Peter and the Wolf demo

Remember when I was talking about working Peter? Deb Hertzberg, one of the other puppeteers on the show, took a short video backstage so you can see what I was talking about.

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23 Responses

  1. Jeff

    Now here’s a question for you…and let me see if I can articulate here post-surgery:

    Why puppets? I mean, to communicate via voice and directly through another human would be more “efficient.”

    Yet we have puppets.

    Am I making too many distant connections in thinking that puppetry is an artform the perhaps came before spoken language… it is an artform that is in a sense part of “us?”

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Welcome back from surgery!

      That is an excellent question. For me, puppetry is the theater of the possible. A puppet comes to the show with no preconceptions, it simply is its role. For me a puppet is appropriate when it allows you to do something an actor can’t, whether that’s something like flying or having a stylized form depends on the show.

      There is no reason for Peter to be a puppet if he were in a show by himself. In Peter and the Wolf, it puts him into the same plane of reality as the other animals, which do need to be puppets to play their roles well. You could have a live child and puppets, but the live child would be more real than the animals which would reduce the wolf’s threat.

      Does that make sense?

      1. Jeff

        Hyrdrocodone does wonders for the pain!

        I guess what I was more aiming towards is why puppetry has survived as a form of communication and developed into an artform of communication.

        It’s very tribal. Very primitive, yet it’s been adapted and adopted, modified and shaped— just thought processing as to why some forms of communication (storytelling) such as this survive (and from what I understand is growing) whereas others eh, not so much.

    2. Julia

      Aren’t puppets used quite successfully by many therapists in the case of traumatized children or traumatized persons in general who may not respond to the “efficiency” of direct human contact? The efficient way is not always the best way…

      But as for puppetry before spoken word, I’d say it may be an evolution of hand signals as well, now that I think about it. I’m not clear on when hand signals developed vs. spoken word (my anthro training focused much more on recent cultures) but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say hand signals came first…puppetry could indeed be an evolution of that and an artform that’s part of “us”, as you say…

      1. Mary Robinette Kowal

        For whatever reason, a lot of kids will open up to a puppet but otherwise remain totally shut down.

        An anecdote:
        We were at a school doing a classroom visit. One kid stood up and just started babbling to the puppet. Non-stop talker about his dog and the show and how did you how did you how did you? The teacher did nothing to discipline him. She just sat in the corner with her hand pressed over her mouth. When we left, she took us aside and apologized for letting him run on like that. His parents had both been killed in a car accident and that was the first time he’d spoken in class in a month.

        As for when the first puppets came in? There’s some evidence that their ancestors were used in religious rites. Other people speculate that shadow puppets by firelight might be the first. No one really knows.

        1. Jeff

          There’s some evidence that their ancestors were used in religious rites. Other people speculate that shadow puppets by firelight might be the first. No one really knows

          Nope, nope…dots connected!

          Thanks ;D

          Maori totems, masks, Innuit and Eskimo exorcisms, spirit-animal dress and ritual— it’s tribal shamanism/spiritualism.

          ” Certainly secret societies in many African ethnic groups still use puppets (and masks) in ritual dramas as well as in their healing and hunting ceremonies. Today puppetry continues as a popular form, often within a ceremonial context, and as part of a wide-range of folk forms including dance, storytelling, and masked performance.”

  2. Nancy Fulda

    Okay, maybe I’m just obsessive-compulsive, but despite the wonderful coolness of the puppetry the burning thought I came away from that video with is: Lady, you are so dang slender! Writers are supposed to be… you know… pudgy or something. Aren’t they?

  3. David Loftus

    Hey, after being slender most of my life, I must be becoming a better writer, finally!

    About Mary’s appearance . . . must be the camera. You know, one of those ones that makes you look 10 pounds lighter?

  4. Mike F

    How much does ‘Peter’ weigh? It seem like it would be tiring, but fun. One of those things where you don’t realize how tired you are until you are home.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Mm… I’m thinking he’s probably in the ten pound range, which isn’t bad for his size. The hard part was that I had to keep constant tension on the head strings. You see how my neck is bent in the video? I can’t lift it higher than that, and at the same time have to be pulling upward to keep him standing up straight. That, I felt during the show. Imagine having someone pushing down on the back of your head for twenty minutes.

      1. Mike F

        At first I didn’t notice the strings, but I did eventually, and I could see how that would be hard to do. Do you get a free neck massage after the show? 🙂

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Alas, Chris, the way my blog is set up, I don’t think it’s possible to receive notifications to only your responses. Under normal circumstances, WordPress doesn’t thread comments or send out notifications. I’m using two plugins to make that happen. New ones come out all the time and I will keep looking for one that gives more LJ-like behavior. In all other ways, I find this a more flexible blogging platform.

  5. Andrew

    Great video and very nice work Mary! I am rehearsing a Bunraku-style show right now for the summer and it’s interesting to watch this because most of our puppets are operated table-top style with 2 or 3 puppeteers. Do you find it easier working by yourself or with a team of puppeteers?

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Hi Andrew,

      It’s definitely faster rehearsing solo, but I really felt like I was fighting this puppet to get it to do what I wanted it to do. That sequence where he pulls breadcrumbs out of his pocket and puts them on the ground is something that I practiced everyday over and over. To get his head to turn, I had to anchor his body by pushing my knee slightly forward while pressing his arm against his body. Done wrong he just flailed, so I’d stand in the wings before going on, just doing that.

      I’m a big fan of tabletop work. I usually prefer to do it solo, especially in early rehearsals, and then have a second available to add in for details. I say that with the caveat that I build my tabletop puppets to be worked solo, so you don’t need a second puppeteer to walk them.

      On the other hand, once you get the rhythm of working with a partner, there’s nothing quite as joyous. One of my favorite things to do is to be a second, in fact.

  6. David Loftus

    > On the other hand, once you get the rhythm of working with a partner,
    > there’s nothing quite as joyous. One of my favorite things to do is
    > to be a second, in fact.

    Like being an instrumental accompanist, perhaps? My father, who was a pianist, was uncomfortable being a soloist in the spotlight, I think. He put so much effort into it that it was a little exhausting just to listen to him. But as an accompanist to a vocalist or an instrumentalist, he made it seem effortless, and always made the musician in the spotlight look better. He was more comfortable supporting someone else; the pressure was off him, I guess.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Hm… there’s not really less pressure as a second, because some leads will just toss crazy stuff in and if you can’t follow you’re at fault.

      No, the joy comes from the moments when something unscripted and unrehearsed happens and you move as one. It’s the closest thing to telepathy or mind meld. It’s more like doing ballroom dance than anything else. I imagine dressage has similar exchanges. Attuned partners pass signals back and forth without any awareness that it’s happening.

      For instance: During a show Myoga (our character) was supposed to climb a mountain of boxes. Fred was the lead, I was the second. The lowest box fell off the playboard early, leaving Myoga with a sheer cliff wall to climb. Without discussion or even exchanging a look, Myoga walked over to the mountain, leaped up and began to claw his way to the top. The puppeteers didn’t need to talk about it because we were both so thoroughly in the character that the choices we made came naturally and in total synchronization. I find it exhilarating.