Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Magical Puppets of The Little Prince

We asked Amy Kaissar, the Managing Director of Bristol Riverside Theatre to tell us more about working with the magical puppets you see onstage during The Little Prince. What kinds are they? Why puppets for such a famous story? And which puppet sprained someone’s wrist?

Why puppets?
Puppets offer a great many solutions to this magical story. Playwright John Scoullar always envisioned the show as being done with puppets. To begin – our puppets have no mouths and no facial expressions. We ask the audience to supply these details with their own imaginations.

Oh hey, Snake. Photo: Alexsey Photography
The puppets also give far greater creative freedom to the creator – the Geographer can be enormous, the Snake can truly glide, the flower can “bloom” in ways that real people simply can’t. And yet, we include people as well both as actors and as visible puppets – gaining the benefits of both live performers and puppeteering magic.

Who built the puppets? 
BRT worked with Monkey Boys Productions, the puppetry design and construction house who helped build the puppets in Avenue Q and the Little Shop of Horrors national tour. 
What kind of puppet techniques do you use?
Photo: Leila Ghaznavi
There are a bunch of different types of puppets and each one is operated differently. We use rod puppets, hook puppets, shadow puppets and bunraku puppets. Some are operated by one person and some by two people. For instance, the Prince is usually [operated] by one person who holds a rod inside of the puppet that is attached to the head. Her left hand goes through the puppet’s sleeve and becomes the puppet’s left arm. The [puppet’s] right arm is attached with an invisible string so that when the left arm moves the right one moves in the opposite direction rather than just hanging limply. But you’ll notice that there are a few times when a second puppeteer puts her hand through the right arm of the puppet for two handed maneuvers, like clapping.
Close up on the fox puppet Photo: Leila Ghaznavi
Another type is the Rose puppet. It has three levers that control the head and the two petals. The puppet is held up over the puppeteers head and she presses the levers to make it move.
Sometimes puppeteers get up close and personal…
Watch for how the business man [puppet] is operated. It takes tremendous teamwork. That puppet includes the “man” and his desk. One puppeteer holds the desk and the other controls the puppet’s head and voices the puppet. The two of them are twisted up like a pretzel and move in perfect choreography, just like a dance.
You can barely see the 2nd puppeteer! Photo: Alexsey Photography
Close-up. Photo: Marc Petrosino
 Sometimes puppeteering is hazardous to your health?
The challenges are purely technical. For example, our Prince puppet is very heavy and its entire weight is supported by the puppeteer’s right hand. As we worked for eight hours a day, our puppeteer started to develop wrist problems! We had to send her to a doctor for treatments while we added arm supports and modified the puppet through trial and error to make it manageable.

The Little Prince runs at the New Vic from October 1-16. 
Don't miss out on seeing St. Exupery's tale onstage! We are still investigating whether adults should bring tissues to the show. Tears could come from watching your kids watch this beautiful story or just watching it yourself (no shame!). Don't worry, trailer below is tear-free.

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