Please update your browser

You're using a version of Internet Explorer that isn't supported by Questia.
To get a better experience, go to one of these sites and get the latest
version of your preferred browser:

What's That Puppet Doing in My Play? Smitten by Puppet Love, 5 Playwrights Compare Notes on Writing for Objects Brought to Life

By Van Lente, Gretchen | American Theatre, February 2004 | Go to article overview

What's That Puppet Doing in My Play? Smitten by Puppet Love, 5 Playwrights Compare Notes on Writing for Objects Brought to Life


Van Lente, Gretchen, American Theatre


As playwright Octavio Solis tells it, in the puppet world playwrights are the "low men on the totem pole." Why? Because this is a world in which the power and the prerogative belong to either the puppet artist--the all-encompassing puppeteer/playmaker/director/guru--or to the puppet company, the collective of artists working for a common mean, whether that be political assertion or children's amusement or creative expression. Puppet theatre began, in all likelihood, with the cave man: It was a tool of pageant and ritual, a pure experience. Puppeteers today are traditionally hidden behind a box, scrim or black hood, trying to convince an audience that the inanimate things they hold actually breathe with life. Story and dialogue (if any) are not seen as central. Rarely, in the history of puppet theatre, have playwrights been the driving force behind the creation of puppet works.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It wasn't until the 19th century, in fact, that puppets engaged the imagination of dramatists. The Belgian poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, under the spell of Symbolism and fascinated by mysterious forces, wrote three plays for puppets in 1894. Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, which was performed in 1898 with puppets by the French painter Pierre Bonnard, created a stir because the play's brutal simplicity and its grotesque puppet-like central figure challenged the sacred cows of both Naturalists and Symbolists. Among modern playwrights, only Federico Garcia Lorca seems to have experimented with puppets. Like Goethe, Garcia Lorca rebelled against the realistic theatre of the middle class by writing such lyrical and mocking puppet plays as Titeres de Cachiporra (1949) and El Retablillo de Don Cristobal (1938).

Outside the realm of the puppet artist and puppet company, mostly director-auteurs (like Edward Gordon Craig, Ping Chong, Julie Taymor and Mabou Mines's Lee Breuer) and agit-prop ensembles like the Vermont-based Bread and Puppet Theatre are the primary agents who have seen the power of puppets and incorporated them into their experimental work. The perception remains that these are still the parameters of puppet theatre and that there is little room in the equation for the giant literary ego that is the playwright.

The following roundtable discussion, however, might change that impression. Five stouthearted American playwrights convened by telephone, on the eve of last Halloween, to testify that playwrights, too, can play in the puppeteer's sandbox--that it is a misconception that only puppet-makers and puppeteers can animate puppets. Speaking from New York, Pulitzer-winner Paula Vogel talked about The Long Christmas Ride Home, her puppet play with actors that uses bunraku-style puppets designed by Basil Twist to tell the sad and funny story of a dysfunctional family on a holiday trip. San Francisco-based playwright Erik Ehn elaborated on the recent Los Angeles productions of two loosely related adaptations: Frankenstein, for Theatre of Yugen, which utilized a variety of forms, including shadow figures, toy theatre and doll-style puppets; and Mary Shelley's Santa Claus, for Cornerstone Theater Company, with shadow puppets created by scenic and costume designer Lynn Jeffries. From San Francisco, Octavio Solis spoke about his play The Seven Visions of Encarnacion, an enchanting allegory of mission-era California, played out in shadows cast on an enormous screen and directed by Larry Reed, artistic director of the company ShadowLight Productions. From Minneapolis, Kira Obolensky explained how she conceived and scripted Quick Silver, and even made some of the object table-top puppets herself. Developed in workshop under the auspices of 3 Legged Race and the Playwrights Center (where it was presented last November), the play is a poetic look at the harsh underbelly of American capitalism that features three actors who speak and manipulate puppets. Lastly, Crystal Skillman of New York City discussed her writing process for The Ballad of Phineas P.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

What's That Puppet Doing in My Play? Smitten by Puppet Love, 5 Playwrights Compare Notes on Writing for Objects Brought to Life
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.