What to know - before the show!
Puss is a good for nothing cat – or so she is told. When it comes time for three brothers to divide their father’s estate, Jacques, the eldest, gets the mill, Marc gets the donkey, and Henry, the youngest, is left the worthless cat. Puss sets out to prove herself to Henry and the rest of the world by promising Henry that all his wishes will be fulfilled if he believes in her. Without other options, Henry enters a partnership with Puss. Puss makes her first request: a pair of boots and a set of clothes. Henry and Puss visit the Cobbler who gives them the boots and clothes when Puss and Henry promise to retrieve what the Cobbler is owed from a magical, tyrannical Ogre.
Puss knows she must win the King’s favor to succeed, so she catches a rabbit, the King’s favorite delicacy, and uses it to gain an audience with his Royal Highness. Puss invites the King to her master’s estate claiming that Henry is the Marquis of Calabas. The King delightfully accepts, and Puss returns to Henry to tell of her successful meeting. Henry reminds Puss that he is not actually a member of nobility, but Puss tells him to trust her. She then instructs Henry to jump in the pond as the King’s carriage will be approaching soon. The King and his daughter, the Princess, happen upon Puss who shouts that they’ve been robbed of the Marquis’ clothes. The King provides clothing and requests that the Marquis joins them on the journey to the estate giving time for Henry to begin winning over the Princess’s affection. Puss runs ahead to get things ready and figure out the next part of her plan.
Puss must claim the Ogre’s villa for the Marquis. On the way, Puss convinces the local farmers and peasants to tell the King that all the land he sees belongs to the Marquis of Calabas in exchange for their freedom from the Ogre. When Puss arrives, the Ogre decides to eat her, but not before Puss tricks him into transforming into a bear and an elephant. Just as Puss is about to be eaten, she challenges the Ogre to transform into something small. The Ogre’s pride gets the best of him, and when he transforms into a mouse, Puss eats him. The King arrives with Henry and the Princess. He is so impressed with Henry that he agrees to allow the Marquis and his daughter to marry.
The King and the Princess return home to prepare for Henry to visit the following day. Henry’s oldest brother, Jacques, comes to the estate to pay off his debt to the Ogre only to find that his youngest brother is now in charge. Henry forgives his brother for his poor treatment and gives Jacques his blessing to run their father’s mill with pride. Puss, having proven herself to be a cunning cat and loyal friend, is granted her wish to stay with Henry for the rest of her days.
RE-THINK, RE-IMAGINE, RE-DISCOVER!
Some of your students may be familiar with the 2011 movie Puss in Boots, a spin-off of Shrek 2 and Shrek the Third, starring Antonio Banderas. Puss has appeared in various books, movies, plays, and more since the character was first introduced to the world in as early as the late 1500s! Ask your students to compare and contrast different forms of storytelling. How do books differ from movies and plays? What things can you show in a film that you can't accomplish on stage? Explain to your students that there are often hundreds of adaptations of popular stories and that the play they are going to see is a just one version of Puss in Boots, one that is different from others they have seen on screen or read in a book. (For more information: see the contextual article in this play guide.)
Next, have students choose a favorite fairy tale character. Challenge them to put that character in a new adventure by writing a short story.
KAS: C.2.3.a-b; C.1.3.a-b; L.1.1; L.2.2
WHO RULES WHOM?
In the story of Puss in Boots, instead of having a democracy with a president and senate, like the United States, they have a monarchy with a king and other royal figures. A monarchy is a type of government in which a single person is in power through inheritance; for example, when the Queen of England is no longer in power, the title is passed down to the next family member in line.
As a class, match the titles below with the correct form of government, either Monarchy or Democracy:
Now that the class has determined the differences in these two forms of governments, it's time for your students to create their own government. How is it ruled? Who determines the next ruler? Have students create an official document (such as a constitution) describing their own new government. Ask students to include at least 10 laws related to their made-up government.
