Life of Pi Resource Guide

NOV 30, 2022

Mahira Kakkar watches Adi Dixit reach out a banana towards Salma Shaw, Scarlet Wilderink, Nikki Calonge, Rowan Magee, and Celia Mei Rubin manipulating an orangutan puppet through bamboo stalks.

Welcome to Life of Pi! This guide is designed to introduce you to the world of the play, artistically and thematically, and to provide resources for preparation and reflection on the production. As audiences accompany Pi on his journey, the production asks us to wrestle with many of the same questions as the characters. We invite you to reflect on your own experiences navigating challenges and ask: How does telling stories help us cope and survive?

Preparing to See Live Theater

Learning about the production process, analyzing context to better understand the artists’ choices, and identifying themes are all valuable ways of preparing for the experience of engaging with live theater. In addition, here are a few elements to keep in mind.

Seeing live theater is a community experience in real time, and being mindful of others is important. Remember that you can be seen and heard just as well as the performers. Keeping your attention focused on the performance will add to the overall experience for everyone. Feeling and expressing emotions is part of the power and magic of theater. We hope you’ll help everyone enjoy the experience by expressing your enjoyment through focus. We want you to think of your experience here as one of many. The theater is a place for you.

There are a few things you can do to help yourself and those around you enjoy the performance:

  • Save conversations for intermission and after the show.
  • Turn your cell phone off or place it in Airplane mode.
  • Familiarize yourself with the surroundings (exits, bathrooms) and the resources (this packet, programs, lobby materials) so you can feel ready to engage fully with the experience.
  • Try to take care of your restroom needs before the show and/or at intermission.
  • It doesn’t end with the curtain call! Theaters create performances for audiences to enjoy, be inspired by, and reflect upon. Everyone plays a part in building this community and these relationships are vital. Talk with your friends and family about what you’ve experienced. Spread the word!

About Life of Pi

After a cargo ship sinks in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, a sixteen year-old boy named Pi is stranded on a lifeboat with four other survivors—a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a Royal Bengal tiger. Time is against them, nature is harsh, who will survive?

Winner of five Olivier Awards, including Best New Play, Life of Pi is based on one of the most extraordinary and best-loved works of fiction—the smash hit adaptation of an epic journey of endurance and hope.

The following resources were created by Mousetrap Theatre Projects in conjunction with the West End premiere of Life of Pi (suggested grades: 6 – 12):

  • Activities – Activities for the classroom including thematic discussion prompts, creative writing exercises, tasks for adapting texts, and acting exercises.
  • Creative Practices – Introduction to the design elements of Life of Pi as well as resources for further study and careers in theater.
  • Meet the Team – Interviews with members of the creative team including Yann Martel (author), Lolita Chakrabati (playwright), Max Webster (director), and Simon Friend (producer).
  • Puppets – Introduction to the design, build, and use of puppets in the production, as well as interviews with the designers.
  • Writing – Context and exercises for learning how to write about live theater productions.

Pre-Show Workshop

This workshop model is designed not only to increase students’ enjoyment and understanding of of Life of Pi, but also to teach new skills in the development of breath control, soft focus, and solo and ensemble puppet manipulation. View Workshop (Google Doc)

If you are interested in inviting an A.R.T. Teaching Artist to your classroom to lead a pre-show workshop, please contact to learn more. Workshops are free for public schools, pending availability.

Author, Playwright, & Adaptation

Life of Pi began as a novel written by Yann Martel in 2001, later adapted into a film by Ang Lee in 2012, and even later adapted for the stage by playwright Lolita Chakrabarti for a West End premiere in 2021. Below, you’ll find interviews that focus on developing and adapting Pi’s story into different forms.

Pre-Show Resources

Discussion Questions (suggested grades: 6 – 12)

  • What are the differences between a novel, film, and theater performance? What are the unique strengths of each form?
  • What is the impact of each form on the audience?
  • What are you able to do with a novel that you can’t do with theater, and vice versa?

Post-Show Resources

This exercise takes you through the central steps of adapting stories for the stage.

Further Engagement

Life of Pi’s acclaimed theatrical adapter Lolita Chakrabarti and director Max Webster reveal the creative secrets behind this modern classic in this conversation hosted by GBH.

Puppetry & Visual Metaphor

The rich traditions of puppetry draw from many cultures throughout the world highlighting artistic, spiritual, and social practices for all ages. Even though puppets and actors can both play characters, puppetry blends performance and design work to result in a living art form that can be interpreted on multiple levels: art object, representative figure, visual metaphor, and puppet–puppeteer relationship. Different approaches to puppetry design and performance focus on different elements to support the overall storytelling of the production.

Pre-show Resources

Learn more about six different styles of puppets and how to manipulate them.

Discussion Questions

  • What can a puppet do that a human cannot? Why would you choose to use a puppet instead of an actor?
  • What’s the difference between an invisible puppeteer and a visible one? How does that affect the storytelling? What’s the potential of each approach?

Post-show Resources

Read for a deeper investigation into how the art of puppetry encompasses rich traditions exploring themes and practices of ritual, belief, life, and death.

