Saturday, October 29, 2011

Puppeteering premiere

So I have been in New York the past two weeks rehearsing a puppet show that we performed last night at the Henson Carriage House on the Upper East Side. Though I think of myself as a "theatre person" I haven't performed onstage in over two years. My sister, by contrast, is a professional puppeteer and puppet builder, and performs regularly as a part of her job (most recently on the Walking With Dinosaurs "arena spectacular" tour - I love that term, and wish I had more opportunity to use it in daily life).

Anyway, in mid-September she called me and said she needed an additional puppeteer for her show - that she wrote and built - going up at the end of October, and would I consider doing it? I considered it. I've never been a puppeteer before. But I had the time (see my current unemployment), it would be an interesting experience, and it would be time to spend with my sister. So, after my exhaustventure in San Fran, I flew to JFK on Monday the 17th and we started rehearsals the next day.

Y'all, puppets is HARD.

I've been attending my sister's performances for years, and they are always thoughtful, elegant, and avant garde. But until I actually put my meat hands on a puppet, I didn't realize how absolutely mind-bendingly difficult it is to make something look real. For the first 4 days we rehearsed for about 3 hours a day, working on both blocking the pieces (the show was a collection of vignettes, tied together by a narrator in the form of a giant elephant head.) as well as ensemble building. Oh right, not only do you have to make the puppets move as if they're real, but you're also manipulating them with 1 to 3 other puppeteers. It takes a lot of concentration, coordination, and rehearsal. SO MUCH REHEARSAL.I became pretty frustrated with myself after a few days, that I wasn't getting it, that I was holding the others back - the others, by the way, who are all professional puppeteers - that I would disappoint my sister and ruin the show. Needless to say, it was a pretty epic pity party.I thought about which would be worse: disappointing my sister by deciding not to do the show at all when she asked me, or disappointing her by doing it as best I could, but not as good as it could be if she had been able to find someone else? I chose the latter, ended my pity party, and got to work.

As of a week ago, we were rehearsing for 8 hours a day, and though it was still mentally and physically exhausting, and it was still hard, it also became fun. I had forgotten how much of a bonding experience doing theatre can be, how having the looming deadline of a show can force some of the best work out of people when they take it seriously, and how absolutely epic the inside jokes become within the cast. I definitely need to find a theatre community when we get to Sydney.

The performance last night went about as well as I could have hoped. We had a full house - it's a small performance space, so "full" meant about 60 people - and it was well-received. There was a talkback after the performance where she got some great audience feedback. It was such a high, so rewarding, to work so intensively on something and be happy with the results.

I'm incredibly glad I decided to do it and stuck it out, and truly have a better appreciation of what my sister does and how hard she works to achieve the level of success she has. It's truly admirable, and thought-provoking for me. I'd love to be as adept at and passionate about something as she is.

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