In the Pipeline: Fountain Valley's own 'War Horse'

The horses arrived in Costa Mesa this week.

As you may have heard, the Tony award-winning "War Horse," one of the most lauded stage productions in decades, is opening at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. And playing a key role in the World War I story about the emotional connections to equine creatures is a young man from Fountain Valley.

From now until Feb. 3, Brian Robert Burns will be on stage working not just as an actor, but also as a puppeteer, bringing tons of heart and soul to the four-legged stars on which this magnificent story is based.

I spoke with Burns last week about what it's like to come home to this area actually playing several parts in the show that everybody wants to see. Yes, he's done Shakespeare, performed in New York, San Francisco and at the Yale Repertory Theater. But something I found really interesting was the fact that he didn't even think about acting until he was 20 years old. Like his brother, he was a standout baseball player who through the end of high school had dreams of a major-league career. But as a senior, once he saw how tough that life was going to be, he shifted gears.

"It's when I went to Orange Coast College that I figured out what I wanted to do with my life," he said. "I was waiting tables working my way through, enjoying my psychology, advertising and marketing classes. But then all the sudden I took a music course playing guitar. That's what made me think about the arts. But then an uncle of mine, who had put a couple of records out on his own, suggested to me that I take an acting course. Then my life changed."

Within six months he had appeared in five shows and then transferred to Cal State Long Beach, where his theatrical career and interests truly kicked in. As he described it to me, Burns does a whole series of things within the show.

In the horse that's controlled by three puppeteers, he acts as the "heart," communicating the breathing and emotional center of the horse.

"That's a real challenge to me as an actor," he told me, "because I'm in effect projecting my acting into the horse through the puppeteering to create this complex emotional character that affects people. Coordinating the movements to bring these characters to life is one of the most challenging skills I can imagine."

And as it usually happens with actors that come home to perform, there are plenty of family and friends to tend to, in addition to doing the actual performances. But that's all well and good for Burns. He told me the very first thing he wants to do upon getting back to Orange County is to get up early in the morning and go surfing here in Huntington Beach.

"That's the life I dreamed about when I was little kid," he said. "Just being able to get up and surf in Huntington."

And so he shall, before tending to the horses.

For War Horse ticket information, call (714) 556-2787 or visit

There's something else I want to make you aware of.

Next week kicks off the Surf City Kids Book Fest. This is a season-long celebration in honor of the 25th annual Authors Festival, sponsored by the Friends of the Children's Library and the Huntington Beach Public Library (funded by a generous grant from Employees Community Fund of Boeing Calif).

Next Monday through Thursday there will be some really fun book events for kids, including a talk I'm giving on Monday afternoon.

As always, many of us authors will be visiting schools Jan. 31 and then participating in a book-signing at the library from 2:30 to 5 p.m.

For information on all of the events, visit Gail Paige and her group do an amazing job every year helping to organize author visits to so many schools throughout Huntington Beach, and the added events this year make for a special week. Bring the kids out, I promise you won't be disappointed.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at

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