A long time ago, when Deborah I and began planning how we would bring the tales from the Schönwerth collection to life, we decided to work with a simple string puppet design that we describe as a rod marionette. The image below is an example of a rod marionette in Janie Geiser’s work, an American puppeteer filmmaker and scholar that we’re inspired by.
As we set out to adapt these old European stories we wanted to learn from traditional puppet forms, hopeful to discover something fundamental about puppetry and storytelling by hunting around in the traditions. Early in our process we also talked a lot about the fine pair that our imagined puppets would make with fairytale characters: the puppets’ non-naturalistic movement & their ability to perform time-worn tricks and stunts would fit well with the familiar heroines and villains, who, in these stories, are never fleshed out with motivations or inner lives.
The design and building of the Girl Giant rod marionette for our first show was a team effort. The book Marionette Magic, co-authored by Cathy Stubington of Runaway Moon Theatre (another big influence on our work), was an indispensable resource.
I used plans from this book to create the jointed body of the Girl Giant puppet. In the midst of our…ahem… quite rushed process our skilled stop-motion animator friend Lydia Lorrain stopped by Flying Box Theatre workshop (aka Deborah’s kitchen) to build the puppet’s head and hands. You can see some of Lydia’s beautiful stop-motion work here.
Next, I assembled the puppet, mostly using string and eye-hooks at the joints.
Finally, in an example of the Flying Box design collaboration that we are developing, Deborah fleshed out the body of the puppet and made its costume.
Above right is a video still of Stephen Quinlan, myself and Deborah Sullivan beginning the first ever performance of the story The Girl Giant and the Farmer.
With very limited rehearsal time before that show, all three of us had to figure out very quickly how to best make our puppets move–or in Deborah’s case how to play the accordion, learning songs newly written by Japhy Sullivan!
Luckily for me the Girl Giant cooperated well, and I managed to perform her bouncing, leg swinging walk during last Saturday’s performance at Café Concret/Festival Phénomena. The audience even chuckled a bit when they saw it, which I’m taking as a good sign!