A prominent historical essay from the 19th century focusing on the theory of the marionette (puppet) by Heinrich von Kleist. Kleist’s enigmatic essay explores the nature of grace and the limits of human expression.

Discussion Questions

  • What are the different ways in which puppets are introduced in the performance? What’s the impact of these different approaches?
  • What does the character of Richard Parker represent for Pi? How is the fact that he’s a puppet emphasize/detract from those representations?
  • Think about different moments in the production. How does the meaning of Richard Parker change over time for Pi and for the audience?

Further Engagement

Check out the following collection of links for educators and students to learn more about a variety of contemporary puppet artists.

Religion & Belief

Throughout the production, Pi struggles with questions concerning the meaning of life. Early in the play we learn that Pi is a practicing Muslim, Catholic, and Hindu. His family and religious leaders all insist that he choose one religion. Pi doesn’t understand why he has to choose just one, saying they’re all “different versions of the same story.”

Pre-Show Resources

Investigate this collection of resources on specific religious traditions as well as their areas of overlap and change throughout history.

Discussion Questions (for all ages)

  • Think about your own relationship to belief and/or religion. How does it show up in your everyday life? How does it show up in society?
  • What affects people’s ability to communicate about belief and/or religion? What are the entry points and obstacles?
  • Looking for the “meaning of life” suggests one answer, but asking “how should I live?” suggests a journey of actions and discovery. What would your answer be to “how should I live?” Think about revisiting this question after seeing the performance to see if your perspective has changed.

Post-Show Resources

This exercise guides students through the process of creating a meaning map, which is a tool to help students visually represent relationships between concepts. A suggested question for focus could be “what is the meaning of life”?

Discussion Questions (for all ages)

  • Do you think Pi discovers answers to his questions about ___? If so, what are those answers? If not, what questions is he left with?
  • What do you think is next for Pi after the events of the play? Did his experience of a traumatic event and his struggle to make meaning prepare him for how to live?
  • Looking for the “meaning of life” suggests one answer but asking “how should I live?” suggests a journey of actions and discovery. What would your answer be to “how should I live?”

Further Engagement

How does language shape our approach to living and storytelling? Check out this evolving global resource about “untranslatable” words related to well-being to learn more.

Read this article from Aeon magazine for a deep dive into language, happiness, and a search for meaning.

Rajesh Bose holds out his hand to a zebra puppet, manipulated by Avery Glymph (head), Andrew Wilson (heart), and Betsy Rosen (hind legs).

Storytelling as a Healing Practice

Storytelling is important for Pi as he navigates his way through his survival story and coping with the traumatic events of his journey. Explore the following resources for tips on how to discuss and engage with coping, healing, and survival.

Pre-Show Resources

Written specifically for theater educators during the COVID-19 crisis, this article focuses on managing signs of student distress, along with wellness practices for teachers.

Discussion Questions

  • What are the differences between lying, storytelling, daydreaming, and documenting? How are they similar? How do they affect people?
  • How do you turn a painful event into a story instead of just reciting the sequence of events? How does it change your relationship with the listener?

Post-Show Resources

Activities from Facing History to help students reflect on identities and connect with their own stories and those of others.

Read the following for a concept of “windows and mirrors” as ways of reflecting on individual experience as well as empathizing with the experiences of others.

Discussion Questions (for all ages)

  • What are the windows and mirrors in Life of Pi?
  • What does Pi learn as a result of his storytelling? What do we learn?

Further Engagement

This ongoing arts project inspired by geographical metaphors as well as a meditation taught by Pascal Auclair reminds us of the different landscapes of powerful emotions and how to move through them.

This website collects and shares personal stories to demonstrate how we use storytelling as a way to navigate through the complexities of illness, pain, and trauma.

Intensity in Theater

While there are some acts of violence in Life of Pi (the visual expression of animals’ predator–prey relationship), they are brief and necessary for the story. These moments may evoke temporary distress due to the abruptness of the actions, the relationship we have with the characters, and the ways we make sense of the events based on our own experiences. It can be helpful to prepare for such moments by thinking about the larger purpose of including acts of intensity or violence in a piece of theater.

Theater artists consider several factors around how their work impacts the audience, such as what to show, what to talk about, and what to act out. You, as a member of the audience, help to create the meaning behind the choices the artists make, by interpreting those choices. Explore the following resources and questions to help prepare you to interpret some of the more intense moments in Life of Pi.

Pre- and Post-Show Resources

The handful of moments of violence are part of a larger theme of experiencing ferocity—the ferocity of the sea against Pi’s raft, the ferocity of natural selection, the ferocity of profound loss—and practicing coping through imagination and storytelling.

Life of Pi touches on many complex and emotional topics that may have personal resonance for audience members, especially given the ongoing situation with the pandemic as well as other world conflicts currently unfolding.

The following resources and discussion questions offer suggestions for supporting students and educators during difficult times and are intended for use before and after seeing the production.

Discussion Questions (for all ages)

  • What is the value of experiencing strong emotions together with other audience members?
  • What are ways that we can take care of ourselves when we’re experiencing a strong emotion?
  • Think of a play, movie, or television show you know that involves intense or violent moments. What is the purpose of these moments? How do they impact you as an audience member?

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