Award-winning 'War Horse' comes to Kennedy Center

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Photo - The horse Joey trots across the stage during his curtain call for the opening night performance of "War Horse" at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo Getty Images)
The horse Joey trots across the stage during his curtain call for the opening night performance of "War Horse" at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo Getty Images)
Entertainment,Music,Emily Cary

When the highly honored drama "War Horse" gallops across the Kennedy Center Opera House stage on its North American tour, Alexandria native Danny Yoerges will be one of three commanding the title character, Joey.

Joey was created by the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa. He is made of cane, aluminum and nylon mesh and is operated by three actors responsible for his head, heart and hind sections. For the eight shows a week, there are four teams who alternate between operating puppets and having speaking roles.

"The three of us operating Joey simulate his movement and sounds," Yoerges said. "I'm responsible for Joey's head and neck, which show how he is feeling. His ears tell the full story by moving back and forth and signaling whether he is curious, relaxed or frightened.

"The second puppeteer operating the heart section controls Joey's two front legs and breathing mechanism that rests on the puppeteer's shoulders and indicates if he is agitated or relaxed. The third puppeteer is in charge of the hind section with the two back legs and the tail, the engine of the horse that echoes through the heart and head. When a rider gets on the horse, he sits between the heart and hind section. Even though Joey is as light as can be expected, he is heavy enough that we've developed muscles we didn't know we had."

Onstage
'War Horse'
» Where: Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F St. NW
» When: Tuesday through Nov. 11
» Info: $25 to $175; 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324; kennedy-center.org

After being selected to "become" Joey, Yoerges and his two colleagues went through six weeks of vigorous technical training that involved research and personal contact with horses. Although his previous acting experience did not prepare him for the strength and vigor demanded by this position, he is so excited about accomplishing unexpected skills that he is open to all future theatrical opportunities no matter how unique.

Growing up in Alexandria, he attended all three Hayfield schools. At Hayfield Middle School, he followed his older sister into the drama program; at the same time, he wanted to diversify and participate in sports, but the schedule conflicts and encouragement from his teachers kept him in drama.

"I'm excited about returning to Washington in this wonderful show," Yoerges said. "It's uplifting and, at the same time, a stark reminder of the WWI tragedy. With its technical experimentation and huge sound scape, this story of a boy who reunites with his beloved horse and family is on the forefront of theatrical expression.

"While in town, I look forward to spending time with my family, visiting Hayfield High School to talk with the students about the show and theatrical careers, and hitting my favorite spot in the Bishop's Garden at National Cathedral to relax and read a book."

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