Small Little Freaks & Urban Rumors

Is bigger always better. Are the large stone figures on Easter island. ….puppets? Shambling along the shoreline of Easter Island with its stone statues  cradled under his arms. Germut, the nephew of the biblical Goliath was arrested by 300 crewman of a U.S. aircraft carrier,  USS Gittite,  for allegedly removing inventory from a United Nations Heritage park. It was akin  to a scene in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels . He was later released after questioning and charges were dropped.His assistant eluded capture. The towering nephew, his mug shot (which will be posted in a coming column ), reveals a height of 14 cubits and 2 spans, or roughly 24 feet tall, and 2000 lbs, taller and apparently more lyrical and poetic  than our knowledge his notorious uncle would indicate.

Germut claims the Moai statues are actually form part of a Marionette puppet theatre and that the Polynesian Island is a puppet centre. Furthermore, he claims and that his team built the big weird statues, but left them unfinished until needed. His new play, ”Death of David” turns the table on Goliath’s misrepresentation as an archetype for paganism and satan. ”Its about catching that little creep with a slingshot, and setting the record straight,…f—in prick plagiarized my uncle’s psalms, he added . Alas, the curse of the puppet master. Germut informed his captors, that puppets  often elude human control and they contain quirky, complex forces not easy to comprehend, and for his expeditious release from custody, he would not turn captain and crew into wood puppets as he had previously done with Somali pirates who attempted to corner him for ransom.He quoted Dante’s Divine Comedy, as a clue to his next production dealing with male mid- life crisis, ” In the midway of this our mortal lives, I found me in a gloomy wood astray, gone from the path direct”.

.“Puppetry is always thought of as for kids, and cute, little, soft, talking animals,” he said. “And so I’ve spent the better part of two decades trying to wrest the form from that preconception.” ( Ronnie Burkett ); who has pushed the limits of puppets into both a fine art and dramatic art showdown with innovative theater design, composition, narrative and quality  workmanship of his original puppets, which effectively, are fine art collectibles. It is Puppet theatre where the puppet master is not invisible, but on stage interacting with his puppets, almost an invocation of the craft of ventriloquist and perhaps, to borrow from the world of circus, a puppet tamer.

Ronnie Burkett

Ronnie Burkett

“These puppets are built and designed and exist solely to be those characters. It’s a whole kind of weird chemistry magic thing that goes on, because I don’t really make them come alive. I do the voice and I move them around, but the audience has to suspend their disbelief. And when they do THAT, that’s when the character comes alive. And the audience doesn’t know they’re doing that, but they’re actually giving those things breath when they admit and get over the fact that these things don’t breathe and they don’t think. But I can always tell that moment in the show when the audience goes to that place.” ( Ronnie Burkett, Playwrights Canada Press )


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Josef Skupa, Spejbl & Hurvinek

Josef Skupa, Spejbl & Hurvinek


Josef Skupa ( 1892-1957 ) is regarded as the father of modern pupetting and established a modern professional theater for the art and production house.There’s something perfect about seeing a puppet show in Prague.Curiously, his puppets created after World War 1, are not dissimilar to the  seminal Mickey Mouse creations patented and copyrighted by Walt Disney. Skupa was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1943 for resistance and creating an anti-fascist backlash through his art.  Watching marionettes sing opera with motionless or flapping mouths somehow fits with the bizarre dark humor of  Prague where Skupa worked. Skupa established the concept of wooden faces expressing the most dramatic of human emotions-lust, jealousy, terror-but with a surrealist, weirdly hilarious quality which was groundbreaking at the time.

Ronnie Burkett’s puppet theatre  expands on puppetry’s potential to weave dialogue between fantasy and reality,and where actors made of flesh merge with actors made of wood become indiscernable.  A fable based on the illegal underground “Daisy” plays of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia,Tina’s Dress dealt with  how struggling artists survive in a repressive society. It includes over 30 characters (all designed and performed by Burkett). Provenance tracks the history of a painting of a beautiful young man, sold and stolen, displayed and desired over a century, now hidden in a Viennese bordello. It is a story of desire and obsession –”Specifically in terms of beauty and what people do to be near beauty or to possess it or to become it” (Burkett)Billy Twinkle: Requiem for A Golden Boy is a loosely autobiographical work which provides a candid glimpse into the making and unmaking of a puppet maestro, struggling with a loss of faith in his art.

Ronnie Burkett  recently received a $75,000 ( $CDN ) as winner of the 2009 Siminovitch Prize. The award, the first to a puppet master, was based on Burkett’s unique contribution to theatre design.” Design has remained at the very centre of everything he has created. His work challenges audiences and extends the way we see theatre,” said jury chair Maureen Labonté. A $25,000 protege award was given to  Clea Minaker, a Montreal-based artist specializing in avant-garde performance art costume puppetry.

“I think a new day has begun,” Burkett said.Burkett feels that “big puppetry” of the kind seen in National Theatre’s War Horse , the Broadway musical Avenue Q and recent projects by Robert Lepage, is thriving. But his interest lies with “the odd little freaks making small shows.” Burkett theorizes that a whole generation growing up withThe Muppets led it to make reams of “derivative, flappy-mouthed Muppety stuff.” Much to Burkett’s delight, they’re now being supplanted by a new, highly experimental generation of puppeteers like Minaker.( James Bradshaw, Globe and Mail )

In an interview with Rivka Jacobson in London, Burkett outlined the thematic underpinnings of several of his works, which interplay between the social and psychological, the symptoms and the causes and in particular the rich motherlode of material available through humankinds embedding into a spider’s nest of consumerism, militarism and racism to which extrication appears unlikely to appear on the short list of available options. apparently,the parameters for an  artistic award in this category has not been released at the time of publication. Apparently, a call has been made to the late playwright Peter Barnes, author of The Ruling Class, who has agreed to waive his usual fee on this unique project.burkett4

”Darrel, the main protagonist in 10 Days on Earth, is a simple middle-aged man with learning difficulties which conveniently encapsulate the innocence of a child-like individual in an aging body. Burkett accepts that this was one of the reasons for creating Darrel. However there are of course other aspects to it. The show deals with notions of loneliness, love, care and the ability to cope with a great deal more than what is expected of one. The initial idea for the drama came to Burkett when sitting at a restaurant near an elderly woman with her middle age son who seemed very simple and dependent on her. He observed the loving relationship and the son’s dependency. When she dies, Burkett wondered, will the son face loneliness and how would he cope without her?Darrel’s needs are rudimentary. He does not want more than his lunch, his mother and to count the stairs. “I wish I was like him. I am tired of wanting more stuff. Let us look at our consumer-oriented society, our obsession with the need to own more and better gadgets. In everyday life we are subjected to 700 advertisements. We live in a culture of false desire.” This is a theme that Burkett returns to in his passionate belief that mankind fails to look after the planet. “We need to consume less to stop our orgy of oil.”(Rivka Jacobson, The British Theatre Guide, 2007 )

Tinka’s New Dress is embedded in a political ambience. It is a fable based on the illegal underground “Daisy” plays of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, and speaks of how struggling artists survive in a repressive society. I asked how he explains Tinka‘s international appeal which led to numerous awards. Burkett vivaciously explains, “Tinka was a success because it was personal” – pointing his right hand to his chest. “All my previous shows were generic. This one was very personal.” asked if he could elaborate. The animated artist looked at me and stated resolutely, “This is a play about standing up to tyranny. You cannot silence humanity. It will always rise and eventually succeed regardless and despite oppression.” ( Rivka Jacobson )burkett3

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