Getting Warmed Up

Most Americans who haven’t seen Avenue Q or a big Julie Taymor show (think The Lion King) have probably never seen a puppet show of the grown-up, modern variety. These people may find the idea of watching a puppet show, if not alienating, at least a little alien. ‘Puppets?’ they inquire, scratching their watch-tan lines, ‘So, um, why puppets?’ Gentle readers, I’ve been tasked with finding out. I’m diving headlong into an ancient and admittedly kind of weird-seeming but also curiosity-piquing art form, and I’ll be reporting my experience along the way. While I can’t say I’m abundantly experienced with puppetry, I saw Puppet at its IFC Center premiere last fall, so I have a some insight into the creative process. Mostly, though, I’m just curious. Puppets are strangely captivating.  These (usually) small, (usually) humanoid inanimate objects seem like they should be a major hindrance to an audience’s ability to invest emotionally in a piece of theater. But on the contrary, I’m struck by how deftly a good puppeteer can command the empathy and suspension of disbelief of his audience to achieve, not the same effect as a human actor, but something analogous. So I’m going to check out the scene to see just what these representative figures and the people who manipulate them can do, and this blog will be a sort of chronicle of my puppet experiences along the way.

Experience #1 will be ‘Compulsion,’ a show involving a man obsessed with the story of Anne Frank. I’m not too sure about what to expect – despite my good ol’ fashioned Jewish upbringing, I’ve never actually read the relevant Diary – but David Soll (Director of Puppet) tells me that Matt Acheson and Eric Wright from Puppet are involved as the puppet designer and a puppeteer, respectively. The subtlety of the motion conveyed by the Disfarmer puppeteers from Puppet was one of the major points that initially interested me in this project, and I’m excited to see if I can spot any similarities.

So what might a kid (I’m 23, incidentally) with pretty minimal experience with anything theatrical dig about a puppet show? Why do I get so much out of it? Will I get hooked, keep coming back for more ventures into the uncanny valley?

Probably. Maybe. I have really almost no idea.

But I’m intrigued.

March 29, 2009

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