Wednesday, June 16, 2010

GSW9: Final Festival Report

Tess Elliott had one more report she sent me last night from the final hours of the Festival.

Considering that Tess lost her DSL access for almost half the festival - and my satellite access has been capped the last 4 days due to my going over our threshold (yes, satellite has broadband caps...don't get me started...!) - it's been a struggle for this website to get reports out on a timely basis. Thank you, Dear Readers, for being patient.

Now, here is the final report - Enjoy!

Fiesta Graveyard” from Mexico City was written by Mercedes Go'mez Benet, who also played a small harp. The puppeteers were Alejandro Beni'tez and Mauricio Martinez of Facto Teatro, who also performed songs. The other musician was Gerardo Tame'z. Part of the success of their show is that the music and sound effects were just stunning. They did the show with some English translation, but most of it you could follow once they set the scene. A man, Procopio, has died a natural death, and to reach the eternal Fiesta, he must go through some supernatural tests. A hairless dog that in some cultures had mystical properties (and in others was food) becomes his guide, only the man first must realize he is dead. Each scene change is punctuated by a supernatural interval of ghostly winds done beautifully with various pipes which ends with more music bringing in the next scene. The guitar and harp are very wonderfully done, so that it feels like an orchestra. They accompany him fighting a supernatural lizard, mountains crashing together, and other tests.

The performers were very funny and fierce with a mixture of good puppetry and making great faces as they tell the story. Oh the weeping when poor Procopio dies! And of course, it ends with a Day of the Dead altar, which is one of my favorite traditions. After several years of painting in the New Mexico desert at Halloween time, I got to know a lot about the tradition of Dios de Los Muertos, and now make my own home altar to remember those who I have lost. It is a very friendly, warm way to remember your loved ones, and the home altars are really quite beautiful. This was such a happy surprise for me to see the show was about this great tradition. It was magical and mesmerizing (and they, too, made their own jokes about Arizona). I hope to see this company again. It gave me more insight into a tradition I already love.

Shoddy Puppet Company's leader Morgan FitzPatrick Andrews was in the Saturday symposium, so I looked forward to seeing his company. They performed “Fables of Light and Falling” in an interesting looking tent, with scenes painted on the outside, and a window flap to be raised for the small stage. The other puppeteers were Zac Palladino, Leslie Rogers, and Kestrel Plump. There were four interwoven stories, that involved a mule who was mistaken for a woman, a wooden man, two people made of straw, a scarecrow man (who later meets the straw woman who has a stone tied around her belly), and how the straw man did not want to fight in a war. He ran from one, but was absorbed by the Earth for signing a paper that he would pay for someone else to fight when another war is declared. It is a morality tale because the man who was taken in his place was the wooden man who helped him when the scarecrow ran from the first war. Crows are the device that take people and become frightening symbols. The scarecrow is afraid of them. I remembered thinking they were bullies as a little girl and the truth is crows recognize people and carry grudges.I am very glad I didn't throw stones at the ones who perched on my swingset! This is also a political tale about war, and everyone is given a silver pencil as a symbol of the right person signing the right paper at the right time to prevent wars and other terrible things. Mr. Andrews was a musical narrator, with a Woody Guthrie sort of persona of folk music and plain speaking, telling the stories and playing, while the little tent twirled with activity, as puppets popped up out of slashes in the fabric set, and then up on the stage to tell the story. That is some close quarters to perform in, though it reminded me of the old seaside Punch and Judy theaters that were worn ON the puppeteer. It's certainly handy to bring your own theater.

Often, I find myself disliking being lectured to about what is right and wrong by sidewalk petitioners and protestors, but the charm of the puppeteers and the humor in the stories (all the political satire) are a delightful way to present controversial points of view. Unfortunately, they are preaching to the choir in Brooklyn. This is an artistic community that in general hates war, and banks foreclosing (I have memories of some small farms going down when I was a 4H girl in Indiana) and I like the way the puppets can charm their way into telling you their point of view. Protesters don't have that luxury, to make people laugh while they get them to listen. I like the puppet way better! I think if I ever manned a petition table, it would have to have puppets handing out pens instead of big angry signs and in-your-face criers of protest. Maybe the liberal world ought to think of this when they want to change something?

The Cosmic Bicycle Theater, performing “Clockworks Universalis.” This company has a terrific website except that while I love playing with it, I still want more information and pictures of performances. They have a long record of performing, even when “steampunk” was not really a genre well known, but one they may have helped develop. So when I saw their set, and the derby clad automata-like performers sitting on either side I was in heaven. Only trouble is that it took a third of the performance to see that their set was a wonderful 3-dimensional collage of all sorts of old clip art, much of which came from Dover Publications, which I pay homage to in much of my decoupage work. It reminded me a lot of the collage work of automata maker Simon Venus (am a huge automata fan). Check out Cabaret Mechanical Theater's little flick on YouTube made by Gaz Cobain - Venus's piece is the first one - and you will see why I connect the two. I am playing with my own automata design kit, which makes my head explode on a regular basis.

So while I was mesmerized by the puppeteers, I must admit one of their devices, the Victorian engraved pointing hand zipping in and out, sometimes doing some damage, did interfere with my mindset, because when I see that device my brain goes : Blue Meanie Flying Glove, or “the Fickle Finger of Fate” award by Rowan and Martin. It made me hold back laughter, and I wonder if maybe it was okay to laugh. We heard someone say not to clap, that they needed silence. Clockwork is noisy. It was beautiful but I wanted noise.

The set is a 3D collage that sits in a long box lit with oil lamps, behind a many-paned window with something foggy on the glass. The device of wiping off the glass is really cool, until you have had to watch the window cleaning six or seven times. The collage is beautiful, and tells a creation story that is artistic and funny when the two puppeteers get going. It was well-timed, and the only thing I wished for was larger panes of glass and less window cleaning.

Great Small Works film, “White Pajamas” was a lovely little film done by Jenny Romaine with Dr. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. It is the paintings of Mayer Kirshenblatt about his childhood in Poland, and they are wonderful na├»ve paintings of the local city life and how his father tried to get a boy after seven daughters. He is told by the nearby Rebbe to dress the baby in white so that the Angel of death won't take him, and how that boy always wore white pajamas. The scenes are just beautiful. There is the inevitable memory of the Holocaust, but I really loved the sweet paintings of a happier life—one that never seems to be covered enough. It was a perfect ending to all the marvelous, frantic and funny dreams of utopia, and transformed anger of the toy theater performances. Especially giving it that “citizen of the world” passport stamp for an audience who passionately supports seeing work from other countries.

Bravo, and Brava to Great Small Works!
NOTE FROM TRISH: I concur - an amazing festival, indeed!


  1. Now I have the Post-Festival Blues!

  2. Thanks for posting all this, being down in New Zealand it is quite hard to attend these festivals.

  3. You're quite welcome, Paula. I'm in the same boat in the States here. Even though I'm in the same country, it's a big country and on a limited budget it's just not possible. I'm very thankful for the wonderful toy theatre community out there including Tess, our reporter, who was willing to share her experiences with all of us...