Mermaid’s Tears will be presented at the Astor Theatre in Liverpool, NS on November 5, 6, 7 & 8, 2015
It takes a village to raise a child. Likewise, building a puppet play.
Well, maybe not a whole village, but definitely a small crowd of creative brains armed with sewing needles, chunks of foam, sparkly organza and super bright lights. And imaginations.
Really big imaginations.
When I decided to write a puppet play, I leapt into it like I do most things. Without thinking. Without experience. Without foresight. When I decided to build the puppets, I did it like I do most things. Glue gun in hand. Elbow-deep in maché. Not a pattern or a plan or a clue in sight.
I researched. I made a prototype. I pretended to know what I was doing.
If anyone asked how the puppets were coming along, I smiled calmly, winked, tapped my finger on my nose and generally behaved as if puppet building were second nature to me. Right up there with the designing of suspension bridges and operating an echocardiogram. I am firm believer in “fake it ‘til you make it”, although for me that usually translates into “fake it until they figure out you don’t have a fucking clue, then run and hide.” It’s hard to hide when a merry crew of thespians are depending on your elusive puppet making skills to reveal themselves in the form of fully functional puppets.
For a play.
That real people are going to watch.
And Lyn, and Sue and Susan. And Cameron and Ashley and Richaard. And Beth and Lily and Grant and Jordyn and Leslie and Jackie…
Sarah Webber is brilliant. She’s small and quiet and subtle, just working away, peacefully tinkering with the puppet mechanisms of her Young Grandfather puppet until she figured out a way to connect the heavy puppet head to the head harness much more securely than my original design. My design had the wires sewn to the front of the harness, with little bunchy-up lumps of metal and thread that drilled into our foreheads, threatening to lobotomize us before we got through scene one. Sarah fixed it. Now, the wires are anchored down the length of the harness, without lumps and without pain. Then, again in her confident quiet way, she secured the head harness to the shoulder straps, so it is one unified package, giving much more support and mobility than before. We now have puppets that comfortably connect to our heads and shoulders, without squeezing our eyes out our eardrums.
Sarah also realized that the puppet upper arms weren’t bulky enough. They kept collapsing whenever we moved our arms, like birds’ wings folding out of sight. The result was a shattering of the illusion. A puppet play is all about illusion. The audience has to forget that there are puppeteers on the stage; they have to be immersed in the story and the movements of the puppets if they are to accept the illusion…disappearing humeri are a definite buzz-kill in the illusion department. We stuffed Sarah’s arms, we stuffed my Old Mother arms. We built up the Young Boy’s biceps and shoulders. Oh, hello illusion, how nice to see you again!
Everything we’re doing right now… tweaking the script, building the set, designing the lighting, translating the words on the page into magic on the stage… is a hugely creative group effort. No one is working alone. No one is any more or less important than the person beside them. It’s a beautiful thing when many minds collaborate for a common goal. Especially when the goal is illusion and magic and story-telling.
We have a month until opening night. We still aren’t fully costumed, we don’t have an ocean, we’re redesigning the mermaid, we’re wondering how to make shadow puppets… but we’re doing it together. So now, if you ask us how the puppets are coming along, we will all wink and smile and tap our noses like we know what we’re doing.
We totally do. Know what we’re doing.