Seattle has enjoyed resurgence and rebirthing of a number of art forms that have been thought to have run their course. Circus Contraption took the tired old format of one ring circus acts and injected the freak show directly to the main stage. Burlesque has become fresh again with such artists as Indigo Blue, Waxie Moon and Shanghai Pearl transforming what was thought to be a somewhat vapid art form to acts that ignite the brain as well as the genitals. Puppetry has been threatening to step into the Seattle Limelight as well with Sgt Rigsby, the now defunct Monkey Wrench Puppet Lab and more recently Kyle Lovens dragging the tired old dolls out of the closet and breathing new life into them. There, unfortunately, have been backslides as this new approach to puppetry caught on. In 2010 in the April Fools article by the Seattle Weekly, Puppetry in Theater reached number nine of the 22 things in Seattle they wished were a joke. It seems that every struggling theater company in the city began to see the little papier mache devils as the answer to their “lack of budget” woes and a glut of fabricated actors hit the boards replacing paid actors and attempting to fill in giant plot holes with goofy antics that dragged down the integrity of the theaters art, much to the dismay of the Weekly.
Ghost Light Theatricals, ignoring the dire warnings by the Weekly, integrated puppets into their Ballard Underground Production of The Metamorphosis: Based on a Short Story by Franz Kafka. This production was directed and written by Wilder Nutting-Heath and included (OMG) PUPPETS created and directed by Nicholas Hubbard. The production itself seemed to rely on the possibility that every single theater going human being in Seattle had read The Metamorphosis. Important plot moments were left out such as “Gregor began to be a cockroach” and “Gregor finished being a cockroach” and “Gregor is really, really a cockroach” Vague images of the character named Gregor falling asleep at his typewriter were followed, on the wall behind the actor mind you, by beautifully executed and performed shadow puppets that seemed to take over his work at his writing machine as he lay asleep. The set and puppets worked beautifully. The puppeteers performed admirably. The imagery could have been awe inspiring. What the audience saw however was a shadow of a man at a typewriter with a bug on his arm. This was followed by a scene where the actor on the set awakens late, his boss has come to his parents home to chastise him for tardiness, a door is opened… and the boss screams! The audience, apparently, was supposed to know that he had become a cockroach. Because there was a bug on the shadow puppets arm. The show continued with the actor portraying Gregor awkwardly climbing obvious climbing posts on the walls and picking up and throwing down empty pie tins brought to him by the actor portraying his father. After an unnecessary intermission Gregor is inexplicitly wearing a wife beater with a cockroach painted on it. The puppetry, however, was beautiful.
Shadow puppetry is probably the oldest human art form, discovered shortly after fire and performed in caves, using said fire, to titillate peoples who had no HBO or Showtime. It is both the simplest puppetry style and the most easy to do badly. Nicholas Hubbard created some amazing imagery and directed his puppeteers to perform some incredibly intricate and successful maneuvers. The audience sucked up every morsel of finely crafted information he gave them and yet it was not enough. While beautiful and well executed the imagery did little to fill in the incredible gaps of the script. Perhaps this April Fools Day the Seattle Weekly will wish that Puppetry didn’t have its integrity dragged down by so much bad theater.