Puppetry: Life at the Crossroads
by Andrew C. Periale
As we were working on this issue of Puppetry International, a brochure arrived advertising auditions for the new cycle of ESNAM, the three year professional training program at the Institut International de la Marionnette in Charleville Mezieres, France. The school's philosophy seemed to capture the spirit of what we envisioned for this edition:
... Theatre, and the stage in general, are increasingly interested nowadays in the potential of puppet theatre. Familiar with the visual (odes, responsive to a language that privileges poetical metaphors, directors and performers are taking an interest in the new forms of stagecraft that are developing at the permanent intersection of per image.
There are many such intersections in the Road Atlas of Puppetry- the crossroads of tradition and novelty, spoken word and sculptural form, flesh and metaphor, spirit and commerce. It's easy to lose one's way, but there are so many paths for the courageous and curious to explore. ESNAM has the advantage of generous government support to foster creativity in its charges, but many less well-heeled puppet theatres are likewise laboratories of this sort. They encourage their members to exit a crossroads by some other means than simply choosing to go right or left. One might, for example, turn on one's head and burrow straight down to China. One might turn one's gaze heavenward and ignite one's booster rockets. A nerf ball might be turned into a puppet head. A set of socket wrenches might dance a pas de deux on the hood of a 1958 Thunderbird Coupe de Grace, while shadows of wispy ballerinas seduce an artist's rendering of an aging Messiah (had he lived).
In this issue, we are looking for those points of intersection. Or perhaps "point" is an insufficient analogy. Suppose I stick my big old nose in a clear pool. Imagine how the ripples transport the imprint of my impressive schnozz outward in all directions. Now, from the other side of the pool, you come along and slam your fist into the calm water. As the waves from your hand meet the ripples from my nose, an interference pattern is formed that magnifies the amplitude of our intentions, combining to form something brand new, unforeseen. That interference that is where it is goin' on, see? Good Boutros Boutros golly, Miss Molly that is where the rubber meets the rodeo! This is the living breathing hologram wherein lie the answers to all our secret desires for occult knowledge: Why are we here? Is there a goddess? Why don't pistachios taste like pistachio ice cream? When Ralph Lee made masks for Erick Hawkins's ballets, they kicked up some serious ripples. Sandglass Theater created a production collaboratively with a circus director/mime and several aerialist/acrobat, during which time these same puppeteers were also traveling to Cambodia to make a new work with a theatre in Phnom Penh! Underground Railway Theatre has for decades mixed actors with puppets, shadows with orchestras, art with politics. UMO, headquartered on Vashon Island, near Seattle, uses their collective training in puppetry, mime, dance, commedia, mask and clowning to create performances that refuse to be pigeonholed.
There's a lot more, but you'll see. Certainly there are a lot of wonderful puppet companies that stick to the conventions of their chosen style and genre. There can be great virtue (and virtuosity) there, and there will be other issues of PI to celebrate that sort of work. But, by Punchinello's tallywhacker, so many of us both here and abroad are finding ourselves in a postmodern condition! We struggle, like Beowulf, to stuff our aging bodies into suits of armor once more, as we prepare to battle the dragons before they set fire to everything. Our strength is no longer in our sword arm, perhaps, but in the new forms we can create together.