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I’ll never forget this moment. One of the images that really sticks in my mind from Fuerza Bruta: Wayra. Somehow, I felt identified with this particular moment. I felt like this moment perfectly described how I was feeling in my first week in New York; like an outsider looking in, in a world of fantasy, trying to escape and feeling like I was alone yet with so much happening around me.

Also, the main actor was really cute.

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Escapism, spectacles and migration – the collective experience of Fuerza Bruta: Wayra (NYC)

I had never experienced anything quite like Fuerza Bruta: Wayra. Dragged by a friend of mine so I could start being optimistic about living in New York, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. So walking into a bar was interesting. Then descending downstairs into what felt like a basement was also interesting. Then being in a dark room lit only by what I can remember to be magenta shining lights and the text “Fuerza Bruta Wayra” being projected onto a wall – I was already excited.

Needless to say, I loved it. I loved it so much that I wrote an essay on it for my Performance and New York class (nerd moment, I know). Diqui James would hate me for trying to intellectualize the show. But I really can’t help it – it was one of the most incredible experiences EVER. While I think it funny that most articles about the show are written by older white men who found the show boring because they see it simply as a party, I urge you not to buy into their critique. Firstly, who doesn’t love a good party? And secondly, FB is more than just that. As I left the theatre, I could not help but think about how the performance revolved on the theme of escapism.

And so yes, I wrote an essay because I couldn’t get the show out of my mind. To be honest, I make vast generalizations in my essay because a) I had zero motivation to turn in this assignment and b) I was making obscure links in my head with things I had read for class. So maybe some things are farfetched but in my mind, it’s all connected in some way. SO, to begin:

 

Fuerza Bruta: Wayra  is the third showcase of the off-Broadway show Fuerza Bruta (FB), running at the Daryl Roth Theatre in Union Square, New York City since 2007. Conceived by Argentinian director Diqui James, FB premiered in 2003 in Buenos Aires.

Think immersive theatre, music, lights, projection mapping and party.

The performance has travelled the world and received mixed reactions from the audience. In countries in Asia, such as China, where physical contact is not a part of the culture, there were certain cues added to the performance to encourage people to move and dance. By contrast in South America, a culture that demands physical contact, the audience would be open to moving wildly in the space. Likewise in New York, the audience has been open to being involved in the performance. FB has a special place in NY, and is more than just another spectacular show. It becomes a significant theatre piece to run when placing it around the social and historical context of New York being a place of migration. FB turns the act of spectatorship into a performance in order to create a sense of community.

(Warning you now – SPOILER ALERT from here on.)

A group of performers play drums with a tribal upbeat quality to them, the energy instantly affecting the audience (to this day, I cannot get this beat out of my mind it’s so good). Performers emerge swinging from the ceiling, seemingly desperate to touch the hands of the audience members, the desperation shifting onto the audience members who eagerly try to touch the hands of the performers. Soon, the audience is introduced to a mysterious man on a treadmill, who becomes the protagonist of the show. He walks on the wrong side of a makeshift treadmill in the center of the room. He starts walking, dressed in all white. As he picks up the pace, a shot is fired. He reacts, seemingly hurt, and eventually he falls over– but not before stagehands can get a soft landing under him. He later continues walking against the direction of the treadmill, passing people and props. He appears to be resisting mundane work, conforming to a group of people, and violence in general. Perhaps the single most important thing to note, is how stagehands are made a part of the whole performance. There are individuals dressed in black who guide the audience within the space, and work swiftly in placing and removing props and equipment needed for particular scenes, like chairs and tables, or a wind machine. It is remarkable how FB is able to make an audience believe in a world where escapism is possible, while still bearing witness to the obvious theatrical elements of theatre.

Richard Schechner discusses how ‘performance studies’ as a discipline is difficult to explain because it resists or rejects definition. The field itself “cannot be mapped effectively because it transgresses boundaries, it goes where it is not expected to be” (Schechner 360). It becomes interesting to examine the discipline as a way of mapping one’s own world. Andrew Schneider’s recent “YOUARENOWHERE” performance art piece is essentially a depiction of the creator’s own world and the existential crises he faces, the creator being Schneider. FB on the other hand tries to encompass a much larger world. Whereas Schneider uses his personal experiences and thoughts to relate to the audience, FB resists specificity. By trying to create an experience that is raw and dependent on the movement of one’s body and the feelings one experiences during the course of the performance, FB maps a world unlike any other. It is able to depict problems of the real world, such as violence or stress, whilst creating the sense of the possibility to escape to a fantastical world filled with movement and music, and where one is not tied to any labels, social or otherwise. Schechner continues to discuss how performance studies “is inherently ‘in between’ and therefore cannot be pinned down or located exactly” (Schechner 360). This falls into a discussion on the power of theatre, and how theatre creates a suspension of disbelief; that in a particular time and space, what is seen as pretend is made to be real. This is further heightened in FB because of audience involvement being integral to the performance, thereby turning the audience into a ‘spect actor’.

