Too Much Light

Touring a puppet show is always challenging, but when the show in question involves shadow puppets, things become especially tricky.

Shadow puppetry depends on the interaction between light and objects (usually flat cutout puppets made of cardstock). This means that controlling light sources becomes even more vital than it would be for another kind of puppet show. In a theater, that is fairly easy. Most theaters are built without windows, so there’s no extra light spill to interfere with the shadows. But our show Saudade was intended from the beginning to be an outreach show; a piece that is shared in community spaces such as schools, churches, libraries and community centers. And almost all of these spaces have, well, windows.

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The perfect shadow puppet space, with side light on the audience but not the enclosed stage.

When we get to a new performance space on tour that has windows, placing the stage becomes extra important. We’ve had lots of discussions as to how we can achieve the best lighting: do we worry more about light spilling onto the screen from the front and perhaps washing out the shadows? Or do we worry about light spill from behind, which could distort the shadows or reveal certain images before they are intended to be seen?

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This was a good setup–no windows behind the stage & blinds that blocked most of the side light.

 

Sometimes we attempt to cut off the light with curtains, venetian blinds, or shutters and hope for the best. Often we are setting up the show a good hour before we start, which means that the sun can sink lower in the meantime, finding its way through cracks in the curtain or blind. We have fond memories of how various venues have gone the extra mile to try and block windows, including covering them with trash bags (at a transitional school in Winnipeg, Canada) or with large sheets of cardboard (at a church in Minneapolis). For the record, cardboard works the best.

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This was the pitch black gym that made the kids scream in Winnipeg!

In the end, not all light spill is terrible. It can be helpful to have just a little bit of light as we go through scene changes and prepare puppets for upcoming moments. It can also help the audience feel more comfortable. We did one show in Winnipeg at an after-school program where we were performing in a gym with no windows and it was pitch black when the lights first went out. Not only did that make several of the children scream (whether with fright or anticipation I’m not quite sure) but it meant we had no help whatsoever when trying to find the next puppet if one screen light had gone out and the next one wasn’t on yet. As a result, there were a few fumbles when the wrong puppet was picked up and had to be fixed quickly.

Light is essential to shadow puppetry and controlling it is a must when considering where and how to take a shadow puppet play on tour. We hope this post can help other people with these challenges when taking shadow puppets on the road.

 

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Touring Minneapolis

We completed one of our long-time goals for the company this year, taking the show Saudade on an out-of-state tour to Minneapolis, Minnesota. We chose the city because of its strong local puppet scene, anchored by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater, which was kind enough to put us in touch with one of our venues. After six shows in five days, we were tired, but very satisfied with our work. Here are some photos of the shows and our adventures.

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We had to take apart the crankie box and reassemble it when we arrived, always a slightly nerve-wracking task!

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St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, which put up this lovely bilingual sign, had us speak to their arts and leadership youth group before the performance.

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The backstage view at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

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One of the kids from the youth arts group at St. Paul’s tries out a puppet after the show. “It’s not too hard–you just have to get the hang of it!” he told a younger kid.

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The beautiful arch at The Southern Theater, a building that has seen many changes.

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Genna Beth, Cecilia and Amy at the sculpture ‘Spoonbridge and Cherry,’ part of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden near the Walker Art Center.

Snapshots from the Road

We’re proud to have completed a tour of D.C. and Arlington, VA with our show Saudade this year, partially supported by a City Arts Project grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Below are some snapshots of the places we performed.

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Lincoln’s Bedroom at President Lincoln’s Cottage, in Washington, DC.

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Performing for an adult ESL class at the Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP)

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We were part of the On the Move tent at the 2016 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

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We performed in the beautiful and historic Arts & Industries Building for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

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The view from the stage at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.