Day three of the Frog Prince research and development process saw a diverse group including puppeteers, musicians, designers, and dramaturges explore the ways various objects could represent the same character and how this informs the spectator’s understanding of perspective, or, “whose story is this?”
Again, we took an experiment to its limits by testing as many variables as we could think of, following most avidly those that interested us the most. This took some refinement and I think that was the greatest lesson from the day. The idea that not only does a show need to go through many many drafts, but so does the exploration process. Often there isn’t time in a normal production schedule to allow for lots of exploration and play. But in this instance we invented a test, set it in motion, and as we watched we understood why a test wasn’t working – or rather, ways it could lead us more efficiently toward a solution to our initial question.
For instance, this afternoon we wanted to look at how a puppeteer could use various princess dolls and various frogs to illustrate emotional changes in the two characters. At first we had two piles of frogs and princesses and one puppeteer in between them all. As the story was narrated and the emotional obstacles occurs the puppeteer chose a different object that more aesthetically represented that emotional state (for instance, when the frog intimidates the princess he becomes huge and his eyes bulge, one object doing this better than the others.) We saw that while the choosing process was interesting the emotional states weren’t very clearly articulated. We also didn’t like the fact that we heard the story being narrated by an outside voice – did we need that? So we changed the experiment slightly so that there was no voice narrating the changes. But again, this wasn’t as satisfying as we’d wanted. We through in another performer who’d choose and animate the frogs and one to choose and animate the princesses. But this time we decided which objects would be which emotional state. By sorting them and more carefully choreographing the moment two things happened. One, the performers were more confident performing the experiment. And two, we saw something emerge that totally informed our understanding of the project’s direction. When the puppets were chosen in advance the puppeteers were able to react more clearly and directly to the other puppeteer’s choices. By making it a game between two performers there was suddenly a drama that mirrored/paralleled the escalating drama (including the eventual betrayal) of the two characters. The changing of the object not only articulated emotional changes in the characters as demanded by the narrative, but as motivated by the changing relationship/escalating drama between the puppeteers.
But it took several evolutions of the test to get to this conclusion. But once we were onto this idea we never let it go and it informed every discussion and subsequent experiment we conducted.
Importantly we were not devising the project this week. We were testing. But inevitably this work was shaping itself into a performance (at least in my mind.) And I saw how this parallel storytelling could very usefully feed into a piece. Slap on the hand! RESEARCH!
Other discoveries included the usefulness of a repeated and very simple piece of text to allow a visual continuity between the objects (after all we wanted them all to be representations of the same character.) What also came out of this was the need (potentially) for an “anchor” object – a princess and frog who were THE princess and frog. And we learned that the objects can be in aesthetic discord as long as these various objects – a collection of toys and dolls from charity shops – were the objects at play in a story between puppeteers. If these puppeteers were hired for a job and they were playing the emotional states of the characters from their “neutral” position of invisible hand, than an aesthetic continuity would be utterly necessary.
But no way draft one of the test was going to tell us that!
So today’s experiments could be phrased in this way:
- Can multiple objects represent different emotional states for one character?
- Do the object’s changing need to be overtly narrated (ie: text)?
- Is it possible for 1 puppeteer to articulate these changes?
- How can the moment of “choosing” be useful to inform character and emotional shifts?
- Is it useful to see the other objects as well as the active one?
- Does the/can the choosing and subsequent changing of objects become a dialogue between the puppeteers (articulating their drama)?
- How specific do the objects need to be – aesthetically? Does the object need to morph or can the various objects be aesthetically unrelated?
A mind-jellifying day.