Thursday, April 9, 2015

Strings and Things, and the power of puppets

If you’ve spoken to me at all in the past couple of years, you probably have heard me go on about how I went to Italy to take part in the International Symposium for Directors that LaMaMa runs out of a renovated convent in Spoleto, Italy.   It was a magical experience as training so often is.  As an artist, I believe that there is no better gift you can give yourself than spending a couple of intensive weeks immersed in your craft.  Perhaps that’s a soapbox for another blog, or you could just go back and read Carey’s brilliant blog on the topic from a few years ago here. of the artists that I had the privilege of working with at the symposium were Vit Horejs and Bonnie Stein from the Czechoslovak American Marionette Theatre.  Prior to my experience in Italy, I had done very little work with puppets so I was excited-- if not mildly apprehensive --about what laid in store for me.  Vit and Bonnie are two of the most kind, gentle, and generous artists with whom I have ever worked.  I remember walking into the studio filled with marionettes of all different sizes (from very small 5” puppets to pretty tall 30” puppets).  We started class as we started so many classes that summer by doing a series of stretches.  I can honestly say that it only took about ten minutes attempting to manipulate the puppets before I realized why all that stretching was necessary.  Supporting the weight of a 30” puppet, while also manipulating him at least somewhat realistically, is incredibly difficult work.  Vit and Bonnie’s classes were 4 hours long so after class you could find all of the participants with dead arms and wrists and sore backs.
It wasn’t until the middle of the week, however, that I learned how mentally taxing the work could be.  Vit was developing a new marionette piece based on The Republic by Plato that was to premiere at LaMaMa in the fall (you can read the NY Times review here).  For the piece, Vit wanted to explore characters played by actors, by marionettes, and by shadows.  I have yet to experience anything as mind-blowing as trying to juggle not only my own movement and my marionette’s movement but also my shadow’s movement and my marionette’s shadow’s movement (hurts my heard just remembering it).  All of this, mind you, while incorporating text from Plato, not exactly Dick and Jane.  The classes were mentally and physically exhausting, but the rewards were great (I will never forget the eruption of applause from our group the first time one of our colleagues managed to get a marionette to turn a page in a book).  The class that I think I looked forward to the least ended up being the one with the most profound impact on me.
So, it is with tremendous excitement that I announce that Vit and Bonnie will be the featured guest artists during theatre KAPOW’s Artists’ Retreat this July at Chanticleer Gardens in Dunbarton.  They will be bringing some marionettes for us to work play with (I have to admit that I think I am as excited about being reunited with some of my old wooden friends as I am about seeing Vit and Bonnie) and will be working with tKAPOW on object manipulation for a new project that we are developing over the course of the 2015-2016 season (stay tuned!).  This year’s retreat will be July 12th-18th (yes, earlier than in years’ past) and in addition to Vit and Bonnie’s workshops we are planning on a line-up of really fabulous classes throughout the week.  I will spend my spring dreaming of the lush gardens and grounds of Chanticleer Gardens and looking forward to the day when I can bring one of my marionette friends on a kayak ride around the pond.  I really hope that you will set aside some time this summer to come out and immerse yourself in some wonderful work.
- Matt Cahoon