Zac Palladino and Leslie Rogers have been hard at work making the characters of The Good Puppet of Szechuan, and the individual personalities are starting to become clear.
If you look at the first production post, you can see a head being carved out of a block of foam, and the facial details carved and sanded. This puppet now has facial skin made out of paper mache and the beginnings of a torso made out of wire mesh. As work continued, Leslie sewed a soft, stretchy cloth liner into the inside of the wire mesh cage for the torso, attaching it to the base of the puppet head. This allows the puppeteer mobility with the puppet, while keeping the puppeteer’s hand invisible to the audience and safe from getting scratched on the wire.
The puppets’ skin on their faces appears completely smooth, and to the touch, it is. It’s actually thousands of tiny pieces of torn grocery bags, soaked lightly in glue and smoothed onto the surface. They’ll be painted later, after contruction is complete and the paper-mache skin has had adequate time to dry.
Here we can see the heads of some of the most significant characters from The Good Puppet of Szechuan. I think it’ll be interesting to compare them to the finished heads in a few weeks, and then compare again after these puppets have been put through the full run of performances.
One of Leslie’s amazing skills is that of making entire human bodies out of soft sculpture. She’s capable of making a life-sized pillow person who can sit on your couch, detailed down to the fingernails and eyelids. Fortunately, for these puppets, we don’t need an entire human body, but we do need a lot of body. So, here we can see Leslie repurposeing a pillow into a torso for another character. It does look like she’s giving it a hug, but she’s forming the channels under and between the pectoral muscles that give the chest and stomach shape. After this there’s a lot of sewing involved and moving around the stuffing inside. The more this soft sculpture seems like a real person, the more its costume will hang correctly and the more easily the puppeteer can use it to mimic real movement. Not all of the bodies are soft sculpture, some are wire cages. This picture shows Zac with a good example of a wire-cage torso. They’re not easy to photograph, because what you can’t see through reflects light, and the material is tricky to work with because it’s sharp. But, it allows air to circulate through the puppet, and it’s a reasonably lightweight yet durable material.
So it’s pretty clear that these puppets all have unique, distinct personalities, but what will they do with those personalities? And how? I called Zac to ask him how things were going as I wrote this and he assured me that the puppets are well past Arms and Armatures. Which means they are no longer ‘armless. Next week: Don’t call them dolls, dammit. Painting and costumes!
(All photos by Javier Pazos.)