A Huge Thank You

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A first glimpse of our crankie!

Saudade would not have been created without the help and support of many, many people who agreed to be interviewed about their experiences as immigrants to the DC area. Some of these people also helped us record sound clips for the show; others contributed their memories, stories of challenges they have faced and of course, moments of saudade. For reasons of privacy, we are only identifying people by their first names, but we want to acknowledge everyone and say a huge thank you for your help!

Sonia – Stephanie – Eiko – Sebastian – Ruth – Santiago – Ana – Juliana – Ottoniel – Eddy – Victor – Juan – Seare – Yolanda – Yanira – Oscar – Anamaria – Fernando – Nurya – Alexei – Genevieve – Grimaneza – Cintia – Rosario – Miguel – Svetlana – Nurbiya – Benta – Souad – Natalia – Hoummad – Noelya – Marisabel – Julio – Zohar – Emi – Diego – Johanna – Andrea – Doyoung – Fabiola – Artemis – Savana – Erick – Emma – Victoria – Omar – Arie – Susana – Medina – Amanda – Mehdi – Rashad – Sandra – Birol

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Dramaturg’s Desk

Ana Cackley is a rising senior at the University of Virginia. She is an English and Drama major and served as dramaturg for the initial workshop of MALEVOLENT CREATURES this summer. Here are some of her thoughts on being in the rehearsal room for the piece. 

Ana researching on her ever-present laptop.

Ana researching on her ever-present laptop.

When I got asked to be the dramaturg for Wits End Puppets’ devised piece Malevolent Creatures, I was both thrilled and terrified. I’d never worked as a dramaturg before, let alone on a devised piece of theater. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. The only thing I really had to go on was that it was then called “The Fairy Project” — and fairies are a subject that I can and will research happily for any length of time. The sheer creativity of the project — a theater piece devised around the ways that humans interact with fairies, or mythological creatures — grabbed me instantly, along with the excitement and eagerness of the other researchers in the beginning stages of development.

Ana getting attacked by one of the rehearsal puppets.

Ana getting attacked by one of the rehearsal puppets.

After we had done the research on various creatures and chosen the three that we would be focusing on for the first workshop, I thought that my role in the show was done. I didn’t expect to be needed at rehearsals, or have things to contribute. I was surprised and excited to learn that there was a lot more for me to do and work on. Rehearsals were some of the most fun parts of my week, as I took notes, looked things up, and gave opinions on the work that was being developed in front of me. The happiness and sense of play among the actors was inspiring and fun to watch, particularly once the rehearsal puppets began to be used and things got a little crazy. The willingness to explore that I saw in rehearsals only made me want to find out more and more about such weird and interesting characters, and research obscure details like what Orkney seals smell like, and the weather in Lincolnshire during the 18th century.

With the help of Google, anyone can be their own dramaturg. But most of us don’t get to trawl through the Internet endlessly about such a fascinating topic, and with such amazing people to support and add to the process. Working on Malevolent Creatures was always an interesting, funny, and occasionally terrifying experience. I’m really grateful that I got to fill a somewhat arcane position for such a new and exciting a piece. I’m literally counting down the days until we get to do it again.

Malevolent Creatures Research

mythThere have been two main categories of research for Malevolent Creatures. First is the folklore itself: stories, traditions, rituals and beliefs from the British Isles that center around fairies and other supernatural creatures. The second is how those beliefs fit together, how they have changed over the years and the various theories about where they came from and the meanings behind them.

One of my favorite pieces of reading has been Karen Armstrong’s book A Short History of Myth, which traces the evolution of mythology from the Paleolithic period to the present day. In considering the place of mythology in our world Armstrong writes that “The imagination is the faculty that produces religion and mythology…the imagination is also the faculty that has enabled scientists to bring new knowledge to light.” She also points out that “…like science and technology, mythology…is not about opting out of this world but about enabling us to live more intensely within it.”

MCResearchThat intensity is evident in nearly all of the individual stories and beliefs we discovered and is one of the reasons they have been retold and appropriated over and over; by poets, by scholars and by writers of literature for all ages. I am personally very interested in how fairy stories have been rewritten by authors of young adult and children’s literature and one of the pleasures of this research process for me is that it has given me an excuse to re-read some old favorite children’s books that incorporate British and Celtic myth. If you are interested in British folklore but maybe don’t feel like getting into the heavy academic side of things, I recommend these titles as both fun and worthwhile.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner

The Dark is Rising (series) by Susan Cooper

The Moorchild by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea

Puppets and Social Studies

I was thrilled to be able to return this month to Tuckahoe Elementary, where I used to teach full time, to do a three session arts residency with the 5th grade. Their social studies curriculum covers various world cultures, and I collaborated with their classroom, library and art teachers to give the students the opportunity to delve more deeply into Ancient Egyptian society through research, writing and puppetry.

