Blogs The Green Room Emily Zimmer

Peeking at Puppets in Process

Most of the seats in the McGuire Theater are currently occupied by local puppets who have come to see a movie. Behind the screen they gaze upon, there is an entirely different set of puppets, envisioned and created by the British company Improbable Theatre and various collaborators from other corners of the world. This week-end, […]

Most of the seats in the McGuire Theater are currently occupied by local puppets who have come to see a movie.

Behind the screen they gaze upon, there is an entirely different set of puppets, envisioned and created by the British company Improbable Theatre and various collaborators from other corners of the world. This week-end, the Walker will host the first showing of their latest work-in-progress The Devil and Mister Punch.

I had the good fortune to peek at a rehearsal for their newest theatrical adventure and I can’t wait to see more.

Mr. Punch speaks to Julian Crouch

Perhaps I should confess.  Even if I hadn’t had the opportunity to peruse the giant table of puppet heads, watch director Julian Crouch and performers work on a scene where Mr. Punch tosses his baby out the window and chat with costumers who were sewing charmingly tiny suits for puppets to wear, I would still be tremendously curious to see this piece.

Puppets from Amino

Improbable has a way of making stage magic from very simple materials.  70 Knotting Hill was the story of a haunted house created mostly with sticky tape.  In their piece Spirit, an ensemble of just three actors sometimes animated puppets with heads as absurd as bread, cameras or guns on the simplest of stages.  With Animo, Improbable recruited the help of local performers and improvised the entire show on the spot.

Spirit

They’ve also done work on a very large scale, Satyagraha was a collaboration that included opera singers and aerialists.

What’s exciting about Mr. Punch is that the audience gets to be close to the company (we’ll sit  in the space that is the McGuire stage) and we’ll watch a performance of a work that is not yet finished.  Though the team has been experimenting with ideas for over a year, the piece will undergo a more lengthy period of rehearsal in New York this summer.

And it seems fitting to get a glimpse of this particular piece as it is shaped.  Two of the main characters, Punch and Judy, have been featured in puppet shows since the mid-1600s, so they are part of a puppet conversation that has been happening for hundreds of years.  But on the hands of Improbable Theatre’s puppeteers we are sure to see them in a new light.

Puppets Instead of Peas

It’s raining puppets.  Hallelujah. Hand puppets, shadow puppets, talking heads, rod-puppets, masks worn on the back of the head, real sardines, snowsuits that run, objects that come to life.  The depth and breadth of materials that can be animated have been brought to life as part of the Walker’s Adventures in New Puppetry Series.  And […]

It’s raining puppets.  Hallelujah.

Hand puppets, shadow puppets, talking heads, rod-puppets, masks worn on the back of the head, real sardines, snowsuits that run, objects that come to life.  The depth and breadth of materials that can be animated have been brought to life as part of the Walker’s Adventures in New Puppetry Series.  And there is still more to come . . .

I was delighted to gobble up short puppet plays featuring mostly small-scale puppets at Open Eye Figure Theater last weekend for the Toy Theater Festival.  So.  Delicious.

The fare this evening was an entire play, George Buchner’s Woyzeck, reconfigured in South Africa as Woyzeck on the Highveld presented as a collaboration between Handspring Puppet Company and visual artist William Kentridge.  And it is a visual and poetic feast.

A cast of five puppeteers moved gorgeous wooden puppets with grace and steady focus that managed to draw my eye without stopping me from engaging with the story told by the figures they operated.  The puppets were sometimes so life-like they almost appeared to blink, in one scene a puppet breathed as it slept.  The subtle, delicate moves of the puppets were matched by an appropriately melodramatic style of vocal delivery that kept me from melting in the beauty so much that I stopped thinking.

The world that the puppets inhabit in this production is equally absurd and crazy-making as the one Buchner envisioned in 1836, but it is not exactly same.

Woyzeck v.s. Woyzeck

It’s not necessary to know Buchner’s original work in order to digest this production.  And because there were many additions, I was still left to wonder if the action would proceed in the way I expected, so if you do know the text, you still haven’t seen it all.

But here’s a bit-size bit of history about the play, just for fun:

Buchner was a talented and very young German playwright.  He was only 25 when he died and at that time the script for Woyzeck was in fragments; it has been suggested that he intended to finish the play with a third act including a trial.

