Tuesday, June 08, 2010

GSW9: Festival Report III (Part 1 of 2)

From our on-the-spot reporter Tess Elliott come these reports for Sunday at the ongoing 9th Annual International Toy Theatre Festival in New York...

Tony Schlesinger as The Palace. She is not like a palace, she IS the Palace Theatre and she sits on the stage dressed as an older glam star "incognito" complete with sunglasses and scarf. It's a layered show. There is the actual miniature movie theatre, and a large screen for the projected images full size, and then the persona of the theater as a retired movie star. The persona and the mini theatre are surrounded by her court of staffers: the usher/butler, the candy girl, and the manager/director. She tells of her woes without whining: how she was once a palace of the greatest films, fell into disrepair, became a ratty porn house, and had a brief revival as an art film house. She, in truth, was the real show. There was a lovely way they had of showing just a close up of her elegantly stockinged legs on the big screen as she spoke, and as she tells the tale of disintegration, her stockings become more and more riddled with runs! There was a funny little bit where she talks about actually having therapy, and they trot out a little prop of an even tinier theater resting on a fainting couch! For some reason, I love imbuing inanimate objects with life, because like the astronomer John Dobson I feel like the entire universe is alive, and in truth, our fantasies are not interested in real life but in dreams. This grand dame doesn't know how anything works, or how the mysteries end, and doesn't really care.

I have to say that I grew up in movie houses because my father was a projectionist. He protested hopelessly against cable because he was sure he was going to lose yet another means of income. He actually died of a heart attack in the projection room after getting the movie running again once the power came back up after a thunderstorm! Those tarted up old film houses were made to seem grander than the most expensive mansion in the world, and they will always be full of mystery for me.

The next show was Meredith Miller, a tiny woman who wears a three tiered set of stages complete with plush red velvet curtains. She tells a tale of love that starts with romance in the head, progresses to love in the heart, and ends up with passion that plays itself out leaving her empty, (her heart having been consumed by her lover). She is desolate and inconsolable, and we as an audience felt sorry for her at the end. It was an interesting spectacle--simply done with a clear message.

She was followed on the same stage with Pop-up Theatre: John Mejias and another man (sorry I don't hear better) were in a box that looked like something cobbled from alley wood disgards. It was the kind of thing kids would build as a clubhouse, except for the collage of wood that stands for the city on top. They tell the stories in a disembodied voice coming through a speaker at the side, even though you know someone is in that box. The puppets remind me of German Expressionist woodcuts, very attractive and fierce, while the stories are rather odd events that take place at the school where he teaches. It's about parents who teach their children not to be victims by hitting back (with some becoming perpatrators as a result), lost dogs, and fire drills where neighborhood bullies throw eggs. Again, there seems to be this acceptance of the scary, the weird and the unfair as it comes and goes. It's that gigantic bored shrug called "whatever" that seems hopeless to me, but it is a very hard world graduating kids face now. Maybe it's a very necessary emotional distance.

The last show was by The Puppeteers' Coop of Boston & NYC with Sara Peattie & Theresa Linnihan and a young man who did their sound effects (he is from a separate company). It was a classic toy theatre performance, all about Coney Island--funny and sad at the same time. Someone really knew how to do Dwight Frye's mad laugh from the old Dracula which told me it was Coney Island as created by Dr. Frankenstein and Igor. I got a big kick out of it.


...Hi! It's gotten cool again, though not inside the Festival Warehouse! Tonight was a little bit of everything. I can probably describe them but I want to look for pictures in the morning because some are not in the exhibit. It was a bit more adult but I got to actually see Great Small Works perform a newer piece--they did a satire on the Oil Spill and apparently this was a revamped version of an old one they performed before. You can really tell they have worked together for a long time. I can tell you, it REALLY makes the difference when the music and singing are quality. But that's tomorrow. Am going to really sleep tonight. But here are the pictures I promised. I could not get a great one of Torry Bend's odd theater that she wears. It's in a dark corner. I will try to do it with a flash to put on the DVD for you. Will also be uploading two shorter videos of walking through the exhibition.

They [Great Small Works] were the last act of the cabaret, and their theatre stage has to be fairly big. In truth they barely fit on the stage but they managed to crush in for their opening "stance" of shock and awe before they take up their stations around the stage (they each have their own frozen emotion, though they break it and either scream or laugh maniacally). I found myself wondering if they did that in response to the audience awaiting them. Everyone has their assigned task.They sang a sea chanty with lovely harmony about the "Red Rose going down" while an old style ship bobs in waves of gold, not blue. Here is a link with the words and a performance so you know what it sounded like: sea chantey The ship left and there came tea cups in saucers bobbing on the waters, and tea bags hovered over them like clouds (everyone loved that part) until a giant gas pump comes down to pour gas or oil into the cups. The cups float away and an oil derrick plunks down into the waves. The narrator talks about people saying "accidents happen" and then puppets act out repeating that like hysterical parrots, so the narrator says "sometimes it's just wickness." The sea chanty starts out again, and several BP logos, like colored clouds whisks across the sky (I thought of it as ball lightning, which bounces around and off things). The song is a haunting tune that seems appropriate for what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico. It got a rousing response from the audience. It was a pleasure to see them do their thing after years of reading about them.
More to come in Part 2...

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