What follows during the course of the performance is a descent into a world of fantasy. Performers suspend above everyone or swim on a transparent ceiling that drops down low enough for the audience to make contact with it, and a series of performers who release confetti and keep the audience moving. If one goes on a Friday night, there is even an after party that follows. Throughout the night, FB plays with desire and temptation. It is fascinating to witness the reactions of other audience members, as some will extend their arms towards the suspended performers. The question arises as to whether people are reaching out to be a part of the world or for the chance at human contact.  Growing up, Diqui James had an immense love for carnivals because of the energy in the streets and the feeling that everyone was together (James2). James calls the performance “a celebration”, creating a space where one is granted permission to let go; to drink to the heart’s content, and dance like one has never danced before.  This is interesting to consider when juxtaposed to the concept of amusement and spaces of entertainment. It is easy to understand why New York becomes a hub for experimental arts and theatre because of its historic ties with entertainment and the establishment of amusement parks such as Coney Island. Historians Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace wrote of how “Coney’s rides and beaches [was where] diverse peoples swam, ate, played, and rode together” (Burrows and Wallace1).  Such places offered a sense of contained freedom, as rides like “the roller coaster momentarily relieved riders of their inhibitions, providing welcome opportunities for romance” (Burrows and Wallace1).  James talks about how the show’s “main thing is that it’s a collective experience. You are interacting with people, sharing that space” (Watson).

Creating an experience that is collective and shared addresses notions of the power of theatre and its ability to bridge social and cultural barriers. In 2001, Nancy Foner noted that “in the past four decades, a massive wave of immigration has been transforming the United States, the vast majority of the new arrivals coming from Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean” (Foner 27).  She continues to discuss how there is “a popular fear is that [immigrants] will have trouble, indeed often resists, fitting in; that their origins in non-Western cultures are poor preparation for American life” (Foner 27). However, what truly defines the ‘American life’? With migration being rooted in the history of the United States, there has for decades been a need for new citizens to adjust and adapt. This allows for the constant reshaping of the culture of the city, especially with regards to the arts.  Looking specifically at variety shows, such a genre had only emerged as a distinct part of the entertainment industry in the 1870s and 1880s (Burrows and Wallace1). This coincides with the period when New York City saw some of its highest numbers of migration, with “between 1865 and 1873  “over two hundred thousand immigrants [arriving] in New York City each year” from 1865 to 1873 (Burrows and Wallace2). FB can be seen as falling under the genre of Latin American theatre because it was produced by an Argentinian theatre company. However it resists being defined as exclusively Argentinian or Latin American. Though physical contact and celebration are fundamental aspects of Latin American culture, to confine FB to a genre that is regionally and culturally specific is to limit the audience.

In FB, everyone in the space is equal. Here is a space where one can let go, and be separated from any labels attached to the self.  The performance is able to unite people of differing economic and cultural classes. Diqui James talks about the disparity between the rich and the poor in Argentina, as in several parts of the world and how he wanted “”to do the type of theater that anyone can understand, not just the type that those reading Shakespeare would like” (James1). To James, the show was not about creating something that was exclusively Argentinian, but about instilling a feeling and emotion. The rawness of the show allows for the possibility for human connection to be instilled in the audience.

FB is an immersive theater piece that goes beyond the audience becoming spect-actors. More than an interaction between the audience and the performers, it is an immersive piece rooted in the desire for human connection. In creating a space with a heightened sense of desire and fantasy, where escape from the real world seems possible, FB brings together audience members into a collective emotional and physical experience. With the show running every night for almost ten years in New York City, it resists being merely a spectacle and it becomes part of the social construct of the city. It becomes part of the city’s history and adds to the narrative of the city being a place of attraction. New York’s history from as far back as the 19th century to the present, revolves around narratives of movement, migration and community. It is a culturally diverse city, but one which also feels divisive. Yet for a short period of time anyone at FB, audience members can forget about the world beyond the theatre’s walls and live in a moment of raw energy and communal celebration.

 

I would see FB again in a heartbeat. So the next time someone calls it a party, interject and say well, it’s an experience. An experience where everyone is equal, and where you can escape the outside world in a chance to lose yourself in a moment of fantasy. And indeed the act of escape and the search of an ‘other’ world is, I feel, part of the narrative.

(PS. Go on a Friday night – there’s an after-party when the show’s over.)

 

 

Works Cited

Burrows, Edwin G., and Mike Wallace. “The New Immigrants.” Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. 1111-131. Print.

Burrows, Edwin G., and Mike Wallace. “That’s Entertainment!” Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. 1132-154. Print.

Foner, Nancy. “Immigrant Commitment to America, Then and Now: Myths and Realities.” Citizenship Studies 5.1 (2001): 27-40. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. Web. 20 Mar. 2016. <http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/13621020020025178>.

James, Diqui. “10 Years on a Natural Buzz: An Interview with FUERZA BRUTA’s Diqui James.” Interview by Ryan Leeds. Manhattan Digest. ManhattanDigest, LLC, 31 July 2015. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.

