File puptcrit/puptcrit.0803, message 147

Date: Fri, 07 Mar 2008 05:35:23 -0800
Subject: [Puptcrit] Rough puppets: why they work? (Hanging by a thread)

An interesting review of "Hanging by a Thread" on 
this subject was just in the Guardian...  Here is 
a quote from it;   "As Peter Schuman of Bread and 
Puppet Theatre once declared: "Puppets are not 
cute, like Muppets. Puppets are effigies and gods and meaningful people.",,2262502,00.html#article_continue

Lyn Gardner
Thursday March 6, 2008
<>The Guardian

It is good to see the Little Angel opening its 
doors to adult audiences, and nice to welcome 
back the Ding Foundation, who, along with 
companies such as Faulty Optic and Blind Summit, 
are part of a growing strand of British theatre 
that recognises puppets can sometimes connect 
with audiences more directly than human 
performers. As Peter Schuman of Bread and Puppet 
Theatre once declared: "Puppets are not cute, 
like Muppets. Puppets are effigies and gods and meaningful people."
Inspired in part by Tove Jansson's book about a 
grandmother and granddaughter living alone on a 
Finnish island, the Ding Foundation's Hanging By 
a Thread offers a huge bed as a stage through 
which trees and flowers sprout and the bedclothes 
themselves seem to breathe. Here, Grandma sits 
knitting as her granddaughter tends to her, in a 
strange, almost hallucinatory (and possibly 
drug-induced) world where memory and fantasy, the 
grandmother's past and her granddaughter's 
future, seem to blur. Death for one will mean a 
new life for the other, in an endlessly repeating natural cycle.

There are lovely moments in this wordless piece 
neatly underscored with sound and music. The 
curious hybrid of puppet and human 
(flesh-and-blood legs with puppet torso) is very 
effective. But though the show is good at 
creating mood, it is hopeless at telling a story, 
which makes it remote and frustrating to watch. 
With considerable restructuring and more 
attention to clarity, this could yet be a great 
little show. In its current form it feels very 
much like a yarn that has not yet knitted fully.

* Until March 16. Box office: 020-7226 1787

At 06:33 PM 3/6/2008, you wrote:
>Hi all fellow inspired creature makers and lifegivers!
>I'm back from a wonderfully inspiring and 
>rejuvenating day of puppet immersion.
>I saw a great puppet show, went to a cafe to 
>wait until next activity (modeling a new clay 
>puppet head for a project I'm working on) and 
>went back to the festival for the official 
>opening. It featured a modest Punch & Judy 
>puppet exhibition and a presentation of movement 
>exercices by the students of the intensive 
>workshop given by Gavin Glover of Faulty Optics (from Great Brittain).
>These "shorts" were fascinating. not only 
>because of the movements, but because of the 
>puppets themselves. They were built by the 
>students, to be used in the workshop, following 
>Faulty Optics's ways of building puppets. I 
>talked shop briefly with Mr. Glover, the systems 
>are "exceedingly simple", to quote a certain 
>professor Finklestein,  and I have to say, VERY efficient!
>Some fot he puppets featured tonight were made 
>by Faulty optics, but I wasn't told which ones 
>(didn't even feel like asking, too much to see, 
>to much to learn, too many people and puppets to meet!).
>What power of expression most of them (puppets) 
>were oozing from every pore! They were very 
>quickly built, some in just a day. All the heads 
>were rough, very crude, primitive even. Quite 
>ugly, but so much so that they became beautiful, 
>(to paraphrase Frank Oz when talking about 
>Aughra).  The techniques used varied, but most 
>heads were simply shapes of polyfoam, covered 
>with nylon stockings, needlesculpted for more 
>features, and coated with diluted latex and 
>acrylic paint mixture. Absorbed by the foam but 
>some retained by the stocking, the finish was 
>quite appealing, and could be rough or quite 
>smooth, depending on how it was treated.
>Which brings me to my topic:
>"What makes these roughly made puppets so darn efficient, so darn fascinating?
>What is it that makes them so much more powerful 
>than so many exquisitely detailed anatomically 
>correct or artistically reshaped fine puppets?"
>To define my query some more:
>What do I mean by "rough puppet"?
>I won't start listing all the puppet builders or 
>companies, it would take too long to research.
>But some VERY efficient rough puppets I've seen 
>were made by: Faulty optics, Old Trout Puppet Workshop, Garin Trousseboeuf.
>Routgh puppets, in my definition, means simply 
>that they were made with very little detail, 
>using simple bold shapes, not really bothering 
>with realistic anatomy, often roughly finished 
>with raw materials without concern for 
>smoothness (or deliberate avoidance of smoothness).
>The sharp edged ones look like they might have 
>been sculpted with an axe or a chainsaw.
>The smoother ones look more like lumps of clay 
>roughly formed or amalgams of mutant potatoes.
>Most rough puppets I've seen resemble awkwardly 
>drawn caricatures, by an inexperienced hand. Yet 
>that's aprt of their charm. WHY???
>AND YET: they work!
>Parts of me wonder at this, and some even 
>smaller parts are furious about it. I've been 
>moved for years to learn more anatomy, more 
>smoothing techniques, more precision and overall 
>better sculpting and modeling skills. And then I 
>start to realise that roughly made puppets can 
>be just as, if not more efficient than the 
>painstakingly rendered pieces of Art I've been trying to make!
>Some parts of me say: it's not fair!
>But most parts of me are just plain curious at 
>what makes these primitives look and act so darn efficiently.
>Once we understand it, we'll be better suited to 
>integrated the principles into my more involved sculpts.
>I believe there are many levels of details and 
>shapes one can choose from. I try to believe 
>that none are "bad" per say, just different, and 
>not for everyone. At the moment, the level of 
>detail I aim for (and am now able to accomplish) 
>is contradictory to what my recent customers 
>seem to want.  I am starting to believe they 
>want "rough puppets", as seems to be the trend now.
>While I enjoy a good rough puppet (I make my own 
>sometimes), I want to understand how they work 
>so well so that I can use those "principles" to 
>streamline and make my current level of puppet forms more efficient.
>As usual, I'm open to comments, criticism, 
>suggestions, suggested reading material, reccomended web links, etc...

Steve Axtell
Axtell Expressions, Inc.

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