Though Buchner lived and died before existential writers like Albert Camus put pen to paper, the world Buchner invented has veins of similar absurdity.  Like Sisyphus pushing a rock up a hill over and over, in the play, Woyzeck must eat a plate of green peas day after day after day. Buchner wanted to show how external forces act on the working-class protagonist to drive him insane.

Woyzeck at the Walker

Handspring and Kentridge have made changes to the script and moved the story to 1992 in South Africa.  Words and relationships take on a different currency in the final year Apartheid was officially enforced. In this version, Woyzeck is a black servant to a white captain who still calls him ‘immoral’ though Woyzeck has done nothing wrong. His belongings include his South African ID card, Maria’s lover is now a miner.

The peas are mentioned, but are not a key part of Handspring’s production.  Instead, Woyzeck’s madness is illustrated by Kentridge’s captivating, hand-drawn, shadowy animations along with sound effects that play as he is ‘studied’ and driven mad by a white doctor.

In Buchner’s Woyzeck, the characters visit a circus, in Handspring’s, a carnival barker steps out of his role as puppeteer to speak directly to the audience, reminding us of our spectatorship.  Circus animals like horses and monkeys are replaced by an interlude with a  stunning rhinoceros puppet who, like Handspring’s Woyzeck, appears to feel patronized by the tasks it must perform.

Untitled (Rhino) by William Kentridge

I am curious about reactions to the production.  How do spectators feel about the only prominent female character Maria and her role?  How does the end affect people?  Why puppets?  Do they help communicate Woyzeck’s alienation? Does watching puppets help the audience react to the story intellectually rather than react emotionally?  Like Bucher’s original, the Handspring adaptation tells a tragic tale.  How have stories of resistance and transformation from the same period in South Africa been theatricalized?

Your thoughts, please. . .

 

The Smallest Building Block

Generally when I’m not at my desk in the Marketing Department of the Walker, I’m somewhere making theater with children. This week, however, worlds have collided. New York-based theater company The Builders Association has been hard at work rehearsing their latest creation Continuous City in the McGuire Theater and I’ve been at the side of Caroline O’Neill, the youngest […]

The Builders Association

The Builders Association's Continuous City

Generally when I’m not at my desk in the Marketing Department of the Walker, I’m somewhere making theater with children. This week, however, worlds have collided. New York-based theater company The Builders Association has been hard at work rehearsing their latest creation Continuous City in the McGuire Theater and I’ve been at the side of Caroline O’Neill, the youngest performer in the show as her acting coach. Between scenes I took the opportunity to ask this charismatic young person a few questions about the multimedia show that recently premiered at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on the University of Illinois campus.

Here’s what she had to say:

What is your name?

Caroline O’Neill

How old are you?

Nine.

Who is the character you play?

Sam. Short for Samantha.

What is Continuous City about?

Connecting to people you love . . .if you’re in one place you might feel like your family’s really far apart, but you have this wonderful technology to connect you.

Is the technology enough to help Sam connect with her dad when he is far away from her?

Well, I think the connection between them can’t be completely gone.  If we didn’t have these wonderful electronics we wouldn’t be able to communicate at all when we’re far away.

How does Sam feel when she’s on her own?

In the first part she’s a little sad, then as the show goes on her mood goes up.

What changes?

She actually has someone with her.  [Deb, her nanny]

How do you act sad?

I think about my grandpa who died when I was little.

What was the process of working on a new play like?

It started last spring. Then we took a long break. Then we came back together and did all different things. The script changed completely.

How did you handle that?

Marianne. [The director, Marianne Weems]  She’s a very good person. She’s helped me through the rough parts and easy parts.

What makes this play unique?

The screens. There are about 1,000 of them.

Can you describe what happens with the screens to give someone who hasn’t seen the play an idea of what they’re like?

They are very, very, very active. There are many, they open and close a lot.  They show little films that the live actors are talking to.

Though they don’t actually number a thousand (there are thirty), the screens that Caroline talks about certainly fill the McGuire. The images that project on them bring faces from around the world into the show for a few moments at a time. You could even become one of them. The Builder’s Association created a fictional, international networking site called Xubu for Continuous City. People from around the world are invited to visit the website and post a recording that could be integrated into a performance.

Brecht, Eisler, Gordon and YOU: Audition to Perform at the Walker

Suppose they gave a war and nobody came? Why then the war would come to you! -Bertolt Brecht, 1898-1956 Bertolt Brecht was a poet, playwright and political agitator. Hanns Eisler was a one-time soldier, communist and composer who frequently collaborated with Brecht. David Gordon is a contemporary choreographer, writer and director who chose Brecht and […]

Suppose they gave a war and nobody came? Why then the war would come to you!

