On January 23, I had the pleasure to perform “Rumpelstilskin” with Norina Reif at Falmouth Community Television. We were hosted by Basia Goszczynska and Keith Hopkins. Following the performance, Basia interviewed us for the Village Green TV program. I was happy about this opportunity to reach out to the Falmouth community and those that may like to join us in future project or support our work.
However, after the interview, I found that there was still more I would have liked to say.
I invite you to read the following questions I received from Basia before our interview and my more in-depth answers about my work with Dream Tale Puppets, how I got started and the way in which our creations come to life.
Thank you to Melinda Lancaster for help in finding right words.
Basia Goszczynska: What first sparked your interest in puppets and theatre?
Jacek Zuzanski: Briefly, I was always into drawing and painting. Doodling with colored pencils, sketching race cars or maps of places I visited was part of my childhood. In high school, it took shape in the form of a more conscious study of art, drawing and painting. When people started buying my pictures, it become clear that art should have something to do with what I chose to do in life. I discovered theatre as a high school student when I joined an afterschool program of pantomime theatre. This was fascinating. I found that I could use my body, my entire self, to create three dimensional living pictures and do it together with others. Shortly after, I discovered that in visual theater, puppet theatre, I could explore both these artistic universes- one of the seen world and one of the world of action. Inspiration came from my friend who used to participate in workshops guided in Europe by Bread and Puppet Theater. He advised me on joining Jelenia Gora Animation Theatre, founded by Andrzej Dziedziul, which was an experimental puppet theatre in a little town in Southwest Poland – I did and that’s how this all started.
How do you decide on which stories to develop into theater productions?
Each project has its own origins and is preceded by specific sets of circumstances. Sometimes the story is the first thing decided upon before production starts, sometimes other elements or ideas are primary. In some of my productions in Poland visual elements were the bases for developing the show. First we created puppets, masks and other performing objects, then we asked ourselves, “How can we use these elements to create the show, what kind of story or stories are concealed or potentially exist in these objects or characters and how do we discover and reveal these stories? How do we give them life?” Asking questions was an important part of the creative process.
In many productions we did not use words; scenes were comprised of actions performed by actors, dancers, mimes and puppets, by using masks and other visual elements. Sometimes the story may have been discovered during rehearsals, but in many projects we invited the audience to make their own interpretations and to discover their own story in the performance.
In my recent work with children at the Falmouth Academy, some of the summer workshops and productions started with a strong visual idea. We didn’t have a story to start with. We, my friend Laura Opie and I, invented the story and the play, keeping in mind the length of the program (2 weeks), the age and number of participants (approximately 10-12, 7-12 year olds) and the number of hours per day (2 ½) we had to work on the production.
When writing for these workshops, we seek to create, challenging scenes for the actors as well as varied narrative techniques and theatrical languages. We try to figure out how interesting, yet fun, acting exercises and games can lead us to creating formally distinctive, structurally strong and emotionally loaded scenes. We seek to incorporate visual elements of strong poetic potential that are easy to design and build with children in short amount of time and with no budget. Then, in meetings, writings and discussions the story and play emerge.
In Dream Tale Puppets, I try to balance my own interest and curiosity with what may be attractive to our audience. Our current shows are addressed toward children and family audiences. Traditional, well known fairy tales are the natural choice. In addition, I have always been fascinated by fairy tales, their psychological deepness and wisdom. In “Rumpelstilskin, I found that the main character’s search for the name of the magical character meets my interest in the power of words. I learned English as a second language and I feel a strong empathy for a character who searches for the right word that will make a dramatic change in her life, in this case, saving her child from the impious gnome, Rumpelstilskin.
Dream Tale Puppets’ next project will be using a well-known story as a departure point for devising the performance and developing a play. We will be making new puppets and visual elements, we will explore possible relationships between storytellers/puppeteers and puppets and manipulating techniques and the play will emerge in a creative process where writer, designer, director and actors are all involved. We used elements of this approach in the last Dream Tale Puppets’ production of “Jack and the Beanstalk”.
How do you create your puppets? Can you talk about the techniques involved?
Each project calls for its own visual style and puppets. But, in general, I prefer to work with simple materials and techniques. Most often we use rod puppets where the heads and hands are carved from styrofoam and covered by a few layers of papier-mâché. When working with children and creating puppets for a single show use, we use the blue marine foam used for floats. It is a little heavier than white styrofoam, but very easy to carve and easily painted over two or three times to harden it. Most often, the bodies of puppets are simply formed by draping fabric over the rods or from fabric attached to a piece of wood, which forms the shoulders. Sometimes I make clay models before carving in styrofoam and sometimes the head is made out of papier-mâché alone, over a model made out of clay. This technique requires seven or more layers of papier-mâché and is very convenient for mask making. We also often use cardboard as construction material. In the upcoming Dream Tale Puppets’ production we plan on using “found objects”. You may say that we plan to recycle “stuff” or “found treasures” to give it a second life as elements to build puppets.
Who is your target audience?
The audience for Dream Tale Puppets’ performances is children three years old and older and their families. As a teacher, my workshops and their performances are most often for children seven-twelve years old and their families and friends.
Why are you passionate about live theater?
The first and commonly acknowledged source of the passion for live theater is its immediacy of being live itself. By producing the show you are bringing characters to life. The actualization of life of someone other than you, by you, whether you are an actor using only his own body, a puppet or number of puppets, is fascinating in itself. It allows one to study and to experience creative processes of life in all its complexities and simplicities, seriousness and humorousness. The deepness or shallowness of this study only partly depends upon the character the actor plays; in puppet performance an actor may need to create a number of characters, use a variety of voices and performing techniques. Each technique of giving life to a puppet requires mastery. Sharing this act of creating life with the audience adds an additional dimension to this life and provides a chance for everyone present to realize a new living reality through their senses, minds and hearts.
Another reason to be passionate about live theatre has to do with its communal nature. The community of artists that passion for theatre brings together creates a culture of its own. Every new project provides the opportunity for new artistic and social explorations and allows us to ask new questions about the nature of community, its values and ways to actualize its vitality. We learn from researching material for the production, examining languages of expression and means of being alive, while immersing ourselves in the synergistic nature of the creative process. During rehearsals and in dialog about the material we explore, we create each other and the theatrical organism which supports our development. In this process, what is individual merges with what is communal.
Meeting with the audience allows this theatrical community and life to find its broader environment, justification, a mutual relationship and meaning.
What are the benefits of attending one of your performances?
We offer a high quality, enjoyable and illuminating theatrical experience. While we use a variety of puppetry styles, usually our performers are as visible as the characters they operate or portray and the audience experiences not only the story, but how it is created. This performing style has many analogies to the ways children play and reinforces the creative thinking and imaginative playfulness. We are extremely serious about having fun! Dream Tale Puppets benefits as well. Through the support of the local community- by attending our performances, inviting us to schools, pre-schools or party, and by signing children up for our workshops- we are able to continue to develop our art, bring more performances to the community, and enhance the audience’s experience.