I have been dreaming about creating a piece like Into the Darkness for many years, but I was always too scared to put it out into the universe. It’s taken me longer than I’d ever like to admit for me to find the courage to truly follow my heart (rather than to do what I think I should be doing), and I feel so incredibly grateful that this experience is finally happening (and to have such wonderful collaborators join me for the ride!!!!!!!).
Ever since I can remember, I loved to find strange little abandoned objects and make secret little puppet shows with them, just for my own amusement. The first time it happened I was three or four. I remember waiting for my mom to make some clothing returns at Rosedale Mall (these were the days when they still had large communal ash trays near the entrances, right inside of the mall), and I remember noticing the saddest little cigarette butt (all dirty and tattered) and realizing “That’s Cinderella!” I then noticed two haughty, taller, sleeker, much more “polished” cigarette butts, and quickly decided that they could play the wicked stepsisters. When my mom returned from her clothing returns, she was horrified to see me “playing” with cigarette butts in the communal ashtray (Little did she know it was supposed to be a fabulous Cinderella fairy tale puppet show! Oh, well...).
Years later, I went to graduate school because I thought I was supposed to become a “Serious Director” and direct plays by the “masters” like Shakespeare, Ibsen and Chekhov (emphasis on the air quotes), but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t shake away my fascination with puppetry. A few years after grad school, I was finally dipping my toe into puppet waters - this was when Sofia and I worked together for the first time on Collective Unconscious’ production of the sleeping beauty in the wood (which briefly featured a ghoulish puppet incarnation of the central character).
Right after the opening of the sleeping beauty in the wood, I remember leaning over to Sofia and whispering, “What if Collective Unconscious created an original piece with ONLY PUPPETS?!?!” Alas, I kept finding excuses to never make this happen… until now.
When Sofia and I were planning our season last winter, she twisted my arm and convinced me that now, three years after sleeping beauty had wrapped, it was high time that I finally created a full-length puppetry piece for Collective Unconscious. It’s been a deliciously challenging process so far, and I’m so glad that Sofia pushed me off the metaphoric cliff and into the icy artistic waters below.
Over the past couple weeks of rehearsal, I’ve discovered that directing a full-length puppetry piece is 10 times more difficult than directing actors in a play. Why are puppets so difficult to direct, you ask? (They’ll do whatever you say. They don’t talk back to you. They’re always on time to rehearsal. They’re always prepared. You don’t have to pay them. Yes, but…)
For me, directing puppet-theatre is so much more difficult because the level of attention and focus that one has to give to each and every gesture that a puppet makes must be excruciatingly specific (I don’t know how many times I’ve turned to the puppetry movement coach or the assistant director and said “You watch the left side of the stage - I’ll watch the right this time!”). When you’re directing human performers, it’s sometimes possible to “get away” with a lack of moment-to-moment specificity, especially if there’s some thrilling chemistry between two actors or if it’s a kitchen sink play where small, quirky, behavioral gestures are the norm. But in puppet-theatre, every look, every gesture, and every breath with a puppet matters, because every look, gesture, and breath that a puppet makes is under a giant effing microscope.
This process has only reinforced for me the idea that with puppetry, the engaged viewer is forced to watch things more closely and find more personal connections to what’s being presented onstage. Perhaps more than any other art form, puppetry invites the audience to infuse characters and actions with their own meaning. This is likely because audiences have to work harder to decipher and interpret the movements and actions of puppets. This gives the audience a greater role to play - since there are so many possible implications about what a gesture could mean, they have to do greater intellectual work.
So, please - won’t you join us - and share with me, my long-held dream of creating an evening-length puppetry work? What’s more, the ensemble is oh-so-brilliant (seriously, this piece is possible only because of them!!!), and the live music will be gorgeous (there are some delicious ditties from Daniel Bonespur, which are music directed and arranged by company member Sarah Modena).
And, for this intimate event of puppetry and music, each performance can only seat up to 30 audience members maximum, so I encourage you to reserve your tickets while you still can. I look forward to seeing you in the audience this November!
Into the Darkness will be performed November 15-24 at Shakespearean Youth Theatre (550 Vandalia Street, Suite 306, St. Paul, MN 55114). More information can be found here.
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