-Bertolt Brecht, 1898-1956

Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht was a poet, playwright and political agitator. Hanns Eisler was a one-time soldier, communist and composer who frequently collaborated with Brecht.

David Gordon is a contemporary choreographer, writer and director who chose Brecht and Eisler’s musical theater script Roundheads and Pinheads as an inspiration for Uncivil Wars: Moving with Brecht and Eisler, a performance piece created with his company David Gordon Pick Up Performance Co(S.) to be presented at the Walker in March. And local performers are invited to audition to be part of it. . .
AUDITION NOTICE

WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 15TH 4:00pm-6:15pm BARKER #300

AND

THURSDAY OCTOBER 16TH 7:00pm-10:00pm BARKER #100

(If you attend the first, you may also be asked to attend the second)

THREE WEEK WORKSHOP W/DAVID GORDON CULMINATING IN PERFORMANCES OF UNCIVL WARS: MOVING W/BRECHT & EISLER W/NYC-BASED PICK UP PERFORMANCE CO @ WALKER ART CENTER

*AUDITIONERS MUST BE ABLE AND WILLING TO BEND, TURN, MOVE BACKWARD, FORWARD, TALK, SING, HUM.YOU MAY BE ASKED TO DO TWO ORMORE OF THESE AT ONCE.

#1) WEEK OF JAN 12, 09: MOVEMENT & TEXT/INVENTING GAMES BASED ON BERTOLT BRECHT THEATER WRITING W/DAVID GORDON

#2) WEEK OF MAR 2, 09: REHEARSE W/PICK UP PERFORMANCE CO, COMMUNITY ARTISTS & DAVID GORDON FOR UNCIVIL WARS

#3) WEEK OF MAR 9, 09: REHEARSE W/PICK UP PERFORMANCE CO, COMMUNITY ARTISTS & DAVID GORDON FOR THREE PERFORMANCES OF UNCIVIL WARS MAR 12, 13, 14 @ WALKER ART CENTER

U of MN students successfully completing the audition will be required to register for COLA (Collaborative Arts) 3950 for 3 credits

Non-student participants are invited to audition and participate as volunteers; Continuing Education credit may be available.

**Uncivil Wars: Moving W/Brecht & Eisler based on Bertolt Brecht’s Roundheads and Pointheads (as translated by Michael Feingold) w/music by Hanns Eisler directed/choreographed/edited by David Gordon

***The land of Yahoo has a large deficit & an overproduction of corn so the leader convinces half the citizens (Roundheads) that the other half (Pointheads) are illegal aliens taking jobs away & for the economic good of the country Roundheads must wage war against Pointheads.

The Barbara Barker Center for Dance is located at 500 21st Avenue S on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota Campus.

Questions may be directed to Pick Up Performance Company: pickupperformance@earthlink.net

The Magnetic Fields, Reluctant Rockers

The Magnetic Fields are one of my all time favorite bands. They are an intersection of many loves of my life. I have a certain fondness of the eclectic mix of instruments the band makes music with. Also, the people who play those instruments have a special place in my heart. It’s no secret that […]

The Magnetic Fields are one of my all time favorite bands. They are an intersection of many loves of my life. I have a certain fondness of the eclectic mix of instruments the band makes music with. Also, the people who play those instruments have a special place in my heart. It’s no secret that I have a big, fat artistic crush on front man Stephin Merritt (I just think we’d get each other, he owns a chihuahua named after Irving Berlin and plays the ukulele). And the special guests are particularly distinguished as well.(On an occasion, an accordion player Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket, sits in with the band.)

Stephin Merritt

Stephin Merritt

But mostly, it’s the way the band makes melodies that somehow manage to be poppy and catchy but also epic at the same time.Merritt’s lyrics are unparalleled in my opinion. He’s been inspired by the saccharine sounds of his favorite band, Abba.The songs he writes have an emotional momentum similar to what I hear in Abba, but the fantastic images he paints in song are layered with more irony and his voice is a deep, rich, sardonic counterpoint to Abba’s style. Listen to Papa was a Rodeo on volume II of 69 Love Songs for a prime example of his work.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8dxLHMUhPs[/youtube]

There’s no perfect analogy in the material world, but I imagine that the songs are like what candy would be like if it was sugary but also nutritious and eating it made you think about all the ways love had let you down.

