There are museum exhibits where visitors are kept at a distance with velvet ropes, glass cases and stern “Do Not Touch” signs.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe display at the Stratford Perth Museum is not one of those.
“We wanted this to be an interactive, hands-on exhibit,” said Kayla Droog, the museum’s manager of education and public programming, during a tour Tuesday of the little corner of Narnia just west of Stratford.
That means fans of the classic C.S. Lewis fantasy tale can get a close-up look at what’s on the other side of the wardrobe.
They can strategize in Aslan’s battlefield tent, sit in the silver sleigh of the White Witch, don the crowns and occupy the thrones of Queen Lucy, Queen Susan, King Peter and Kind Edmund, or even enjoy a tea party in Tumnus’ cottage.
“The reaction has really been unique,” said museum general manager John Kastner. “When people go to a museum, traditionally it has been look but don’t touch. Here, our patrons have welcomed the idea that they can sit in the sleigh or sit on the thrones and get their picture taken. So it’s not ‘don’t touch.’ It’s ‘please touch.’”
The exhibit is a collaborative effort of the museum and the Stratford Festival, which is staging The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Avon Theatre this season.
It combines props and costumes from the Festival’s warehouse with repurposed pieces from the museum’s collection, alongside a few strategically placed store-bought items.
Tumnus began as a department store mannequin, the White Witch’s vintage sleigh was purchased on kijiji, and animal masks from a party supply store were used to create the Narnians she turned to stone. There’s even a large, impressive lion’s head in the throne room that was created by local artist Al Voort, from a mold taken of one of the statues at the entrance of the Shakespeare Inn.
And the realistic looking Stone Table, which plays an important part in the story, was cleverly crafted by Festival artists from slabs of Styrofoam.
Their input (and output) helped shape the exhibit, noted Kastner.
“For us to have access to that creativity and that workmanship, and that ability to create, was just incredible,” he said.
“And it was great to take our vision, and have them help us bring it to life,” added Droog, who curated the exhibit along with collections and exhibits manager Micaela Fitzsimmons.
Months of research and planning went into the display, which also incorporates dozens of information panels touching on some of the symbolism and imagery in Lewis’ story, as well as the influences behind it.
While some of the exhibit materials were borrowed from the Festival, Droog said a conscious effort was made not to simply reproduce the sets from its current production.
“This is a totally different aesthetic from the play,” she said, noting that museum staff didn’t even see the Festival’s show until after the exhibit was completed. “We wanted it to be its own thing.”
But like the play, the exhibit was planned as a family-friendly experience, she added.
“I’ve only heard positive comments so far, and people are having fun, which is what we want,” said Droog, as a group of adults snapped photos of each other sitting down to tea at the faun’s place.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe exhibit isn’t the first collaboration between the museum and the Festival.
In 2014, they worked together to bring a rare First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays to the museum to coincide with the Bard’s 450th birthday.
Last year, a travelling exhibit from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam was mounted at the museum in conjunction with the Festival and its production of The Diary of Anne Frank. It broke attendance records, drawing more than 12,000 visitors.
And planning is already underway to partner on an exhibit that will complement the Festival’s 2017 production of Treasure Island.
“It’s been a terrific relationship,” said Kastner. “And it really works to augment the visitors’ experience.”
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Myths, Magic and Messages will be on display at the Stratford Perth Museum until Oct. 31.