Pinocchio at the PuppetCo Playhouse

The biggest take away I took away from this marionette…life sized marionette show was that anything on strings will inevitably break or tangle.  And when that happens….that’s when the excitement really begins.

Let me start at the beginning.  I take you back to early January of 2016. The time of day, usually mornings or after noon, the place, balmy Glen Echo park, the scene: a Mr. Allan Stevens as Gepetto on the ground of the set, while Josh Rosenblum, Elizabeth Dapo, and Christopher Piper operate life sized marionettes from a bridge twelve feet off the ground.

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Josh Rosenblum as Pinocchio and Christopher Piper as a donkey

The puppets are beautiful.  They were created by Christopher’s father, so we estimated they were at the very least, fifty years old.  However, that means that the materials were a little different from what we use now, so they had a tendency to lose a string and were pretty heavy. We built muscle during this show!

I got to operate and voice the Blue Fairy and I gave her a little southern accent because Christopher said that is how his mother voiced her, so I thought it would be nice to carry on tradition.  She was amazing to operate…once you learned not to fly her into pieces of scenery.

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The Blue Fairy and Lighthead backstage

I also go to voice the Cat, the sidekick to the devious Fox (Christopher).  Once I got that puppet in my  hands….and found his cockney voice…there was no going back.  I found new bits that he could do, like lick his paws and shake his fur dry after a thunderstorm.  He also had the quirk that whenever he blinked, he did it three times.  I highly doubt anybody noticed, but it was there from the beginning.  Christopher told his father about the Cat’s new personality and commented that it was becoming the Cat Comedy Hour.  I thought that was pretty great.

Josh played Pinocchio, so he had his hands full the entire show.  Christopher manipulated and voiced Lighthead, Cricket, and the Fox, but the two of us often traded off or had to hand each other a new puppet.  If you want to see organized chaos, I suggest you sit backstage during a marionette performance with multiple puppeteers.  It is a sight to be seen for sure!

I had a few issues that I was working through and will keep in mind for the future whenever I use marionettes.  One was to watch how I walk.  It was easy with the fairy, because her feet never touched the ground, but the cat was a challenge.  Too much tension and he would float, not enough tension and his legs would collapse.  There was a sweet spot that was sometimes hard to find.

There were also challenges presented to us because of what happens with marionettes sometimes…tangles and strings seemingly exploding on their own.  More than once we had to haul down the ladder to untangle a fish from a puppet (Oh…there is a glorious underwater scene with many many fish…which all hung backstage….) or vice versa.  One of the performances my control rod broke and I watched in abject horror as my shoulder bar fell on top of the cat. There was nothing to be done except run down the ladder, find some gaff tape, grab the bar, run up the ladder, temporarily fix it and hope I hadn’t tangled the strings too much on the way up.  Pinocchio had a few good mid show fixes where he would lose a foot or a hand string, so we would try to help Josh as much as we could.  All of this while being silent because we were on mics.

I took away a lot from doing this performance.  Trouble shooting and manipulation aside, it was a fantastic experience with seasoned performers who are truly masters of their art.

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