And guess what? Even though the show’s tomorrow, it’s not too late to get tickets. And I say do it now because Stephin Merritt is a reluctant rock star, he’s a little shy and dislikes applause. So the band doesn’t tour nearly as often as I wish they would. You can catch the show at the State Theater, in case you need more incentive, the opening act is a slide show presented by The Forewords.

For tickets, call the Walker Box Office at 612.375.7600 or check the Walker Calendar.

Adieu . . .

A few days ago, Theatre de la Jeune Lune announced that they are closing the doors of their warehouse home forever. Though there is no doubt that the spirit of Jeune Lune will live on in many different ways, the theatrical landscape of the Twin Cities will be different. Over the years, the Walker co-presented […]

Theatre de la Jeune Lune

A few days ago, Theatre de la Jeune Lune announced that they are closing the doors of their warehouse home forever. Though there is no doubt that the spirit of Jeune Lune will live on in many different ways, the theatrical landscape of the Twin Cities will be different.

Over the years, the Walker co-presented several plays on the Jeune Lune stage. It’s hard to imagine that there could be any playing space that suited those works more perfectly. The company transformed a warehouse building in downtown Minneapolis into a dramatic, versatile playing space with just the right amount of architectural poetry.

One Walker/Jeune Lune co-presntation was Theatre de Complicite’s Street of Crocodiles, a show about the life and death of writer/artist Bruno Schultz. That show played 10 years ago but I can still vividly recall the thrill of watching each performer enter the stage in a new and magical way; one climbed out of a bucket that sat on the floor of the stage catching drips of water, another casually walked down the back wall of the theater, his body parallel with the floor. All the images that followed were equally fantastic and captivating. I was introduced to an entirely new way of storytelling and it completely blew my mind. And the touring show seemed so perfectly suited to the Jeune Lune playing space it’s hard to picture it on any other stage.

Here’s a sampling of some of other the Walker co-presented with Theater de la Jeune Lune:

1999 Improbable Theatre’s Schockheaded Peter

2000 El Periferico de Objectos: Hamletmachine

2000 Tiger Lillies

2001 Needcompany’s King Lear

2003 Improbable Theatre’s Hanging Man

Now the curtain has officially fallen at Jeune Lune. Though I am sad to see Jeune Lune wane, I know that many of the companies, artists and actors who passed through that space left infused with Jeun Lune’s playful spirit.

I’m reminded of the bit of verse the company borrowed from Bertolt Brecht to create their name:

As the people say, at the moon’s change of phases

The new moon holds for one night long

The old moon in its arms

The company of actors was committed to using the theater to find the new in the old’.

Maria de Buenos Aires

Now Theatre de la Jeune Lune itself has become the moon that other artists will hold in their arms.

Company members and other collaborators have been launched to many corners of the world. Last summer I watched Vincent Gracieux perform in a tent on the French country-side with Footsbarn Theatre. I have my eye on former Jeune Lune apprentice Paul Thureen who is now part of a New York Company called The Debate Society. Locally, I can still get a fix of exposed brick and visual innovation at Open Eye Figure Theater, founded by frequent Jeune Lune collaborators Michael Sommers and Sue Hass.

I’m glad the Walker was a part of the history of Jeune Lune. With a heart that is both heavy and hopeful, I say farewell to the old moon and look forward to gazing at many new moons.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph is Hip-hop

Marc Bamuthi Joseph is an artist whose medium is his entire self. And the side of himself he presents in the break/s is hip-hop. His body is hip-hop. His brain is hip-hop. His words are hip-hop. He is hip-hop from the heals of his feet to the top of his head. Legend has it that […]

Marc Bamuthi Joseph is an artist whose medium is his entire self.

And the side of himself he presents in the break/s is hip-hop. His body is hip-hop. His brain is hip-hop. His words are hip-hop. He is hip-hop from the heals of his feet to the top of his head.

Legend has it that hip-hop was born at a house party in the Bronx in the 1970s. Cindy Campbell wasn’t thinking about starting a social movement, inventing a new genre of music or way of life, she was looking for a way to make a little extra money for back to school clothes. So she rented the rec room in her apartment, procured party supplies and charged a quarter or two for each guest.

It happened that her brother Clive, known to the neighborhood as DJ Herc, set up the perfect sound-system. Noticing that the dance floor really moved during the drum breaks, DJ Herc started mixing soul and funk records so that the music moved from drum break to drum break. And so another element of hip hop was born: break dancing. After a while emcees started rhyming over the freshly mixed music. And before long, graffiti artists started creating images as the music played. Thus there are four elements of hip-hop: deejaying, emceeing, break dancing and graffiti.

