The Idea Swap is the New England Foundation for the Arts’ annual event for New England-based nonprofit cultural organizations and touring artists to network and share ideas for touring projects. This year I have the opportunity to introduce myself, speak about Dream Tale Puppets’ newest show, and touch upon optional companion workshops.
My name is Jacek Zuzanski. I live on Cape Cod, the land of Wampanoag. English is my second language and I learned it late in life, but I am going to try to speak without notes, so in case I digress too far, please check the printed version of this speech you will find at the table or online. You will find the RQ code on the reverse of my business card also on the table.
Twenty-two years ago I arrived on Cape Cod from my native Poland, the land of Poles who had been colonized for one hundred twenty-three years. Like the Wampanoag, we survived thanks to our artists who guarded our language and cultural identity.
I grew up in a communist, catholic country, where I studied theater, acting, mime, puppetry, and art. After finishing theatre school I found myself in a fast-paced transition to democracy where trying to figure out who I was became a formative part of my growing and maturing process. After graduating I worked as an actor, director, designer, puppet builder, and teacher. I directed at institutional, well-subsidized theaters and I developed my own theater groups and projects. I taught in higher education settings and created multitudes of programs for varied age groups.
I came to the Cape to teach acting and theatre and for 18 years was supported by my visa sponsors. My English was poor and very funny, but I was trained in nonverbal communication and I worked well with children. I have been like a child, slowly expanding my language skills, supported in this process by co-workers, friends, and hundreds of children I worked with.
Dream Tale Puppets was born from a series of short, partly improvised puppet shows that I created with a friend at the Cape Cod Children’s Museum. The theatre came to being when two of these shows began touring. I taught, directed, designed, painted, and built puppets and exhibits for my visa sponsors and they supported the further development of Dream Tale Puppets.
In 2018 I was granted permanent U.S. resident status and since then I have been able to focus on Dream Tale Puppets projects. Tax-wise, Dream Tale Puppets is a sole proprietorship, but we are focused on artistic, noncommercial work. As one who grew up in a culture where the purpose of art was to save the nation, I carry a mission-oriented understanding of the role of art.
In Dream Tale Puppets we choose, develop and use specific techniques and creative practices for each project. We start either from a draft of a play or choose to work with other literary materials or topics. We decide on materials from which to build puppets and other performing objects; we likewise develop a specific style for the production.
This past summer we premiered “Alice, or the Red King’s Dream.” We used characters and motifs from Lewis Carroll’s stories about Alice to tell our story about a girl who is trying to figure out who she is.
Work on this show has been my own and Dream Tale Puppets’ successive inquiry into our identities. Carroll’s nonsensical worlds provided us with the base for our own explorations into the language of theatre and puppetry and gave us a safe platform to explore co-creative approaches.
For this show I built a few classical and other more experimental puppets which we call tabletop figures. The puppeteers are visibly involved because how the story is presented is as meaningful as what the story is about. This interplay between “how” and “what” together with the poetic of children’s make-believe invites the audience to co-create meaning from this nonsensical world. We believe this will be a joyful and interesting theatrical experience for families that will inspire imagination and awaken curiosity with creative but also critical thinking.
The show stands alone or can be paired with workshops in acting, acting with puppets, puppets building, and developing scenes. This could be a simple project for younger participants; we are also ready to lead older groups into elements of pantomime, theatre anthropology as studied by Eugenio Barba, physical acting, acting with puppets, and simple puppet building. We will work with you to develop a program to fit your needs, whether it lasts two days or two weeks.
The show was created for two actors and is transitioning to three actors. We need four hours to set up, three hours for clearing. The show is an hour long. If we need to drive over two hours, it would make sense to set up one day in advance. The best audience size is up to two hundred; the show is for anyone age five and older. We will need to learn about audience placement in the venue. The seating should not rise too steeply. Spectators sitting in the last row should not see behind the table placed on the stage.
Please check our website for more information. If you are interested, we have a video recording of a rehearsal available.
This past summer we performed it at three Massachusetts libraries: Littleton, Carver, and Mansfield. We will be ready to start performing again in June 2023.
The standard fee is $1,300 plus transportation and accommodation when needed. Workshop fees are to be determined.