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Play incorporates visual techniques from the other side of the world

September 11th, 2017

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Don’t expect Disney from the Bethel College Theater Department’s production of The Jungle Book.

What you should anticipate is a special opportunity that’s not often found on this side of the globe.

Ethan Koerner, adjunct director of theater, has adapted Rudyard Kipling’s collection of stories into a play that can be seen on the Krehbiel Auditorium stage in Luyken Fine Arts Center Nov. 21-22 at 7:30 p.m.

Koerner has been looking for a chance “to do something more visually spectacular,” he said – and also waiting for the right time and place to try his hand at adapting a book into the genre of theater.

This year at Bethel, where Koerner is filling in as director of theater while John McCabe-Juhnke is on sabbatical, seemed to be the perfect time.

Koerner’s adaptation of The Jungle Book uses techniques that have long fascinated him, stemming from a kind of Indonesian shadow puppetry called wayang kulit.

The audience won’t see the eight-student cast until they come out at the end to take their bows. Each one will voice multiple characters and also do much of the technical work required for staging a play.

The narrative in Koerner’s The Jungle Book follows Kipling’s published writing much more closely than it does the Disney animated movie, Koerner said.

“Although the overarching story is the same, some of the characters from the movie won’t be around,” he said, “and some characters will be there that you [might not] recognize, because they weren’t in the movie.”

At least one character present in both will be very different in the play – Kaa the python.

“In the movie, he’s kind of a bad guy – not the main villain, but he does try to eat Mowgli,” Koerner said. “In the book, he’s actually Mowgli’s good friend [who] helps him train to be a better fighter and to become stronger and faster.”

“I’ve loved The Jungle Book since I was a little kid,” he said. “And I’ve been looking for something that could be more of a visual spectacular.”

He learned about the shadow puppetry found across southeast Asia – the Indonesian techniques are the most famous and most often mimicked – when he was an undergraduate at Dordt College in Iowa.

“I was fascinated by the style, and have continued to explore it,” he said.

The ensemble cast for The Jungle Book is Ethan Birdwell, sophomore from Moore, Oklahoma; Leland Brown, senior from Galveston, Texas; Stephanie Brown, freshman from Newton; Julia Campfield, junior from Wray, Colorado; Justin Haflich, sophomore from Pretty Prairie; Kate Joliff, freshman from Newton; Luke Loganbill, senior from Moundridge; and Javen Zellner, junior from Newton.

Ticket prices are $10 for adults, $8 for non-Bethel students and adults age 65 and older and $5 for children (ages 3-12). Bethel student admission is free.

Tickets are available at Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center weekdays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. or in the Fine Arts Center ticket office starting one hour before each performance, subject to availability. Call 316-283-2500 (credit card orders only).

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2014-15 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2014-15. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.