Beauty and the Beast at the PuppetCo

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You guys seriously.  Marionettes are a challenge.  But when you get it right…there is something so completely magical about the experience.  I don’t mean “get it right” as in “I need to move a hand I pull a string”, rather, this character and I are one being right now and how she feels is how I feel and she’s the one who shows it because I am imbuing her with everything I’ve got.  Once you get to that point in a show using puppets on a strings, there is a very surreal feeling of connection through a tiny physical tether.

The puppets we used for this production were not true marionettes, but a hybrid between Sicilian Rod puppets and marionettes.

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Myself with Beauty and Josh Rosenbaum with Beast.  

There is a central rod that connects to the puppets head.  On top of that is a controller that has strings connected in a loop for the hands, and a rocker bar on the front so you can walk the legs around.  They were designed by the late Terry Snyder and they are beautiful.   The type of puppetry is overt puppeteering, meaning that we the puppeteers are visible through the entire show, right next to our puppets.

So, you ask, what are the challenges to working with marionettes?  Well, in the immortal words of Mr. Allan Stevens “Anything on strings isn’t for me” because strings tangle, they break, they get caught in other puppets….the list goes on and on…but…when you stop worrying about the mechanics of the puppet, and begin to give the puppet life, you handle those little snafus one moment at a time.  For example: see that beautiful Beauty puppet up there?  Sure, she’s elegant, she has a glorious gown, she’s heavy as the sun is bright, but she has one fatal flaw….she likes to lose her head.  Josh and I fixed her neck multiple times during the run, but inevitable three times, that head just wanted to float away from her body.  You could actually feel the disconnect, it wasn’t a pop, it wasn’t a snap…it was a “Oh dear lord I’m not holding up ten pounds of puppet anymore” which somedays my shoulder was happy about…even though the rest of me was on “Please oh please don’t let the body fall over because how terrifying would that be to a group of kids….” so I learned how to grab her body and we would finish the show without a hitch…literally there was nothing hitched together.

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This scene…this scene caused sooooo many problems. 

I loved being Beauty.  I usually play the characters in plays, so being the princess was fun.  (I’ve played princesses before as puppets…but this was different for me)  However, my favorite character to play was one of the mean sisters: Vanity.

Vanity was a Brooklyn girl (the play takes place in rural Russia((our version does anyway)) and she has always been a Brooklyn girl.  Josh and I came up with so many new fun bits to add to the show.  We somehow managed to improvise with each other…and I only made him break on stage once! She had many wonderful lines including “I’m so hungry I could eat my shoes” and “How long does it take to squeeze a chicken?”

We had some moments were the technical aspects glitched out, but Josh and I were so comfortable working together that we could make it through.  Even when Josh decided to stick an altoid in his mouth moments before going on stage and ended up spitting it out….we both watched it roll across the floor and hit my shoe…that was a very interesting moment on stage.  We had opportunities to interact with the audience, we made the sisters into a comedy act all to themselves, and we learned how to do a ribbon dance with puppets all while not tangling ourselves up in the process.

The experience with this wonderful play written by Terry Snyder, given to the PuppetCo and performed by veteran master puppeteers like Christopher Piper, MayField Piper, and Eric Brooks, was a delight to learn and even more fun to embellish on.  Allan gave us the freedom to discover new moments and try new bits.  He also pulled us back when necessary.  I could write an entire thesis about the process, but that might be a bit more information than anyone is willing to read! It was an enriching experience and one that I will miss greatly.

Aladdin at the Puppet Co Playhouse

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Josh Rosenblum, Christopher Piper, Toni Goldberg, various puppets, and Liz Dapo. Photo by Christopher Piper

In February and March of 2015 and again in October of 2015, I happily performed in Aladdin at the PuppetCo Playhouse with Josh Rosenbaum and Christopher Piper.

I was the lead puppeteer for Princess Badre, Mother, the tailors, the dancing girl, the Spirit, the Slave of the Ring, and I sometimes puppeteer the peasant, older Aladdin, and various props.  It was a challenge to learn the backstage choreography and to get into a rhythm with the other two puppeteers, but once we had our lines down, and got to be on stage, we quickly formed a unit that was able to anticipate the needs of each other, and help out when things went awry.

 

Developing characters for this production was one of the easier processes for that.  Princess Badre spoke with a soft and educated voice that was also sweet.  I try to avoid what I call “stereotypical princess voice” which to me plays down the intelligence of the heroine and makes her too naive and gullible.  Mother was a little over the top and a pushy older lady, who was really very concerned about her son.  She was probably my favorite character in the show.  The Slave of the Ring was just a few pieces of gold colored, sheer fabric on a long rod that waved around quickly, was actually quite magical.  His voice was very nasally and reminded me of a Neptunian from Futurama.  The Spirit was a beautiful long rod puppet that Josh and I voiced together.  We got to a point where we didn’t have to look at each other, but could follow each other during a performance, so that if one of us missed or added a word, the other would instinctively follow.

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The Spirit from a backstage point of view.  Created by Allan Stevens and Christopher Piper

It was a lot of fun and it was the first show I performed with the PuppetCo Playhouse.  I look forward to hopefully many more opportunities.

For a review of the performance click here!

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Josh Rosenblum backstage.

Summer Theatre

I am pleased to announce I will be spending my summer in Colorado working as an actor with the Southern Colorado Repertory Theatre Company.  I’ll be in all three shows: Tom, Dick, and Harry as Linda, The 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee as Logainne, and The Last Romance as Rose.  I’m very excited to be playing such diverse characters of all ages.

I am counting down the days until I head that way! (One month from now by the way)