Author Michael Morpurgo visited McKinney two months before the touring show will be performed at the Winspear in Dallas.
MCKINNEY â" Through a Tony Award-winning stage adaptation and Steven Spielberg film version, War Horse has picked up a steady gallop around the globe.
And Dallas will soon be its latest hoof stop. Embarking in June on its first-ever national tour, The National Theatre's War Horse comes to the AT&T Performing Arts Center's Winspear Opera House from September 12-23.
Michael Morpurgo, British author of the story's beginnings, a 1982 children's novel, on Thursday was at ManeGait Therapeutic Horsemanship in McKinney, immersed in the real-life human-horse bond that's now capturing audiences all over the world.
"The connection between us and our fellow creatures is profound," said Morpurgo, who's lived for years on a farm in Iddesleigh, England. "Working alongside animals, I've seen the effects physically of the proximity of children and animals. You can see them visibly relaxing when they come together."
Such an interaction -- evident every day at ManeGait -- inspired Morpurgo's book, which he wrote through a horse named Joey's point of view.
A school visited Morpurgo's farm, and Billy, a student whom teachers told Morpurgo badly stuttered and hadn't spoken at the school for two years, opened up.
The third night of their visit, Morpurgo approached someone talking in the courtyard. It was Billy, speaking clear as day to a horse.
This boy in his slippers telling a horse about his day stood out as "one of the most moving moments" of Morpurgo's life, and convinced him of the unique relationship between horses and people, how "they seem, somehow, to grow in each other's confidence."
Set in 1914, War Horse tells of Joey being sold from his master, Albert, to the British army, thrust onto the Western Front during World War I. The red-bay horse narrates his charging the enemy and carrying wounded soldiers, time spent with enemy troops, and his return to Albert.
"I wanted to write a story about the war, but I thought what you mustn't do is write a story from one side or the other, because the suffering was universal," Morpurgo said of his protagonist choice. "The only way of doing this is to have the horse in the middle of the conflict, seeing the war through British eyes ... seeing the war from the other side, a way of getting under the skin of this war, and trying to emphasize that it was everyone who suffered."
As he read a chapter to physically disabled children Thursday outside ManeGait's horse arena, they likely weren't interested in his motivation. They wanted to hear about this War Horse that saves the day, one like the horses they weekly ride with ease and confidence.
"I've seen kids walk and talk for the first time," said Priscilla Darling, who owns ManeGait with her husband Bill. "That's really the magic of horses."
Horses move in the same ambulatory pattern humans do, thus strengthening riders' core, and their movement stimulates previously dormant parts of children's and adults' brains. But healing often comes just from the relationship, much like for Billy.
"You can imagine all of the therapies special-needs kids go to, and those are so clinical and sometimes such a drag," Bill Darling said. "For them to come out and have the attention of this horse that's non-judgmental is a new opportunity."
Priscilla added that many riders at ManeGait come afraid of dogs or birds, but quickly partner with an 1,100-pound horse. Once Morpurgo arrived at the arena, as parents and staff descended on him, he simply watched this partnership, more examples of the inspiration for his now-widespread story.
After selling just 50,000 copies through 2007, War Horse trotted into the public's admiring eye. Since the play and Spielberg's 2011 movie have opened, it's sold almost 1 million copies.
The play, which first opened in London, is now playing at New York's Lincoln Center Theater and at Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto, and has been seen by more than 2 million people worldwide.
Productions are planned for Australia, Berlin, and South Africa, and this year's tour will hit 30 U.S. cities.
"We were worried it was going to be quite Euro-centric, because it's about World War I, but I think it's so successful and reaches so many people because it isn't about war; it's about a boy and his horse, reconciliation, love, friendship," said Lauren Hill, producer for The National Theatre. "It's something everybody can relate to; it brings people together."
Morpurgo echoed Hill's take on the story's spread, stressing he wanted to write a book "about a longing for peace."
"There's a moment when the horse is caught in the wild, (and) the scream that horse does ... is the scream of humanity when it confronts suffering because of each other," he said.
That moment will soon come to life on stage for area theatergoers. If they haven't yet, they'll see how a horse can change lives.
If they get tickets in time -- the War Horse gallop seems to hasten daily.
"It's just a pleasure and a joy ... to think that a little story of mine, started in Devon in the middle of nowhere, is going to be in Dallas," Morpurgo said. "And not because of anything I've done. I just wrote the silly story."
Tickets for War Horse range from $30 to $150, and may be purchased online at www.attpac.org/warhorse, by phone at 214-880-0202, or in person at the AT&T Performing Arts Center Box Office at the Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. in Dallas, or at the remote Box Office at Park Place Lexus, 1025 Preston Rd. in Plano.
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