Edmond Chibeau looks at performance and theatre from the avant-garde communication perspective

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Location: Mansfield, Connecticut, United States

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Althea Bock-Hughes live stream from Oberlin

Just watched a live stream of Althea Bock-Hughes, mezzo-soprano concert at Oberlin. It was wonderful. Just amazing voice, rich and warm. Great expression, great phrasing. The selection of pieces had a shape of its own and allowed Althea Bock-Hughes to show her skills to best advantage.  I really liked the Jake Heggie composition. "Of gods and Cats" from a poem by Gavin Geoffrey Dillar. The piano accompanist Jie Song was sensitive to both the composition on the page and the performer she was accompanying.

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Sunday, April 03, 2016

3 Puppet Pieces -3

Creator Performer: Ana Craciun-Lambru
Studio Theatre UCONN
24 March 2016

DUST is cubist theatre.
Elements of the work are looked at from several view-points. 
Those view-points sometimes come from different places or different times.

We often see the same moment in time from the perspective of different people.

Dust is cubist in many ways.
The story is passed from medium to medium as the play continues.  Sometimes the primary narrative line is passed from the actor, to the puppet, to the performing object, to the shadows that are being projected.
With all of this abstraction, metaphor and implication the story might be in danger of becoming diffused, but it does not.
One of the most important lessons in the performing arts is to “respect your audience.” Ana Cracuin-Lambru respects her audience and is not afraid to share her emotions, her history and her theatrical method. This is what we hope for, not just from puppet theatre but from all theatrical productions.

This work can be fully appreciated by both adults and school age children. It is also informative because it shows us that puppet theatre can be much more than a silly Punch and Judy show.

The opening trope of the work turns a sewing machine into a cow using high heel shoes as the horns then adding a cowbell and a milk pail.  The cow Craciun-Lambru builds on stage looks like a sculpture by Picasso.

Although the work is abstract it is full of emotion.  We feel anxiety for what
we know is going to happen next, hoping against hope that she escapes from the burning Triangle Shirtwaist Factory building.
Craciun-Lambru changes from a shy child, to an old father, to a young woman setting out to explore the world. She is a girl on an adventure.
The sewing machine becomes, among other things, a fire truck, a cow, and the Triangle Shirt waist building on Washington Square.

The earth-color tonalities that run throughout the stage picture help set the mood and attune our senses to the story being told. We see umber, burnt sienna, brown madder, and grayish blue. The combination of the lighting and the color palate helps draw us into the story and the mood of the piece

Dust is a work of American history and Romanian history and an essay on cubist historiography.

Lighting a stage for three different shows that allow very little time between pieces, in a theatre that has limited space for placement of instruments, is not an easy task.  It is one that lighting designer Daniele Vekennes manages with both creativity and professionalism. Sometimes frontlight was used to give a bright presence to the actors, puppets, performing objects, and set pieces, but when she wants a more sculpted look she comes in from the wings at a sharper angle. The angularity works particularly well in setting off the stark reality of tragical-history in Dust by Craciun-Lambru. The photos in my essays on this evening of puppet performances are all by Gerry Goodstein.

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3 Puppet Pieces -2

Kalob Martinez 
El Beto
writer, director: Kalob Martinez
performers: Martinez and Natalia Cuevas
composer: Lucas Gorham
3D modeler: Leslie Prunier
projections: Joseph Rosen
El Beto is a word with many meanings and implications. It can be a nick name. It might mean a large sexual organ, or a lucky person, or a crazy person. Either a king of Scotland or a drug lord in Mexico might acquire that nickname if they were big enough, crazy enough, and/or lucky enough. Martinez uses the story of Macbeth and images of Mexico to draw parallels between those two types of overwhelming ambition. He uses famous monologues from the Scottish play as the script of his drama. But sometimes he speaks in English and sometimes in Spanish. Often code switching in mid soliloquy. The effect is compelling; we hear the well known speeches in a different timbre.  Kalob Martinez brings the speeches from Shakespeare to life. He knows what the phrases mean and speaks them so as to help us understand how those words come together as a story. The puppets and projections hold our attention. This show would be a great introduction to Macbeth for a younger audience.
In the course of the three-play evening there were only four performers, two women and two men, both women moved with an awareness of their body that bespoke training in dance and consciousness of the fact that every part of the mise en scene is important, and that the puppeteer is part of the mise en scene. 