A puppet plan waiting to be turned into the costume using fabric, markers and glue.

A  plan waiting to be turned into a puppet   costume using fabric, markers and glue.

Each student was assigned a particular Ancient Egyptian social group and  spent time in the library researching the work, lifestyle, dress and family structure of that group. I then led each class through the steps of creating a puppet character and writing a monologue for them to speak, focusing on the hopes and dreams of their particular person. Some students chose to go dramatic, with generals plotting to kill the pharaoh. Others wrote about characters wishing to move up in status or social group. The students demonstrated their knowledge about the time period and their social group through the details they included in their writing.

Completed puppets, waiting for the big performance.

Completed puppets, waiting for the big performance.

In art class, each student created a ceramic head for their puppet, which was fired and decorated. In social studies class with me, they designed and then built a basic rod puppet structure of dowels and a costume of fabric. Again, students were expected to use their research to create a costume and if possible, props for their particular puppet character. When the puppets were all assembled, the students each performed their puppet monologue for the group. They did a wonderful job! Among the comments and feedback we got from the students were “I liked getting to decide how my character reacted to things,” “I liked learning more about all the different social groups by watching everyone” and “I liked making the head and costume of my puppet!” proving that the arts are the perfect way to build a love of learning in students of all ages.  If you would like us to bring this or a similar workshop to your classroom, please email us at witsendpuppets@gmail.com.

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Rumplestiltskin, Habetrot and Tom Tit Tot

One of the most popular of the Grimm’s fairy tales will come to life in our neighborhood soon, when Imagination Stage in Bethesda opens Rumplestiltskin later this week. Genna is working as an understudy on the show and pointed out a connection to the folklore research we’ve been doing for our next devised project; while the Grimm tale is German in origin, there are numerous British versions of roughly the same story. Comparing these different tales is fascinating, so here are a few points we found especially interesting.

Habetrot, the Border fairy of spinning and an avatar of Rumplestiltskin.

Habetrot, the Border fairy of spinning and an avatar of Rumplestiltskin.

While Rumplestiltskin from the Grimms’ tale is always male, several UK stories, especially from Scotland have a female main character who assists the hapless girl with her spinning. Habetrot, from the Border region between England and Scotland, is the patron fairy of spinning and folklorist Katherine Briggs tells us that  in addition to helping girls with their spinning work, a shirt woven by her was supposed to be a remedy for many different diseases. Whuppity Stoorie (also called Fittletot) comes from further north in Scotland and is described by Robert Chambers as ‘aristocratical’ and all dressed in green, like most fairies. Almost every version of this story in the UK has a character whose name ends in ‘tot’ or ‘trot’, including Tom Tit Tot and Terrytop. Another interesting difference between the German and British versions of the story is the character of the girl who must spin: in the Grimm tale, the miller’s daughter is good and obedient, ending up in her sticky situation because of her foolish father. In the British versions of the tale, the girl is lazy and greedy, lying about her own skills; but through her determination and cleverness she is able to defeat the fairy or devil and end up alright in the end. All versions of the story include the demand for the girl’s firstborn child (or sometimes for the girl herself to go away with the devil), the challenge to find out the true name and then its last minute discovery. Only kindly Habetrot helps out the lazy girl for no reward at all and even convinces the bridegroom that her beauty would be ruined by spinning and so she should never touch a spindle again.

Check out Rumplestiltskin at Imagination Stage if you have kids, and for something a little more experimental, keep an eye out for more information here about our new devised folklore piece. And the next time you tell someone a story, remember that the phrase ‘spinning a yarn’ originally came, rather appropriately, from tales like Rumplestiltskin and Habetrot.

Research, Research, Research

So here’s a little secret: I love research. It’s definitely not the most glamorous part of puppetry and doesn’t provide as many fun photo or video opportunities. But lately I’ve been spending lots of time in this room, and you have to admit, it’s beautiful:

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That’s the Main Reading Room at the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress and it’s a pretty fun place to do research. You have to request books ahead of time and show a special card to get them (yes, it feels like belonging to a secret club). There are desks with little lights and numbers on them and there’s a huge echo every time someone drops a pencil. The books often have special labels in the front and if I need a break from reading, I can stare up at lots of statues and paintings all around the ceiling. What’s not to love?

We are deep in Phase 1 of our next devised piece, which is inspired by British folklore and in particular, Katherine Briggs’ seminal work A Dictionary of Fairies. Genna and Amy and I, as well as several other collaborators, have been reading all the folktales, fairy traditions, and stories of fairy encounters we can get our hands on. We’re not entirely sure what kind of puppet piece we will end up with, but it’s going to be lots of fun getting there!