January 24, 2011
#2—Frankenstein & Friends

The moment of dedication. Determined now to commit to a weekly blog on the evolution of our Frankenstein. Work began way back when, then Hands Up! intervened, growing from a minnow into a giant squid, and closed its tentacles around us. Frankenstein is now scheduled for October 2011, in collaboration with Sixth Street Playhouse. We’ll run there a month and hopefully tour, extending its life until we both need hip replacements and brain transplants.

The “and Friends” phrase refers to the fact that our creative work, whether in writing, staging, performing or just sitting at our fireplace feeling our souls grow, can’t be compartmentalized.


Frankenstein will be performed by myself and my partner Elizabeth Fuller, along with a stage manager/puppet assistant we’ll hire. In two years, we’ve created three major puppet productions, and yet, except for Hands Up! the casts have been too large for touring, and most actors in this area have day jobs. Puppetry encourages an opulent imagination, you just need that one extra pair of hands, so every piece has expanded beyond itself. We were lucky in being able to give The Tempest a school tour to ten locations in our county, but for Frankenstein we want to reach further.

First question to ask: who are the puppeteers? In The Tempest, they were masked spirits of the island, slaves to Prospero, and Prospero himself, barefaced, operated his own Prospero puppet as the controlling visionary of the vision. I had thought of Victor and the Creature having the same dual personae as puppet and as actor. But gender is a central factor in this story, and having a male-female identity as puppeteers doesn’t fit.

The action is driven by Death. Victor’s fear of death, his combat with death, means that Death dictates every action, Death is the prime mover. And so the puppeteers will, when we’re seen, wear skull masks. I recall seeing Brueghel’s shocking painting in the Prado, “The Triumph of Death,” wherein the hundreds of tiny figures, soldiers and victims, are all skeletons, bedecked in armor or silks or homespun as their station dictates, but linked in Death’s triumph.


I’ve finished skull half-masks, and when we want the puppeteers to fade into the background, we can pull black scrim veils over our masks. There may be a few places where our faces are seen: that’s yet to be discovered.

Right now:

• I’ve finished a first-draft script/scenario/storyboard that I’ll start posting next week.

• I’ve sculpted ten of the twenty-odd heads.

• We’ve had a first discussion with Hob, the San Francisco cartoonist who’ll be designing the two-dimensional “toy theatre” figures that represent the Creature’s encounter with civilization, and a session with Michael Nelson of Magical Moonshine Theatre, who’s done many toy-theatre stagings and will consult on the mechanics. Elizabeth has dug up the mini-disk music cues from the previous production and is starting to review them prior to undertaking revisions on the score.

• I’ve finished thumbnail sketches of the entire company of puppets—working out which style of puppet works for each character; the number of different costumes; heads and bodies; and a general sense of the costumes. These will change a lot as they’re refined, but they serve as a guide to the initial sculpting.

• I just finished the set model and a working prototype of the toy-theatre figures.

• We’ve contracted with Sixth Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa to co-produce the play on their second-stage season, opening Sept. 30 and running for five weeks. They’ll provide facilities, box office, and some subsidy, and it’ll be a perfect space for the show.


Next week, I’ll post a photo of the set model and talk about its design.


The rest of life continues.

Our memoir Co-Creation: Fifty Years in the Making is proceeding on schedule. Just finished a difficult decade, our years in Lancaster between 1977 and 1991, and launched on our decade in Philadelphia. We’re two-thirds of the way through the first draft of a new screenplay with our friend Arturo, working title Salvage. Talking weekly via Skype, then I hit the keyboard and we talk again. Just finished the outline of the final section, feeling very good about it. Meanwhile, we’re circulating our first joint screenplay Willing. So far it was a finalist in a contest, but no cigar. And we’re studying Spanish, struggling to get our half acre of Mama Gaia under control, and running in all directions.

And next week we go down to Mill Valley, where a high school is doing two of our short sketches from Rash Acts on a bill of one-acts directed by students. These have been done a lot around the country, and we try to see them whenever we can. Quality varies, obviously, but there’s always something new and surprising, even in pieces that we ourselves have performed hundreds of times. And they’ve chosen a couple of crazy, difficult pieces. Looking forward to it.

Peace & joy—