Monday, October 20, 2008

Famous Puppet Death Scenes

I was recently lucky enough to catch this stage production, put on by The Old Trout Puppet Workshop troupe. If you go to this link, be sure to view their gallery of puppets, and read the reviews page to see how much praise is being heaped on this show, and why.

The premise of the show is very simple, and very clever. There is a narrator character (a puppet, of course) who explains that the evening will consist of the best puppet death scenes, taken from the history of puppet theatre.

What follows is exactly that. But what's so exciting about this premise is that it leaves so much to the audience's imagination. What is depicted is truly ONLY the death scenes, from some 22 imagined plays. What led to these deaths? How did the characters in each of these plays arrive at this critical turning point in the narrative?

Since there are 22 death scenes depicted, and none lasting more than a few moments, the audience can't actually take the time to dream up what the surrounding narratives might be. But this only adds to the complexity of the show. It's a premise that truly draws up the audience's active imagination, and as a result is incredibly engaging, just from a narrative perspective.

Then, of course, there is the puppet work. As an animator (and one who moves puppets frame by frame), I would say the puppet work at its worst was well done, and at its best was truly moving and inspiring. The climax of the show, in which the narrator "attempts" the ultimate puppet death scene, is fantastic. It is a fantastic bit of puppet theatre, but I would argue fantastic theatre, period.

Without giving too much away (as this scene is so special and touching, I don't want to reveal too much in case you see it), the show's climax does exactly what top-notch puppet work can do. The climax moves the audience from thinking of the puppet as a piece of wood and wire, into thinking the puppet is truly, TRULY real. And by "real" I certainly don't mean "CGI-realism-I-can't-believe-it's-not-human-better-than-
" real. The puppet is clearly NOT a living, breathing creature- we're talking about a roughly sculpted puppet, with no moving mouth, about 2 feet high, yellow, that has the puppeteers right on stage WITH him, controlling his moves. The image above is the puppet in question. CGI reality, he is not.

I mean there is real emotion involved. We care for that piece of wood and metal as if it were a living, breathing human. The effectiveness of the climax is a testament to the skills and HEART of the puppeteers, writers, and director.

This show moved me enormously. As it ended, I felt a mixture of joy and sadness. Joy because I had been lucky enough to catch this live performance (can't rent THIS baby at Blockbuster). But sad because something this touching doesn't appear everyday. Nor once a week, month, year... It's such a rare thing, to be truly moved by anything in life, other than one's own "real world" joys and sorrows.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen this show. And I hope you can see it too (if you haven't already).


Darkstrider said...

Hey Chris,
This show sounds super-inspiring!!! I checked YouTube, found one of the scenes... great stuff!! Makes me think about new ideas for stopmo.

Thanks for linking me, and sorry it took so long to reciprocate. Somehow I passed up everything on that Melvin Erville post - including when the Coraline Team tried to contact me!!! Luckily Emmymme nudged me about that one... your comment I finally went back and discovered. Good to see you blogging!!

ChrisW said...

Hey Mike, nice to hear from you! Your stop mo passion continues to inspire (although I'm not on SMA much these days)...

You should check out:

A student of mine who's putting stop mo efforts on his blog. Nice stuff!