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

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Location: Mansfield, Connecticut, United States

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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