Although Natalia Cuevas did not operate a puppet but acted in El Beto, she was able to fit her body and her emotions into the production at hand. She moves like a dancer and has an awareness of her body and her character's orientation in the stage space. She seems to be completely fluent in both English and Spanish. Cuevas is capable of carrying a much larger role.

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3 Puppet Pieces -1

actor puppeteer: Gavin Cummings
music Gwendolyn Rooker
Studio Theatre UCONN
24 March 2016

The initial entrance by Gavin Cummins, carrying a bright light on a piece of wood, brings us immediately into the piece. He enters through the back of the house muttering to himself, the character seems insane, homeless, ragged  and we feel we are in a dangerous place. The character, Cummins, then mounts the stage and begins the body of the work. He uses shadows well and creates a stage on his chest against which is another shadow puppet.
The voice and intonation of Cummings leave us with a sense of emptiness and loss. It is a false cheer that we sometimes adopt in the face of tragedy that opens the heart of the audience to what is about to take place. There are several astounding images. The work would have been more dense if the spoken words had been a bit richer, although the repetition of the title phrase took on layers of tragic, and forlorn meaning as they were spoken over and over again. 
This performance was a preview and one expects that on opening night the elements of the piece were more tightly woven together.

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Sunday, November 01, 2015

Doubt Closes The Hope

Doubt: A Parable
By John Patrick Shanley
Harry Hope Theatre
Halloween 2015
Directed by Alycia Bright Holland
 The play which premiered in 2004 takes place in a catholic school in the Bronx in 1964, less than a year after the assassination of John Kennedy, and 5 years after the Second Vatican Council that attempted to make the ritual of the church more accessible to the congregants.  Shanley’s play about a nun in a Catholic school who confronts a priest whom she believes is molesting a child in the school brings together all the elements of theatre.  The script has already proven itself to be worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award for best play, and a movie staring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. This production takes the script and adds all of the other elements that are necessary to create a satisfying evening of theatre.

It is a testament to the skill of the director that all of the actors are on the same tonal page while expressing a wide range of emotions. The blocking is both natural and unobtrusive but audience members who take the time to notice will see that Alycia Bright Holland’s experience as a dancer and choreographer helped her give the actors blocking that reveals character and advances the plot. The whole show is understated, subtle, and insightful.  It has a wide range of emotions.

Maureen McDonnell who plays the lead character, Sister Aloysius, uses her voice to great effect.  All of the actors, but especially McDonald, manage to reach the last row without shouting, and express great emotion without sounding shrill or out of control.   McDonald’s face, set off by her nun’s habit, is a kaleidoscope of restrained emotion.

Corey Lorraine as Father Flynn changes his attitude as the scenes progress and leaves it open to us to decide if he is innocent or guilty of the sins that he is accused of by Sister Aloysius.

Stephanie Madden, as the younger more innocent Sister James, is torn apart by her wish to avoid evil, and her responsibility to fight against it. Her emotions often ripple across her body before she speaks.

Charliece Salters, as Mrs. Muller, brings the quiet intensity and desperate dignity to the role of Mrs. Muller, the mother of the boy who either was, or was not, molested by the priest.

The sound design is simple and well executed, with just enough reverb in the microphone to give us a sense of being in church during a homily.  

Scenic Designer Kristen Morgan, with the help of Technical Director & Production Manager F. Chase Rozelle III, give us a multilevel set with doors, window, and scrims that carry us to several locations and times.

The lights, by Jeffrey E. Salzberg, set the mood and keep everyone in focus.  In the church scenes,  downlights over the audience bring us in as part of the congregation. He also places a soft special on the Crucifix in Sister Aloysius’s office that helps remind us of the authority under whom all of these negotiations are taking place.

It should also be noted that Black Op Ninja, Aspasia Daniolos, operating away from the stage, was so subtle as to be absolutely invisible.

