I have just been reading about a puppetry festival, taking place in England’s south-west. What took my interest, however, was that half the programming was specifically puppetry for an adult audience. The Bristol Festival of Puppetry – Exploring Different Worlds, has companies and performances from four continents and its programme for adults has a particularly dark feel about it – take a look here. One of the companies, Duda Paiva, looks fantastic. Brazilian born, Dutch resident Duda Paiva describes his work as a
lively cross-over of dance and objects in an exciting and original form of contemporary visual theatre.
Sounds fascinating, doesn’t it? Well, take a look at extracts from two of their pieces. The first is called Bastard!
And the second, Malediction
In connection with the festival, Rachel McNally, the organiser has given an interview to Regina Papachlimitzou from Exeunt, in which she talks about why puppetry has an enduring appeal, and why audiences have such a visceral response to puppetry:
This is not a full answer, but it’s a partial answer: when you watch an actor perform, even though the performance can be brilliant, and they completely inhabit that character, you still are aware that there is a person behind that character, who is an actor, because you see their face and it’s so familiar. So, for example, if you see Tom Cruise in one movie and then you see him in another, you know it’s Tom Cruise performing and acting. Whereas a puppet is only that character. So you have to believe the puppet, that’s the only existence that puppet has, is to be that character and so if you’re prepared to believe in that puppet, in that character of the puppet, then you believe whole-heartedly in the story.
That’s a very transformative experience for an audience, because you allow yourself to buy in completely, and to be transported. There is an innocence to that which can take you to absolutely delightful places, but on the other hand you can go to some very dark places [as well]. Because you have to go with the puppet. There is obviously the performance that’s coming from the puppet but it’s then also what [you are] putting onto the puppet [yourself], because a puppet does not have facial muscles, so you read them slightly differently.
The other side of it is to do with the relationship between the puppeteer and the puppet. Increasingly in performances, you don’t see the puppeteer blacked out. You see the facial expressions of the puppeteer. Most puppeteers try to keep themselves relatively neutral, because they want the focus to be the puppet. There’s something joyful about seeing someone give that much attention and detail to create a life. Because the puppeteer is investing their own huge level of focus in a puppet, that gives you another reason to go along with the puppet.