September 29, 2009
Tempest #49—Two Weeks into the Run

Some moments of relaxation between weekends, though with many costume repairs and small lighting adjustments. There’s very little time for notes, but I manage, after watching videos of each performance, to crank out a mass of notes about once a week. Right now, I feel the actors are assimilating and learning to trust the puppets, to keep the energy up without pushng so hard, especially in the comic scenes, which are flowing much better.


I feel I’m registering pretty well as Prospero and startng to find the necessary modulatoins. In the long storytelling of the first act, I feel there must be a passionate energy driving him, or else the scenes are flat exposition. Yet a half-hour of blast-furnace energy will destroy all rapport with the audience. Fnding that roller-coaster rhythm is elusive, but starting to happen. Only once in six performances have I played it without line glitches, and that’s a consequence of insecurity in the overall thru-line.


Some responses. No press reviews—that’s common here—and one radio review is just being transcribed. But these are from audience members:


• The puppet stage itself is a marvelous sight and also very practical, allowing many areas for the 3/4th lifesize puppets to perform within. It is draped with fabric painted in golden clay colors, twisted and turned, creating the framed playing areas. Short familiar quotes and words from Shakespeare are painted on the fabric in large “Olde English” script.


• My take on Prospero’s gigantic mid-life crisis is that he is functioning at the throat chakra, the crossroads between good and evil. Which path will he choose? The throat chakra is also the area from which speech cometh, and Prospero rages and verbalizes in the best Shakesperian manner. Great stuff, Mooncalf, great stuff!

• Something rare and thrilling happened for me as I viewed this production, something I seek at every puppet show I attend. The puppet Miranda came “alive” for me. Was it a combination of her facial sculpting and exquisite right-on manipulation, or that her love glow threw enchantment over her? All of the above. I occasionally amused myself by trying to see her again as a puppet, not a real woman, but there was no turning her back into a puppet.


• I attended The Tempest last evening and found it a wonder! I must say that puppet kiss to end the first half was . . . mmmmm! And the soundtrack, beautifully integrated. The set, simple yet extraordinary.

• You seem to be born for Shakespeare, and you and your puppet likeness were totally magical. Thank you so much for bringing such a unique and beautiful production to our humble Sonoma County.

•Conrad was sensational as Prospero! With the puppets, the arms and especially the hands become huge vehicles of emotional expression, and even the inanimate masks seem to change expression depending on their positions, the angles at which they’re held and the lighting. Many delightful and imaginative uses of shadow-screens, overdubs, and other theatrical resources; and whatever puppets can do than humans can’t, they do, and to our amazement and delight!

•Fabulous and exciting production! Congratulations!!

• I feel privileged to have such thrilling, innovative, soul-touching theatre right here in our little town!

• Thanks for the amazing work . . . dedication and mastery.

• Fabulous.

• Astonishing/compelling.



More to come. We’ve started to do nightly talk-backs wth the audience, and response is very good. One woman asked a curious question: “What do you think Shakespeare would have thought of this production?”

Don’t remember what I said, but I’ve thought about that some more. What’s meant, I guess, is how faithful it is to the author’s intentions, and of course that’s unanswerable. My feeling is that the only negative feeling he’d have had—other than all the notes give to the other actors and to myself—is that he wasn’t getting any royalties from it. I think it’s “faithful” on three counts: (1) That character and scene interpretation are based very concretely in the text. One could certainly quarrel with them, but there’s a reason for everything. (2) The elements of “innovation” are really no different in kind than the enormous amalgam of theatrical techniques from multiple traditions that were part of the English stage of 1611. (3) The fullness of gesture and vocal expression that this form of puppetry allows is much closer to the style of the great actors he wrote for than we normally find in Shakespearean productions today.


Coming up to four more performances this weekend. Dreading the exhaustion, but enormously looking forward to the challenge.