Everything comes together in an organic whole that results in a satisfying and insightful, and emotionally troubling, night at the theatre.

The Harry Hope Theatre closes forever at the end of the run of the Alycia Bright Holland production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt.
As Hickey, in Harry Hope’s Saloon, in O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh says,
             “You’ll be in a today where there is no yesterday or tomorrow to worry you.”

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Puppetry Slam at the Ballard Institute

Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry
1 Royce Circle, Mansfield, CT

The level of preparation for performance in a particular space is often a reflection of the level of respect a performer has for the venue.   There are no small venues only small performances.

The puppeteer is part of the performance.   

      I would even go so far as to say that the puppeteer is part of the puppet.  The physical and emotional disposition of the performer is as important as that of the puppet. Placement of feet and angle of head are as significant as the placement of the hands.  To ignore this is to invite disaster.

      If you are manipulating a marionette you must, of course, think about how the sweep of the arms will affect the movement and expression of the marionette.  But how one is centered, how one is balanced on the feet (maybe the balls of the feet) and the epaulement of the shoulders, all play into the final stage picture.

     This is all the more important if the puppeteers are visible to the audience.
Sometimes a puppeteer is inside the puppet and the center of gravity of the puppet is not the same as the puppet itself.  And certainly if the puppet is not warn by the puppeteer then the there are 3 centers of gravity to consider.
They are the center of gravity of:
·                                                             the puppet
·                                                             the puppeteer
·                                                             the combined figure of the puppeteer and the puppet when considered as a unit.  

       It doesn’t matter if the puppeteer is wearing traditional black, or baggy overalls and mismatched socks.  What matters is that once the performance begins the performer must be aware that everything counts, there are no time outs, and that everything is part of the performance. 
Whatever you choose to do or say is okay, but everything you do is saying something.

The Ballard Puppet Institute was busy on 11 July 2015. 

 There was an opening of a new exhibit curated by Anna Fitzgerald:
"The Work That Follows: 50 Years of UConn Puppeteers"
As part of the Saturday Afternoon Puppet Show series there were two performances of "The Nature of Nature" by Anna Fitzgerald and Gavin Cummins.  In the evening there was a more adult oriented UConn Alumni Puppet Slam.

At the Slam:
            Anna Fitzgerald presented a humorous meditation on the game of rock paper scissors.  She used those items as performing objects and provided the voices.  She is also curator of the performances at the slam, of the large retrospective exhibit, and was the creator of the longer performance that was presented twice earlier in the day.  WOW ! Anna Fitzgerald has stamina, creativity, and knowledge of both the history and current trends in her field.  I bet she was tired at the end of the night.

           Karen Huizingh manipulated her creature with humor and skill in a “Now you see monkey now you don’t” marionette show.  The small stuffed animal up stage left was difficult to see for those who were not in the front row.  The piece has great potential.
           Sarah Nolen presented a video that she created at the O’Neill Center reminiscent of a Busby Bekeley dance number.    It was beautifully lit and staged for the camera.
            Hua Hua Zhang offered us a view of  “Mothers Love” that was gently humorous and touching.  She worked her body as much as her puppet.  She was dressed in black and every movement of her body and every part  of her body was interacting with the hand puppets in her piece.  Hua Hua Zhang gave us an object-lesson in how a performer must pay attention to the most minute detail.  She is aware of and every part of her body from the tip of her toe to the top of her head.

            Amy Rush’s Wondertoast wore a cape made of a Wonderbread wrapper with red and blue dots.  Her script was well written and was exactly right for the piece.  With assistance from Sarah Nolen (who has a liltingly ironic Texas drawl) she kept us attentive to the plot and the movements of her performing objects.
            Jean Marie Keevins video of a girl with a problem of liverwurst in grade school had a not-for-school-kids flavor to her piece.  
            Jim Napolitano closed the show with some very nice cut outs and shadows and language that would have parents pulling their children from the room if it were done in a different venue.

This was the first puppet slam in the new space and is an auspicious beginning of a long line of slams to come. Funding for this event is made possible in part by the Puppet Slam Network.  The exhibit in the museum will be open through November first 2015.                       

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