Some sessions this week with actors actually exploring scenes. We begin with a lot of mirror work, partly to get accustomed to the puppets’ range movement, the connection between the live hand and the head, the size of gestures … and partly to start getting into the soul of the puppet.
If that sounds like magic thinking, well, it is. The starting point in puppetry, in any style of puppetry, is first of all to bring this dead thing to life. (That’s just the start: then it’s gotta do something interesting.) For us, that means creating the illusion for ourselves. Staring into the mirror, letting the puppet breathe, letting it start to do very small things, watching it as if you were watching a cat, imagining that it’s doing those things, letting it gradually expand its movement, but keeping that sense of its independence. Intimate acquaintance.
With Miranda (Jessica Bauman), I worked on the first Prospero/Miranda scene. Initially just running lines while on the feet, then staging it roughly, more or less following my storyboard, with Elizabeth holding book and noting changes in blocking. In general, it works, but I’m finding that Prospero, during his long narrative, feels a strong need to move, also a strong split between speaking to her directly and falling into the passions of his memory.
The puppets presently have no paint, hair, or costume, but their shoulder structures and the gloves that allow head control are completed. So we just draped shawls around them for makeshift bodies and got a pretty good feel of the real thing.
With Caliban (Anthony Abate), we worked similarly on the Act 1 scene, but spent most of the time with character exploration: what does this creature sound like? how does he move? Some interesting directions—
• Started with a rough, angry voice, but then started working with higher-pitched, more guarded diction, trying—for his own self-preservation—to restrain his anger. The essence of Caliban is his isolation, and somehow this wants to reflect in his voice. Worked with how the cleft lip of the puppet might affect the diction without going too extreme with it, also how his having learned language at a late age affects his using words.
• Possibly some compulsive habits or gestures that rise, as with autism, from some deep need or from the constant abuse. A sense, when Prospero threatens him, that he’s so familiar with these tortures that he can practically feel them as they’re named.
• In many speeches, he goes through radical mood shifts, from very regular iambic pentameter to extremely disjointed rhythm, for one moment lost in the past, then thrust back into cursing the present. This, despite his overall need to protect himself, like the convict who knows the guards will beat him but can’t contain his sudden outbursts of taunting them.
• Language: Its only function is to foster relationship between people; now he’s been given words but is cut off from the people; and so the words become toxic, a stillbirth that hasn’t been expelled. This is why, when he starts to rant in 2:2 about his multiple tortures, it’s a rant, it’s as if he needs to expel these words. The ultimate torture is that which makes the victim torture himself.
Other work in progress.
• We’ve solved some set construction conundrums, and in our studio the set is slowly transmuting from aluminum frame to magical island. (This is noteworthy: over the course of 48 years of working together, Elizabeth & I have had our major quarrels over minute technical issues, the smallness of the issue inversely proportional to the magnitude of the quarrel. Magically, we seem to have entered a new era.)
• Elizabeth is intensely under way on the score. Lotsa technical snarls with equipment, and tonight a recalcitrant midi cable bit the dust, but creation is under way. Last Sunday we went to a concert by Floracanta, a lovely local early-music group, and the harmonies of a 13th Century piece caught our ear and informed last night’s very rough draft of “Full fathom five.”
• I’ve been sewing and gluing the shoulder structures and attached fingerless gloves for all the puppets. Finished’em, all eighteen. No, damn, still have five Ariels to do.
• Nice letter in the mail. We’re invited, after a preliminary proposal, to submit an application to the Henson Foundation for a development grant for our next project, a restaging of our Frankenstein as a puppet piece. Not big bucks, and nothing guaranteed, and a week’s work on sending a bloomin’ proposal, but still, yes, that feels good.
• And with Ariel, he’s my nightmare. How do you design a shapeshifter? The five raw heads I’ve had for some time now, but going past the rough shells—well, I hate, hate, hate the moment when, ok, now I have to be fuckin’ CREATIVE. So today, at last, all right, I started. Next step.
How strange to write this stuff with no notion that anyone reads it. But growing up in Iowa, you kinda have a hankering for strangeness, given that Tuesdays are so familiar.