KAS: 3.C.CP.1; 3.C.RR.1; 3.C.CV.1; 3.C.PR.1
In the play, Puss likes to wear her boots, vest, and hat. What if there was a show with another animal dressed in fancy clothes? Click the link below and print the activity sheet for your students. Have them pick one of the animals and dress it up! Try to give this animal its own personality. Think about what human qualities it would have.
For an extended experience, have students bring their newly fashion-forward animals to life. Once students know the personality of their animal, have them move around the space as their animal. How does the animal move in their habitat? How does their clothing impact their confidence?
KAS: VA:Cr1.1.3; VA:Cr1.1.K; TH:Re9.1.K
MIGHTY BIG SHOES TO FILL: THE MANY BOOTS OF PUSS IN BOOTS
Fairy tales are a type of folktale sub-genre about unlikely stories that are incredible and even unthinkable, something one would not see in real life. Throughout history, cultures from around the world have told such dramatic stories before they even knew how to write. The earliest fairy tales have been told since the Bronze Age (3300-1200 BCE)! Fairy tales are known to contain royalty and magical creatures that are not found in our regular world, such as dragons, mermaids, fairies, and, in the case of Puss in Boots, talking animals.
Puss in Boots has gone through the tradition of adapting through history. While each version follows the idea of a pet cat helping a young boy ascend in social status and wealth, different authors have added independent details to make the story their own. One key element of Puss in Boots that remains unchanged is the concept of the cat being an "animal as helper." In fairy tales, this character is known as the donor, someone who tests the hero in need so they can succeed.
In 1550, Italian author Giovanni Francesco Straparola wrote Costantino Fortunato, the earliest version of the Puss in Boots story included in the first ever European book to contain fairy tales. In Straparola's version, a mother is ill leaving her sons a kneading trough and a pasteboard after she passes. The townspeople convince the two older brothers to sell the goods in exchange for cake which they don't share with the youngest brother, Constantino. The youngest boy is left, instead, with a cat that is secretly a fairy in disguise!
Over 80 years later, in 1634, Giambattista Basile, an Italian poet, wrote his version of Puss in Boots entitled Gagliuso. An old, dying man in Naples leaves his two sons, Oratiello and Pippo, a sieve and a cat. With the cat’s help, Pippo becomes a baron married to the king’s daughter. He promises to repay the cat by embalming her and putting her in a gold coffin when she dies. One day, to test his word, she decides to play dead. Pippo's wife finds the cat and asks Pippo what they should do with her only to be told by Pippo that they should throw her out the window. The cat awakens, disappointed in her owner for not fulfilling his promise, and chastises Pippo with the moral of the story, “Heaven protect us from a rich man grown poor, and from a beggar who of wealth has got store.”
Lexington Children's Theatre's production of Puss in Boots more closely resembles 1697's Le Chat Botté written by French author Charles Perrault. In the story, a miller leaves his three sons a mill, a donkey, and a cat that is given to the youngest. The cat promises to help the boy if he gets the cat a pair of boots. The cat gives the King gifts declaring that they are from Lord Marquis of Carabas. The cat also visits a rich shapeshifting ogre at his castle. He questions the ogre’s magical abilities, tricking him into turning into a mouse so he can eat him. When the Lord, the King, and the King's daughter arrive to the castle, the cat greets them stating that they have arrived at the castle of the Lord Marquis of Carabas. The king is delighted and declares the boy worthy of being his son-in-law.
For LCT’s adaptation of Puss in Boots, Jeremy Kisling, the playwright and LCT's Producing Artistic Director, chose to make the story his own by bringing a musical twist. His version utilizes the melody of the English folk song "Autumn to May." In the play, Puss often provides narration by way of song with lyrics based on the upcoming events. Kisling’s adaptation leans on the morals of not counting out the little person or making assumptions. He ensures strong female representation and characters that grow to stand in their own worth. The Princess stands up for herself and shares her opinions. Henry’s honesty and innocence is tested when he has to trust Puss and confront his brother. Puss is a trickster who uses her brains for good and shouldn't be underestimated.
With so many interesting and diverse retellings of Puss's story throughout history, it's no wonder the tale of this "animal as helper" continues to enchant audiences to this day.
How to grow - after the show!
