Crunch Time! The Mad Juana Shows her Strings…

A Bunraku puppetMy lack of writing again falls upon the fact that I have two and a half weeks until the opening of my next show, and this just after spending the last four months rehearsing and performing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, which while I have to admit isn’t my favorite Shakespeare, became one of my favorite shows performed in awhile; the way in which it was presented tickled my personlaity (the trailer I cut for that can be found on an earlier blog here.)

Now, to say that I play the Marquis of Denia in the newest show at Write Act Repertory Theatre Company presenting the mad Queen of Spain, Juana, as not so mad, but manipulated, is an almost truth. To say that I will present a performance might be more appropriate. I’ve been lucky in the past to work as an actor in many different capacities. I’ve performed as Charlie Chaplin in staged presentations that I’ve written and directed to much laughter, and tinkered with mask performing which is simply put another form of pantomime only you allow the posture of your body and style of movement to accentuate the emotion on the mask, at times allowing the tilt of the still face to bring forth another emotion, called a “swing”. This time though I will be working with life sized puppets. Bunraku is the style with which we will performing. At a site called they describe Baunraku as this:

Bunraku, or Japanese puppet theater, is probably the most developed form of puppetry in the world. It is closer in style to Punch and Judy than Pinnochio as there are no strings and in its early days the puppeteers were hidden behind a curtain. The puppets are large – usually about one-half life size – and the main characters are operated by three puppeteers. Many bunraku plays are historical and deal with the common Japanese theme of giri and ninjo – the conflict between social obligations and human emotions. The greatest works by Japan’s most famous playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653~1724) are bunraku plays, many of which are written around this kind of conflict. (rest of article.)

Or read about it on it’s Wikipedia page.

Though I find information about Juana and Denia difficult to find on Wikipedia, since we are dealing with, in a basic form, a young woman who was naive enough to be torn from her duty as Queen, this style of pageantry presentation seems very appropriate. I’ve though to myself that perhaps Elizabeth: the Golden Age might have been helped by this art form.

The puppets we will be working with are also quite large, originally to have moving mouths, which from what I’ve seen Bunraku puppets do not have, but because of time constraints we are nixing the mouths. Holding the puppet from the neck with our right hand and the left arm with our left, through fluid motions, and subtle movements you create the illusion of life. Similar to the presentation in this video:

There was a far more interesting video up in which a master of the art form showed how the puppet worked. He guided the head and the left arm, while a second person guided the right, and a third person from behind created the movement of the legs and with pulleys worked other parts of the body. One pulley might move the eyes to blink, or the head to nod. On one particular female Bunraku when you pulled the string her face became that of a demons’, mouth lined with razor sharp teeth and eyes open wide; the reflection of inner emotion. Our director, Andrew Moore, who has a blog Puppet Lab, has chosen to do something similar. By allowing the lead actress to perform without puppet in hand the audience is allowed to view the puppets as almost dream like representations, as unreal.

Instead of the three puppeteers, we each are left with our own puppet. A string attaches the left arm to the right so when movements are made with the left the right is drawn dramatically about.

I’ve found this an interesting experience to force my performance through what is essentially a life like prop. A puppet is the ultimate acting crutch, my face hidden behind an unmoving replica of a face, I am allowed to explore emotions in a very freeing way and at the same time in a less personal way. It is not me the audience is seeing, I do not have to hide behind my performance, creating another being all together, it is already there in might hand. It is my job to allow the shell to fill, to pass into it what I’m feeling. A truly exciting experience, though I find it difficult to remember lines while focusing on perfecting its movements.

And even something more interesting is when an actor acts like he is a Bunraku puppet!


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