During a decade when the south Bronx was nearly abandoned; (the region lost nearly half it’s population and arson and neglect left nearly half the buildings in the area empty), one of the most powerful social movements was begun. Hip-hop became a place where people could come together, it became a venue for social critique, it gave rise to other art forms and, for some, became a way of life. For me, hip-hop is connected to history and hope.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph is an intentional artist and educator, the powerful history of hip-hop as a cultural force feels present in his work.

the break/s is a play on words that brings the breaks that are the heart of hip hop music to mind, but also links to a more personal story of a break. This fits perfectly as the title to the performance piece in which Bamuthi shares stories of his life and work using spoken word, dance, projection and sometimes by conversationally addressing the audience over beats and breaks created by Tommy Shepard and DJ Excess. He moves and speaks with incredible charisma, artistry, sincerity and generosity. With stories of his travel, Bamuthi takes the audience to faraway places across both the Atlantic and Pacific but more importantly geography is a backdrop for stories that begin conversations about race, identity, relationships, hip hop, art and much more. I would tell you all about it, but Bamuthi does a much better job than I could begin to do.

In fact, every single cell in his body is engaged the story telling he does to a degree that I can’t describe, please just go see it for yourself. You will be awed and inspired. I promise.

Like a laser to the brain. . .

No one coughed, no candy wrappers were opened, and nary a cell phone disturbed Romeo Castellucci and Societas Raffaello Sanzio’s Hey Girl! on the McGuire Stage at the Walker Art Center last night. The nearly full house was engrossed in the many enigmatic images that passed before our eyes through the course of the performance; […]

Hey Girl!

No one coughed, no candy wrappers were opened, and nary a cell phone disturbed Romeo Castellucci and Societas Raffaello Sanzio’s Hey Girl! on the McGuire Stage at the Walker Art Center last night.

The nearly full house was engrossed in the many enigmatic images that passed before our eyes through the course of the performance; a female body slowly emerged from primordial goo; words flashed across a screen so swiftly they could just barely be perceived; a pack of men inflicted an aggressive beating on our anonymous heroine that could be seen only in strangely beautiful bursts of flashing florescent light; the white heroine whose story was on display sold the black heroine who joined her onstage into chains; the skin of the black heroine was painted silver as she stood brandishing a mirror and sword over a stage covered in broken glass.

4-D art is work created in any media that incorporates time. Hey Girl! is one of the loveliest works of post-modern performance art that I have ever seen and an exquisite example of a truly multi-dimensional work of art. In addition to playing through time Hey Girl! also plays with the notion that there are multiple truths’ in history. Nothing felt fixed or absolute in this piece. Movements and images were presented and then repeated in new contexts where meanings were revised.

The piece quotes elements of classical and modern performance. For example, text from the balcony scene in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was projected above the parts of the performance and the white heroine looked like a re-invented Joan of Arc while draped in a flag and brandishing a sword. There were certainly strains of narrative, I watched a white woman be born’ and make her way through this strange, surreal world. I watched black woman appear on the scene in this world, be stripped to her skin and chained. But this show was not like a tragedy of star-crossed lovers in which I could find catharsis or even a beginning, middle or end. Identities shifted, power was revealed and reassigned.

While watching the piece, I felt the girl’ in the piece was not a universal representation of every human. As soon as I saw her be complicit in the oppression of a woman of another race, I realized she was a person with a class that was complex and sometimes changing. The two virtuosic female performers, Silvia Cost and Sonia Beltran Napoles, were more like modernist symbolic figures than characters. Castellucci took many familiar elements and ideas, like words, bodies, mirrors, swords, etc.out of familiar contexts and repositioned them in a new, brutally poetic combination.

Toward the end of the piece, a sharp, pencil thin point of light shone on the head one of the two women in the show like a laser beam. Hey Girl! hit my brain in a similar way. I was completely enthralled, I watched the piece with razor sharp focus while it played before me and thought of nothing else. And, since walking out of the theater, my brain has been wrestling and processing the content of the show and trying to figure out what it means to me. I’ve been thinking about men and women, history, slavery, loneliness, connection, violence and art. In short, the performance passed what a friend of mine calls the butt test’ and the brain test’ with flying colors; meaning I sat in rapt attention through the piece (my but was still) and after it finished my brain recalled the intriguing images clearly and I wanted to re/examine what I saw voraciously.