For Patrick Osteen, the dream of pursuing acting came when he was still a small child living in Asheboro, N.C.
“I’ve always had this memory of being 6 years old,” Osteen said. “I remember watching ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ and seeing the Robin Williams voiceovers, and I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I decided I wanted to be an actor, even though I had no idea what acting meant.”
Osteen since has graduated from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and acted in several productions, including “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” and “Sweeney Todd.”
Currently, he is acting in the national tour of the Broadway production “War Horse,” which will premiere Wednesday night at Wharton Center.
But Osteen’s role is no ordinary one. He is a puppeteer for Joey, a 120-pound man-made horse to portray the beloved pet of the main character, Albert. He and two other actors must carry the weight of the horse and the rider upon their backs.
“I work the horses: Joey, which is the main horse, and Topthorn, which I suppose is the supporting horse,” he said. “Each horse is made up of three puppeteers, which are called horse teams.”
The play depicts the companionship between Albert, a teenage boy from England, and Joey, his horse that was sold into the cavalry. Albert then enlists in the military amid World War I in search of his horse.
According to Jon Hoche, who acts as a puppeteer for Topthorn, the puppet used for Joey was made in South Africa over a two-year period of time. “Our star, Albert, has a weight limit of about 170 pounds … each puppeteer takes on about 110 pounds,” Hoche said.
Osteen said the play covers many concepts of humanity, including war and violence brought onto animals.
“The show has a lot to offer, and it encompasses a ton of things and different elements of humanity,” Osteen said. “(The audience) can see the absurdity of violence toward other living things. This show does an incredible job of showing people as being people. … They don’t let you point the finger at anybody.”
Canton, Mich., resident Jessica Krueger, who also does puppetry for Joey and Topthorn, said her work on the production brings back fond memories of childhood.
“This is something I never dreamed of — being a horse (in a play),” Krueger said. “In our childhood, we all had the same sort of experience with horses, and it’s nice to revisit it.”
When it comes to opening night, Osteen said he’s excited to become acquainted with East Lansing as well as the audience.
“It’s always exciting to go to a new city,” he said. “That’s the nice thing about touring: every two weeks we mix it up. I’m very excited to see what audiences are like in East Lansing. Opening night is always a fun time, so there will be a lot of good energy.”