Tuesday, June 18, 2013

GSW10: Program One

One of the gorgeous stages at this year's festival...

Program One of the 10th International Toy Theater Festival
- Reported by Tess Elliott

The People's Puppets of Occupy Wall Street

They performed a political piece about How Do We Show Solidarity, which was streamed live between them and Cairo during the Egyptian uprising. Here is the Ustream link.  They also have a Facebook page.

It was a show of cut out cardboard figures, and collages of events and politicians (The newly elected Egyptian President and Obama, mostly) haggling at the people's expense, with harsh police tactics on the rebels. I can imagine how I would have felt, had the new president changed his mind about his promises and suddenly made government more able to spy on it's people, and have more power to contain what they consider dangerous groups. Oh, by gosh I DID feel that way, just like the Egyptians. How do we show Solidarity? Support, agreement about issues, spreading the word. These young people are dedicated to doing this across the country and across the world. People are tired of bullies. People are tired of corruption. It is down on the ground front lines art, with simple, primitive techniques that speak articulately because they are simple. Good work.

The Garment Workers Tale, by Valeska Populoh of Baltimore, MD

This show starts with a still life of a cluttered old sewing machine desk, boxes and stacks of materials. Valeska comes out in period costume, and sits for awhile sewing with brutal focus, unsmiling and tired looking until she finishes a line of what I thought were old time collars. It is like a beautiful sepia tone photograph, where you can't see the wear or soil on old things—plain things. Then she changes the tone by picking up a photo and remembering, which turns into the first puppet she uses. All that clutter turns out to be set pieces and puppets to tell the story of immigrants coming to this country hungry and dying for work. I thought it was ingenius the way she used the “scenery” to tell the story. She finds a garment factory and tells the tale of relentless brutal hours, culminating in the great Triangle Factory Tragedy. She tells the story of protests by many of those same immigrants trying to work safe, trying to live, and giving birth to the first unions in that industry. She never speaks a word, but speaks volumes through her props. This was one act that does not translate well to the overhead projection of the last rows because the color is entirely lost, and the cropping is as damaging as TV is to movies. I am thankful to have it, but was sitting behind a person who blocked the whole scene and I only got to see the real thing for a few seconds at a time. I made a point of trying to sit up front after that program. It might have been helpful to put her scene on a raised floor, though I can understand how the extra expense might make that impossible. This is what much of toy theater faces with every performance.

Eli the Luthier by Little Did Productions of NYC

This was a tragic love story, conceived by Jessica Marie Lorence, played out on a large pop up scenery “book” by a troup of singer/puppeteers, and original music played on the Cello by Luke Santy, who sang and played as the narrator of the story. The singer/puppeteers were : Alison Novelli, Sam Parrott, and Elizabeth Spano. Pop up scenery can be a lot of fun, because it is instant as a new page is opened. I can't even imagine the labor involved in creating such an oversize pop book but it worked like a charm. The puppet characters interact with the scenery in the traditional way for the most part, but sometimes they are presented as large closeups as if they were illustrations on an imaginary page. I think there has long been a major love of comics and graphic novels that is well adapted to toy theater here. I see it again and again in the other shows. The story is a bit gruesome, but the music is haunting and beautiful with excellent voices playing off the soft cello (I am a fan of cello). It is the typical story of a lonely musician hopelessly in love with a baron's daughter who returns his love. When Toy Theater is accompanied by good music, it takes on a bigger charge of electricity, so to speak. It draws you in faster, and moves you in a deeper way. Canned music is good, too, though live is more immediate. This is the first production I have ever seen accompanied by a cello.

Emma's Parlor by Martina Plag and Lorna Howley of Philadelphia, PA

This is a story about the early female rebel, political dissonant and passionate speaker Emma Goldman.
Lorna Howley plays her with vigor and a strong voice that carries beautifully. Martina plays the various men in Emma's life to tell the story on a toy theater set inside of a full scale set. Martina is the designer (and both are puppeteers) but an enthusiastic performer as well. I think in a more intimate space, I could have heard Martina better (not her fault I have lost some hearing), but I got most of it and she pulled off the hard work of advancing a lot of the set props. They both worked hard, to great effect. I was ready to stand up and yell “Strike, strike, strike,” with them. I really loved the design of the set, and Lorna's passionate portrayal of a famous, rather messy public speaker who worked tirelessly even in jail. She made me want to know more about Goldman. They made me mourn the union bashing American workers have suffered for the last 20 years, as well. What right does labor have to want to live decently? In our country, I used to think all people did, and that my neighbors felt the same. No so. Something we should all think about, perhaps.

Chan Thou's Tuk-Tuk by HiveMind Theater of NYC

This is an interesting Toy Theater reminiscent of Asian architecture with rather large puppets, that really seem to be more “human.” They are surrounded by collages of places and people. Chan Thou (a real person who runs a pedicab while studying to be a teacher) is one of the many Cambodian survivors trying to live with awful memories of the Khmer Rouge regime. The man who was in charge of killing Chan Thou's family, Kaing Guek Eav, (aka “Duch”), one day happens to get into Chan Thou's Tuk-Tuk—a bicycle powered taxi. This upsets Buddhist Chan Thou who has terrible dreams of revenge and an almost overpowering desire for justice. He consults a Buddhist monk about how to live with such terrible dreams and is reminded that the way of compassionate Buddha was to not allow attachment to things & desires, and accept what is, not because things will always be unjust, but that it is more destructive to our spirit to demand an outcome and live in hate. Preserve the good memories, and keep alive the love we have for those who have passed seems to be the message—and a good one. Here is a link to an article about the show:

The music was delightful and I assume Cambodian. The co-creators were Emily Leshner, Ryan Minezzi, and Jennifer Onopa, along with puppeteer Gail Shalan. They actually met Chan Thou and learned than the “Duch” was sentenced to life imprisonment for his war crimes. So patience did have a good outcome.

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