Monday, December 11, 2006


I don't often talk about work when I'm not there. I figure most folks aren't really interested in the nuts and bolts and dull details of making costumes when they could get a couple of tickets and see the finished product on stage being worn by actors who are talking about something much more interesting. The show I just finished building before Thanksgiving is an exception to that rule because, well, puppets!

Each December almost every Regional Theatre in America does a Christmas or holiday show. When I lived in Rochester that meant six consecutive years of Christmas Carol. Thankfully, when I moved to Buffalo I was saved from Dickens. Studio Arena picks a new play each December, and in fact couldn't do Christmas Carol if it wanted to, because another theatre down the street already does Christmas Carol every year, and well, what city needs two? On the same block? There are other community theatres, etc, that also produce it, but they're miles away.

This year's Christmas offering is based on the teleplay of a TV movie produced in the eighties which was based on a short story written by Henry Van Dyke over 100 years ago. In fact, you can read what is apparently the entire short story on the internet at this website, so I won't go into a synopsis. Just go read it. I'll wait here.

Ok, if that was too long, the gist of it is that Artaban was to set out with the other wise men in search of the messiah, but fell behind because he stopped to help someone, and spends the next thirty three years searching for Jesus, but missing him and using the jewels he had intended to give him helping the other people he finds in need along the way.

The adaptation written for Studio Arena is very theatrical in presentation. The story of Artaban is being told by peddlers, apparently recent converts to Christianity (then called "the way") in 68 AD. They tell it secretly because by this time The Way is seen by Rome as separate from Judaism, which was marginally protected, and Nero has just blamed the early Christians for the fires that ravaged Rome. Yes, those fires, the ones he fiddled through.

Anyway, the peddlers have traveled along the silk road through India and back , and use theatrical traditions they picked up along the way, including shadow puppets and almost life sized bunraku style puppets. These puppets are controlled by one to four puppeteers who are also visible behind them. The puppets were designed and built by Michele Costa, an amazing local puppeteer who has brought puppet shows to schools as well as art galleries and the Buffalo Fringe Festival. She received a Henson Award a few years ago. If you look down the listings of awards that year, all the other recipients are from New York City or L.A. and then there's Michele's listing for Buffalo NY. Here work is totally amazing and worth catching next time you see her listed here. I hear that she has a website but I can't for the life of me find it. If anyone else can, please let me know so that I can post a link to it here.

On to the puppets!

As I said, Michele designed and made all the puppets. My shop dressed the puppets, and built the costumes for the puppeteers and human actors in the rest of the show. These are some of the puppets whose costumes I draped.

Shamir, who Artaban saves from slavery. Her head and both arms are controlled by puppeteers. You can see the sticks that move her forearms and hands sticking out the back of her sleeves.

Ann and her baby, whom Artaban saves from the slaughtering of the innocents. My friend Tessa, who came in as a second first hand and ended up taking over for the second draper, is standing in for one of her puppeteers. In Ann's case the puppeteer's arms go through Ann's sleeves and the puppeteer's hands become Ann's hands. This is actually how most of the puppets are operated. The puppeteer who works Ann's right hand also operates the baby puppet, whose arms and head both move when he/she cries.

Tessa--I have magi photos for you!

Passhur is a blind man who can't be healed by Artaban ( a physician as well as magi) but comes back to Artaban after he has been healed by Jesus. This puppet has no legs because he is tied onto his puppeteer at the waist, so that the puppeteers legs become the puppet's legs.

Because blogger is consummately unhelpful, as I was deleting unwanted text, the photo of Pilate was also deleted, and apparently "undo" is a lie. Blogger has refused to reload the photo into this post, so the nasty Roman governor will have to have his own post. Also, I ran out of film before getting all of the puppets, and may post a few more after I get the next roll developed.

If you're in the area and want to see the show, it runs every day but Mondays through the 22nd. Check out Studio Arena's website for details.

1 comment:

Lisa and Robb said...

wow! beautiful photos of astonishing puppets!

thanks for sharing with us!