Puppets in the Berkshires

Company member Genna Davidson attended a two week puppet intensive up in New England this summer. Here is her account of the trip. 

This past August I spent two weeks in Williamstown, Massachusetts (okay, so it’s not really the Berkshires, but it’s just next door) at the New England Puppet Intensive. I worked alongside an incredible group of artists learning, playing, eating, and sometimes stargazing.

Genna and LindseyThe workshop was held at the Buxton School for the Arts and as the name forewarns, the workshop was intense. The two weeks felt more like two months because we were up at 8:00am and worked until 10:00pm or 11:00pm every day. In the morning we warmed our bodies and minds with yoga. Then we either had drawing or Suzuki (a Japanese approach to actor training). After lunch we would usually break into small groups and work on creating our final 10-minute puppetry piece to be presented at the end of the second week. The “puppet camp” counselors (David, Pete, and Nan) guided us on our journey and provided us with the inspiration for the final performances.

_untitled_ 058This year the theme they gave us to use as a springboard for our work was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I was very proud of the performance my group gave. Our exploration of Shelley’s work led to the creation of a puppet who trades her limbs for new ones only to find that she is haunted by the stories attached to each limb. Our piece ended up being somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes long. Ooooops. They didn’t make us cut it shorter though. There were two other small groups. One group meditated the importance of the ones connection to nature, and the other created a piece about creating feminine beauty through destruction of the self. It was inspiring to see how each group took the starting material and ran with it in different directions.

I think the most important thing I learned at the Intensive is that to create work you have to jump in even if things are half done and you can’t see clearly where you’re headed. You have to trust that the story will be what it needs to be and creation is always a journey into the unknown.

Sharing Stories of SAUDADE in Winnipeg

This is a guest post from Genna Davidson about our visit in May to Winnipeg, Canada. You can see more photos from the trip here.

This bentwood box by Luke Marston was commissioned by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Photo is from TRC website.

This bentwood box by Coast Salish artist Luke Marston was commissioned by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It is a tribute to all Indian Residential school survivors. Photo is from TRC website.

At the beginning of May, Cecilia and I were warmly welcomed to Winnipeg, Manitoba for the 10th Annual International Storytelling Festival. Our days were spent touring Saudade, our shadow puppet and crankie show, about the immigrant experience in DC. We met a range of artists, storytellers and advocates of conflict resolution and peace, and we learned a lot about the local issues. We performed for college students, child and adult refugees, and staff at several community centers, places which help newly arrived refugees and immigrants to Canada. The children, particularly the Muslim girls, were excited to see a character in our show wearing a headscarf. One girl remarked “I liked the last character the best because she looks like me.” It was affirming and reassuring to hear the members of our audiences relate to the show and identify with the characters.

Many of the local issues facing Canadians in Winnipeg surround the dark legacy of what they call residential schools. These were boarding schools for First Nations children, used until the 1990s to attempt assimilation of the indigenous Canadians into the mainstream white Canadian culture. Many of these places had rampant incidences of abuse. The victims are now sharing their stories through a truth and reconciliation process. It’s a hard reality to look at, but from what I could see it was clearly important that people are heard. So many families were broken up and destroyed by the practices of assimilation. As one could guess, there are higher levels of alcohol and drug abuse in the indigenous population too.

It was particularly interesting to me that we repeatedly encountered stories of First Nations people (Inuit, Crees and Metis to name a few groups) and at the same time heard stories of refugees from countries like Ethiopia, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia among others. For many immigrants it is a struggle to keep family together. As I was talking to a friend recently about the juxtaposition of these stories, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what struck me as so apropos about the parallel stories. He pointed out that it is striking because the indigenous Canadians are refugees in their own home. “Yes! That’s exactly it!” I remarked. Their land was taken from them as well as their culture and many were forced to take on the culture of European immigrants. It’s a story that I don’t like looking at, but again, it’s important we give voice to these stories and give these storytellers room and space in which to be heard.

When I think about our region’s own history of the American Indian genocide, I feel sad. I also think that most of us don’t get to hear those stories much because the people are gone, scattered or simply not given enough space to share their stories. These stories are an important part of our history, however shameful and horrifying, and like in Canada, they should be part of our national conversation in art.

~Genna Davidson

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has been working for many years to gather statements on the residential schools. They published their findings and held closing events this month. For more information on this important work, please visit their website

Winnipeg Photos

Some photos of our trip to Winnipeg this month for the Winnipeg International Storytelling Festival:

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The entire show of Saudade. Everyone was very impressed by our packing abilities!

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The poster for the festival.

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Genna sorts control rods before a show.

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The puppets (60 in total) laid out ready for a show.

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We performed in the gym at the NEEDS center, a community space for newcomers. Our fantastic sound guy, Hassaan is at the computer.

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Talking with the kids at the NEEDS Center after the show.

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The rivers of Winnipeg are beautiful in the sun.

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Cecilia and Genna at the opening dinner of the festival.

 

March Grab Bag

A round up of articles, links and videos that we shared on Twitter this month.

See item #5.

See item #5.

1. We wish we could head out to LA this spring for the Skirball Puppet Festival. It sounds like a blast!

2. Continuing with the theme of cool puppet events that we’ll have to miss, this production of The Little Prince in NYC also looks amazing.

3. Closer to home, it’s your last week to catch Pointless Theatre Company’s production of Dr. Caligari, with puppets designed and constructed by our very own Genna Davidson.

4. We were also excited to get to see The Winter’s Tale, produced by Half-Mad Theatre here in DC, with a puppet Mamilius.

5. This article about US puppeteer Paul Mesner was a lovely and thought-provoking read. Take a look!

SAUDADE Process Video

Saudade7This video contains some of the various pieces of the process it took to create Saudade: building shadow puppets, experimenting with movement on the various screens and finally the moving crankie and puppets in the finished piece. We hope you enjoy it!

 

Building a Shadow Puppet Joint

Saudade7We occasionally get questions about how we create our shadow puppets for shows like Saudade, so here is a short video with the steps for making a joint out of fishing line. Genna Davidson explains the process, using a lighter, awl and scissors. Hopefully this will be useful to those of you making puppets at home!

 

The Long Saudade Crankie Saga

By far the most time-consuming part of building Saudade was the crankie which forms the bulk of the show. Additional images appear on the side screens, but most of the action happens on this very long roll of Tyvek in front of an LED light. It took nearly two months to design and cut out all the scenes on the crankie, and a week to put it all together. Here are photos from the process.

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Spacing the images is important and takes time.

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Amy and Genna work together to glue down an image.

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Each image gets sprayed with glue carefully. Sometimes it’s hard to keep different parts from sticking to each other before it’s glued down.

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The roll of Tyvek is longer than our box so we had to carefully measure and cut about six inches off the bottom of the entire roll.

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One of the many intricate images on the crankie.

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Delicate images wait on newspaper so they don’t get crushed before being added to the crankie. We took over most of the living room eventually.

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Most of the crankie images are cut from black Tyvek, but these included some silver tissue paper as well.

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Amy makes an adjustment before gluing down the final image.

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This is the final roll–nearly 3 inches thick!

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Our first rehearsal with the finished roll, testing the light and the box.

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Here’s what an image looks like from the reverse side…

IMG_2329And here it is in light! Hope you enjoyed this tour of the building process!