SING-ALONG SWITCH UP
Throughout LCT’s production of Puss in Boots, Puss sings a song which she adapts to fit the situations around her. The verse follows an ABAB rhyming pattern meaning that the ending word of lines 1 and 3 rhyme with one another, and the ending words of lines 2 and 4 rhyme. Each line also has a certain number of syllables: 10-8-8-8. Use the lyrics below to review the song.
She whistled and sang 'til the green woods rang (10)
for she longed for a true home to stay (9)
A boy was left his father's yellow cat. (10)
He left his town to discover. (8)
He brought the cat a silken hat (8)
For he had dreams of a lover. (8)
Now have students take the song and change the verse to fit situations in their classroom or surroundings, just like Puss does! Start by identifying common experiences students can have in their class or at home. Then have them write a verse using the ABAB rhyming pattern and 10-8-8-8 syllable structure of Puss’s song. Students can work in small groups, or you can create the song together as a class!
KAS: C.2.3c; L.3.3a
FAIRY TALES WITH A TWIST
There are many different versions of the story Puss in Boots. For this activity, students will work together to re-imagine the story again, but with a new twist! Prep slips of paper with “twists” or details that students have to work into their re-imagined version of Puss in Boots. Below are some ideas of twists you can use:
New York City
A remote island
DIFFERENT TIME PERIODS
The Prehistoric Era
100 Years in the future
CHANGE IN CHARACTER
Instead of a cat, Puss is a horse or pig
The King is secretly a superhero
A character of your choosing
Next, review the key plot points of Puss in Boots as a class, taking note of the events that occur in the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Then, divide students into small groups. Have each group draw one of the slips of paper with a surprise twist out of a bucket/bowl. Students will then create a 2–5-minute scene telling their new, altered rendition of Puss in Boots. Give students time to discuss and rehearse their scene, ensuring that everyone in the group has at least one line of dialogue.
KAS: TH:Cr1.1.3c; TH:Cr3.1.3a; TH:Pr4.1.2a
TRAIN OF TACTICS
In Puss in Boots, Puss has an objective – to grant Henry’s wishes. An objective is a goal that a person wants to achieve. In order to reach her goal, Puss uses a variety of tactics or the actions one tries to achieve their objective. Tactics can simply be thought of as action verbs because they express something a person can do in order to get what they want. In the play, Puss offers a gift to win over the King, asks the villagers to tell the King that the land belongs to the Marquis, and tricks the Ogre into turning into a small animal.
Begin by having your class brainstorm a list of tactics one can use to get something they want. Below are a few examples:
Then, grab an item in your classroom to be a special prop for the scene. You as the teacher should begin as the owner of the special item. Choose one of the tactics from the list to be the strategy that will get you to hand over the item. None of the other tactics will work except the one you secretly select. Don’t tell your students which tactic you’ve chosen.
Then have students come up one at a time to play out the scene. The objective for your students is to get you to give them the item. Have them select one of the tactics on the list to use when they approach you to try to get the object. Encourage students to make the scene interesting by adding dialogue, being specific in their mannerisms when using their tactic, etc. Remember that the only way they can get the object is to use the tactic you secretly chose, so if they use a different tactic, send them back to the list to choose a new one. After a few rounds, have your students become the owner of the special item and let them secretly choose a tactic for others to try.
For an extended experience, set a larger objective for your class like a pizza party or a day with no homework. Create a series of problems your class will have to solve in order to achieve their goal. See what tactics they use to solve each problem and reach their goal.
KAS: TH:Re9.1.2c; TH:Cr3.1.3b
MERRY MISCHIEVOUS MAD LIBS!
Click the link below and print the activity sheet for your students to create their own Puss in Boots-inspired mad libs!
KAS: L.2.1; C.2.3
If you enjoy fairy tales and stories with talking animals, you might also like...
Puss in Boots by Charles Perault
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The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault: Ten Short Stories for Children by Charles Perault
Discover more of Charles Perault’s original fairy tales.
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Zomo the Rabbit: A Trickster Tale from West Africa by Gerald McDermott
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