparation and experience. The puppets themselves have been a draw for the young performers.

“We had people who auditioned who had never auditioned or hadn’t auditioned for a long time,” Murphy said. “It was an art form they were really interested in.”

Although not as well known as some of the popular books that came after it, Murphy thinks audiences will enjoy Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher’s flights of fantasy.

“It’s such a lovely, magical story,” Murphy said. “It’s part of a series of books called the Magic Shop Books, and not surprisingly the connective tissue for them is a magic shop. This kid goes into to the shop, discovers a magical object, and goes on a journey. They came out in 1991 which is just pre-Harry Potter and pre-Percy Jackson, just before the big fantasy craze. While this isn’t as epic in scope as those, there’s a lot in common with those books and movies, and I think audiences will really enjoy it.”

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher runs April 28-30, and the opening night performance on Friday will include a tribute to Youtheatre's graduating seniors as well as the awarding of the Harvey Cocks Lifetime Achievement Award to Fort Wayne icon Julia Meek. Visit for tickets.

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