A report by Liz Oakley
Hello from Paris!
It is hard to believe that almost a year ago I was working on my application for UNIMA-USA’s annual scholarship to study abroad. Thanks to the committee’s generosity, I am here in Paris participating in the 5-month Annual Training for actor-puppeteers at the Théâtre Aux Mains Nues. Having spent the years during and after college exploring my love of puppetry in many forms, mostly in my free time, I decided it was time to make a choice to commit myself more seriously to the craft. I felt that the time was right for a more sustained training program. Inspired by the prospect of the UNIMA-USA scholarship, and eager to experience puppetry outside the United States, I did some research, found this very unique program, and applied. And here we are!
We just finished the sixth week of our training here, which is four full days per week. The program is very small, with only seven students; four from France and three from abroad. The coursework includes a rotation of core classes, which include voice, body, acting, principles of animation, and glove puppet manipulation (in French, marionnette à gaine). This particular technique is completely new to me and has been fascinating to dive into. The style of puppet has a long history in France, famously in the form of Guignol. In our other classes we work with and without glove puppets, and have more recently begun exploring object manipulation. We will encounter many more styles and forms in the weeks to come, drawing from the theater’s supply of many different styles of exercise puppets. Soon we will also be moving into a phase of the training where each week a different guest artist comes to do a mini-unit with us on a particular style of puppetry. I am particularly looking forward to two full days that we will spend at a giant puppetry studio. In the last phase of the training, we will be creating a collective final piece for public presentation with a guest director, Claire Heggen, and designer, Pascale Blaison.
Just last week, we all finished making our own "Gaine Lyonnaise" from start to finish. We followed a specific traditional pattern from Lyon to make the glove/body, and each constructed our own unique heads out of clay, which we then finished with paper-maché. We'll be using these puppets going forward in our courses as exercise puppets.
Not only has the training itself been incredibly rich, the team of instructors, resident puppetry companies, and theater staff at TMN have made this experience especially unique. I have already been able to see several excellent puppet theater performances, at the Théâtre Aux Mains Nues and the Théâtre Mouffetard, another theater in Paris that exclusively programs puppetry. There are several other upcoming puppetry performances and festivals in town that I am really looking forward to. It has also been a wonderful treat (and challenge) that the program is entirely in French. Many people have been delighted that news of the theater has made it to the United States, and are surprised that I have come to France just for the training. I always credit UNIMA-USA for getting me here; both for providing the scholarship itself, and for maintaining an excellent listing of programs, workshops, and festivals abroad. I would not have taken this step without their support, and it has already opened me as an artist to be here in ways I could not have imagined. And we aren’t even halfway through! Here’s to seeing what the next three and a half months bring.