Puppets - The First Bard Productions Show 2005

Testing Ground

This was the first play I ever wrote/produced/directed. It was the feedback, power, and success of this short-lived production that encouraged me to continue making theatre. I felt truly empowered by my ability to have an outlandish idea come to life in no time flat.

It started with the musing: what if I divided a stage and audience in half, separated by a curtain, wall or cyclorama, and connected the actors on each side by rope? Each half of the stage and audience would be completely isolated environments in the narrative, design, and performance style. The audience would only experience one play at a time, having to imagine what is taking place on the other side.

The two worlds would be connected by ropes that ran up and over the wall, or cyclorama. This would be the only contact between the worlds, along with various rituals involving the ritual exchange of goods underneath the cyclorama. On one side there would be the puppets, convinced that the ropes tied to their wrists and raising up into the sky are linked directly to the Gods. On the other side would be the puppeteers, who believe that their manipulation of the ropes were indispensable to the vital production of their empire. The actions on each side would directly affect the other side while, however, each group remained completely oblivious to the truth about the occupants of the world on the opposing side.

Process of Creation

The first step was to prepare a script of actions, and general plot line for each side. I wanted to juxtapose the fanaticism of religion on one side of the stage, where adherence to the continual ritualistic appeasement of the Gods take precedence over all else; with that of the fanaticism of pure capitalism, where the obsession of productivity at all costs takes precedence over all else, on the other side.

In this script I wrote only snippets of important dialogue, but clearly laid out the actions that would take place over the “three days” that elapsed during the 50 minutes of the play.  The first ‘day’ would show a common day on both sides without any undo events -- the puppets making their quotidian sacrifices, going through their routine; the puppeteers in their strenuous, rigorously regimented workday. During the second ‘day’, actions initiated by one side of the stage instigated unseen consequences on the other side which lead to a slow breakdown of the structure for both the puppets and the puppeteers. On the third ‘day’ the breakdown was complete, the two worlds collide, the illusion is shattered, the characters are exposed to the truth, and succumb to the primal aspects of humanity unleashed by their desperate state of affairs--patricide, rape, cannibalism.

So, the right side of the stage was to be a temple, populated by a religious family, all born and raised in that wooden hermitage without knowledge of anything else, organizing each and every day around the stories and beliefs that had been passed down to them. These three consist of a father (the priest) and his son and daughter, who are his trainees. They each have a rope tied around their right wrist which stretches up and over the dividing cyclorama. During the “day” these ropes are mostly slack and allow them free movement. At “night” the ropes are taut and they sleep standing up, the ropes holding their body weight.

The left side was a forest encampment where a foreman, a worker, and a slave (the puppeteers) manipulate three sets of ropes which operate a giant machine. During the “day” they manipulate the machine, throw water at it through the cyclorama to cool it down, and fix it when it has malfunctions. At “night” they tie the ropes up and go to sleep.

This was the script of actions that I gave to the actors with the intention that the play could be devised from this starting point. After the initial workshops didn’t go as I had planned, I started to write the script scene by scene in chronological order, and rehearsed the scenes as I finished them.

Design

The stage was divided into two. On the puppeteers’ side there were two lighting states, a general wash and a green wash. On the puppets side a general wash and a Tibetan orange wash. At “night” the colored washes were used, and during the day the general washes.

There were no scene changes over the entire hour, so we had to coordinate the actions of the puppets precisely with the actions of the puppeteers, as their actions were linked directly through the ropes. This was controlled by the lighting operator who would bring up the colored wash on one side if he wanted to pause the scene in its tracks, until the other side caught up to that point. This technique was used during rehearsals until we found the tableaus that were the best suited for the lighting operator to pause on.

Post Show

This show, although we rehearsed for 3 months, only had two performances. Many people came to both performances, and could see both sides of the story, but I loved talking to the people who only saw one side. Their imaginations naturally created a scenario for what was happening on the other side, basing their assumptions only on the noise traveling through the cyclorama and the brief glimpses they caught through openings in the cyclorama.

I also like other interpretations of the whole picture, my favorites being that the two sides represented the left and right hemisphere of the brain and also the id and superego, the ropes being the ego! I wish I’d thought of that.

As mentioned, the audience only saw one side of the narrative, getting only brief glimpses to the other side during the performance, having to piece together the missing elements with their imaginations. And the myriad of interpretations the audience conjured up was the true success of this play.