by Allison Benko Directing Apprentice
I love puppets and all they imply. Just as art is an imitation of life, puppets are an imitation of humans. When a puppet “walks” onstage, suspension of disbelief is automatic. Uniquely, puppets are inanimate but animateable. They are come to life solely through human manipulation, and their one purpose in life is performance. In this way, they are reminiscent of quantum theory’s assertion that reality does not exist until it is observed.
Lately, puppetry has been integral to my work in theatre. I recently directed an operatic adaptation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, in which Nora’s doll children were literally marionette dolls. I also assistant directed a production of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, which heavily utilized shadow puppetry as well as hand puppetry to represent the demonic world. I have also had the wonderful luck to study under the incomparable Faye Dupras, a brilliant puppet artist based in Boston.
As the assistant director for Out of Sterno, I have been tasked with designing and building the puppets used in the production – which marks my professional puppeteering debut! In this satirical comedy, the main character Dotty has essentially been imprisoned in her apartment by her thuggish husband Hamel. The unfailingly optimistic Dotty spends her days merrily crafting art projects, until she is called to adventure, and must explore the outside world.
These particular puppets have posed a wonderful creative challenge – partly because they are supposedly some of Dotty’s art projects, and partly because the puppets are meant to be mini versions of Dotty and Hamel themselves. So in building them, I had to carefully consider what materials Dotty would have at hand, how much time she would put into each puppet, and how she would conceive of her husband and herself.
The Components of Dotty-the-Puppet:
Body = a Jim Beam whisky bottle
Clothes = a red dress from another doll
Legs = wine corks
Arms = clothespins
Head = a measuring cup
Hair = ribbon
Eyes = bottle caps, small googly eyes
Mouth = newsprint
The Components of Hamel-the-Puppet
Body = a red oven mitt
Clothes = a mosaic made of a cut-up Milwaukee’s Best beer can
Hair = orange and brown yarn, brown ribbon
Eyes = large googly eyes
Mouth = newsprint
There are a number of alcohol materials in the design; the idea is that Dotty has collected Hamel’s trash and converted it into art. The clothespins, measuring cup, and oven mitt are all meant to evoke Dotty’s entrapment within the house. The other materials are all crafting supplies that Hamel might have purchased for Dotty.
Puppet design is much like the process of building a show, but with different resources. Hopefully our puppets will enjoy opening night as much as our actors.
*GSC Blog posts are the select opinions of individual employees and may not necessarily reflect the views of Gloucester Stage as a whole.