THE SECRET DEATH OF PUPPETS (OR) HOW DO PUPPETS DIE? (OR) PUPPETS DIE IN SECRET
We wanted to make a show that was a true collaboration of puppets, video, non-psychological performance, set, lights, costume, and staging, without a traditional hierarchy that is usually the (very male) structure for getting things done in the theater. We wanted to stage some very stuffy academic but profound ideas from Victoria Nelson’s book The Secret Life of Puppets. We also wanted to re-approach acting from a different standpoint than the current theater acting model that is taught in acting schools, that is more in line with E. Gordon Craig’s and Kleists’s theories of theater performance. By the same token, we wanted to explore the theatrical integrity of inanimate objects; and to make a performance that had the feel of a religious ritual, in that it could be in conversation and occurrence inside the minds of the audience, and be very spooky.
We cast puppets and objects such as chairs in equal weight and in direct interaction with human actors. Amanda made puppets (with Matt’s help) that could release or even squirt juices when threatened or when giving birth. We distanced all the performers, animate and inanimate, from the temptation to display psychological motivations by using pre-recorded voices in foreign languages and by turning the lights down real low. In between the three playlets, we played Morton Feldman’s Beckett pieces, along with some strange video samples of the Rhine River (a very powerful, turbulent, and fast-moving river), projected onto two large screens framed by tree limbs. The videos were close-ups and unsettling. One of the performers, Suzanne Davies, came out with a large basket and knelt beside it, waiting for the other puppeteers to enter. There was a sense of waiting and preparation that was unsettling and very, very old with the movement of the river in the background. In another interlude, we turned the lights out completely so that all that was visible were the exit signs of the theater. The audience sat for a few moments, knowing that they were supposed to be sitting in darkness but looking at exit signs instead. Suddenly, the exit signs multiplied and began moving. We had actors Alessandro Magania and Myrtle Wilson holding vellum-and-cardboard stencils lit from behind by red-bulbed headlamps. They did a strange and terrible dance that was based on slowed-down choreography from Sweet Charity and then retreated to the corners from which they emerged. Then the next playlets began.