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ETBU Theatre opens season with "Pinocchio Commedia"

October 6, 2021

The East Texas Baptist University Department of Theatre Arts concluded its production of Johnny Simon’s Pinocchio Commedia last weekend after a successful four-show run from Thursday, September 30 to Sunday, October 3. The performances, directed by Associate Professor of Theatre Arts John Dement, blended the rich comic style of Italian comic theatre with the fairy tale exploits of everyone’s favorite puppet-brought-to-life, Pinocchio.

"As the first Theatre production in my role as Dean I simply could not be more proud of the quality, effort, and outcome of all the Faculty, staff, actors and technicians that collaborated to make this show a huge success," ETBU Dean of the School of Communication and Performing Arts Justin Hodges said. "We were so excited, under Mr. John Dement's leadership, to open the ETBU Theatre season with Pinocchio Commedia. The show was a little unusual from an audience point of view, as we are usually conditioned to come in, sit down and simply watch and listen.  It was so refreshing and unexpected, that the characters were having conversation and interacting with audience members, breaking down the formality of other shows, which added so much energy."

Pinocchio Commedia uses physical comedy and slapstick to bring humor to Pinocchio’s attempts to become a real boy. This version of the story uses a ‘tale within a tale’ to illustrate the plot. The show within a show element of the Commedia was a unique twist on conventional comedies.

“Pinocchio was a really fun and new experience for me. I’ve never been a part of a Commedia play, which was what I was most excited about,” ETBU senior Caleb Helfrick, who played Pulcinella / Puppet Master, said. “Behind the scenes involved a lot of actors running around, set pieces being organized, and props being traded off. It’s like an entirely different show is going on behind stage, and nobody even knows it. The challenge for me was how intimate and informal we had to be with the audience. I’ve never had to completely break the fourth wall in a play like that.”

Breaking the fourth wall means talking directly to the audience in character. Learning new acting techniques, like this one, as well as handling all the behind the scenes production, from lighting and scenic design to costumes, makeup, and publicity enhanced the experience for many new-to-theatre students.

“Working behind the scenes was such an amazing learning opportunity for me. I have done lights for small productions but working on a more professional project gave me a new perspective on the importance of the technical side of theatre,” ETBU light board operator freshman Zemma Craven shared. “There were so many learning moments, and I reveled in each one. The most rewarding thing about lighting was seeing how it helped the actors find a new appreciation for scenes they had grown desensitized to.”

Pinocchio Commedia follows the beloved title character, Pinnochio (played by freshman Abigail Hill), who Gepetto (played by freshman Miguel Martinez) first builds because he wants a son. Gepetto wishes for him to become real, and in the night a spirit (played by sophomore Amy Hobbs), comes to him and makes him alive. Pinocchio then goes on a series of character building journeys to understand the importance of obedience and honesty. Pinocchio Commedia teaches the value of timeless morals in a way that entertains audience members of any age.

“After the last 18 months, I felt like the students onstage, backstage, and in the audience deserved a good laugh,” Director Dement said. “I also wanted to do a show that parents could bring their kids to see. Pinocchio Commedia is a show with great energy, and everybody knows the story. We looked for every opportunity to make our audiences laugh because theatre should make life a little better for a little while.”

ETBU's Theatre and Music Department's next show of the season brings Charles Schulz’s beloved comic to life in Clark Gesner’s classic musical, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown on October 29-30. Bring the whole family out with lawn chairs and blankets on either night at 6:30 p.m. at ETBU's new Grove Terrace. Food trucks will be available for a quick meal prior to the show. Admission is a dog food donation to benefit the Marshall Pet Adoption Center. Bring blankets and lawn chairs! To see ETBU Theatre's full 2021-2022 season, visit