I thought about what I would “blog” for Riverside, what aspect of creating and teaching puppetry would be most interesting or important to share. Most often when I try to write, it comes out like verbal vomit, I am much better at interpretive dance, hence why I am a movement theatre artist. But I realize what I do say a lot at rehearsals is for the students to show me the specific thought with the puppet. What we tell the students over and over is that the primary objective is to show the audience the puppet’s idea. Like in mask work, the movements need to be specific and economical in nature. If a puppet needs to hit another puppet, it can’t simply turn and smack quickly. That action would be too sudden and muddy for the audience to soak in, not because the audience is dim, but because the subtle nuances that humans can add to that action (furrowed brow, eyes widened, nostrils flared, snarl on face) is not available to the mask of the puppet. For this reason you need to break down the action beat by beat. In order for a puppet to hit they would need to, turn head to the other puppet, take a big “angry’ inhale, look at hand, pull that arm back followed by a slight twist in the torso, look at the puppet being hit, exhale as the hand leads elbow and shoulder towards the “soon to be hit” puppet. Then the puppet receiving the action needs to react to the punch to “sell” the hit. Easy right? Nothing to it. Actually it becomes second nature to break down the movements as you get used to the style. The students have picked up the physical timing and run with it.
There has been a world of change since the first week of rehearsal (and only 4 weeks in that is incredibly impressive). Every nudge, look, and tap is tied to a specific want. It is exactly what acting requires, but easier to see how necessary it is in puppetry. I feel I have become a better actor since studying puppetry, because it has taught me that every action has an absolute, required need of a reaction from the other actor in the scene. Now don’t go and tell my acting teachers that a puppet taught me what three years in their classes couldn’t nail into my noggin. It is simply that with a puppet you can’t fake it half way. It is all or nothing. The scene will scream that it isn’t working if the puppet isn’t specific in thought and action. Just a little bit of muslin and fiberfill can say it all…if that isn’t a title for a book I don’t know what is. Ahh, maybe it will make a blog entry one day instead (wink wink).
I want to thank Ron, Jody, and Mark for involving me in this wonderful opportunity and to the students who keep giving me nothing but their best and complete focus. They will knock your socks off…so wear shoes (my joke telling is another reason why I am a non verbal movement theatre artist-just ask my husband).
Enjoy the show,
Stephanie Braun Jacobson