James, Diqui. “Diqui James Creates Something for Everyone.” Interview by Yue Xu and CCTV News. Youtube. N.p., 28 Aug. 2013. Web. 17 Mar. 2016.

Schechner, Richard. “What Is Performance Studies Anyway?” The Ends of Performance. By Peggy Phelan and Jill Lane. New York: New York UP, 1998. 357-63. Print.

Watson, Keith. “Diqui James: Fuerzabruta Is Wilder Now, It’s Raw.” Metro: News… but Not as You Know It. Metro.co.uk, 20 Dec. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.

 

Quotes and Contemplations on Wilde’s “The Decay of Lying”

Thoughts on Oscar Wilde’s “The Decay of Lying: An Observation” (1889). All pages according to the book, Theatre in Theory 1900 – 2000: An Anthology, edited by David Krasner (2008).

 

People tell me that  art makes us love Nature more than we loved her before; that it reveals her secrets to us…. My own experience is that the more we study Art, the less we care for Nature. What Art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition…. It is fortunate for us that Nature is so imperfect, as otherwise we should have had no art at all.” (47)

Art begins with abstract decoration…. then Life becomes fascinated by this new wonder, and asks to be admitted into the charmed circle. Art takes life as part of her rough material, recreates it, and refashions it in fresh forms, is absolutely indifferent to fact, invents, imagines, dreams….” (48)

Art finds its own perfection within, and not outside of, herself. She is not to be judged by any external standard of resemblance. She is a veil, rather than a mirror. She has flowers that no forests know of, birds no woodland possesses. She makes and unmakes many worlds, can draw the moon from heaven with a scarlet thread. Hers are the forms more real than living man, and hers the great archetypes of which things that have the existence are but unfinished copies. Nature has, no laws, no uniformity.” (49)

Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art.” (50)

 

At first I found Wilde’s writing so beautifully engaging. Then the more I thought about it, the more some phrases did not make sense to me: “What Art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design” and that “Nature has, no laws, no uniformity”. I find these words quite puzzling as to me, Nature is so wonderfully crafted. And who is to deny the reappearance of the fibonacci sequence in many of Nature’s form, ergo showing a sense of pattern, design and uniformity in some respects? ‘Nature’ in itself is a broad term, almost all encompassing as the physical world is made of the living animals, plants and beings as well.

I believe Wilde is trying to redefine our notion of reality. What if ‘reality’ was in fact our imagined world, as opposed to our perceived one? What if true perfection was all that we could imagine, and nothing that really exists? Art is not solely about finding a perfection Art can exist within, but rather by confronting the very idea of perfection. I find that when the world does offer a sense of uniformity, Art is our chance at escape. Art offers a means of rebellion. Perhaps the perfection to Art that Wilde contemplates, is the idea that Art exists both within and outside of Nature; for Art is perfect in its own right because at its core, it serves only as a means of representation. Can there ever be such a thing as a perfect representation? No, but neither does Nature for it presents us a representation of perfection. Both Nature and Art admit to their flaws, and neither exist without each other as there would be no Art without Nature, and no Nature to be fed by Art.

 

We merely exist

in a world

of lies

Lies that try

and try

to keep us

sane.

 

And through this sanity

This insanity of conformity

of rules

we follow

like fools

not knowing what

lies

lie

behind.

 

But I beg you,

to tell me a story.

A story so that I

may finally

shut

my eyes

and peacefully,

oblige

to all these

lies

that lie

around

me.

 

Maybe Wilde is right about Art when he says its aim is to tell beautiful untrue things. But not all Art has to be beautiful, and sometimes there is beauty that can be found in the Lie.

Wonderfully tragic, why ‘The Woodsman’ was one of the best things I saw in NY

I gather than when texts usually begin with the phrase “on the night of Friday the 13th,” it usually precludes to something ominous or horrific. Trust that, for this post, this is certainly not the case. In fact, for me, it was one of the happiest of days.

For on the night of Friday the 13th in the month of May, I went to New World Stages, a theatre on 50th street in NYC, to see Strangemen and Co.’s The Woodsman, a journey to Oz telling the origin story of the Tin Man through the use of puppetry. I will start by saying, that after the show had ended I left the theatre with so much joy, with such an unimaginable love for theatre. The only other time I have felt such overwhelming emotion which might be pinned as happiness was after seeing As You Like It at the National Theatre (which I shall now refer to as AYLI) in London earlier this year. In fact, both productions have similar qualities to them which I will delve into later as I reflect on, as it would seem, a particular style of theatre I am drawn to.

I do recall a frantic desperation to get to the theatre on time for the show. I had taken a nap, likely waking up at around 7:30pm (the shows starts at 8pm), exclaiming “oh, crap” at my realization that I might be late to the show. There was a short debate in my head as I contemplated whether it was still worth it to go, before resolving “What the hell. I paid $37 for the show, I only have less than a week left in this city, and it’s theatre.” I grabbed by keys and headed out the door, leaving my roommate unsurprised that I was out to another show.

I hate being late to the theatre. I think it’s really terribly disrespectful if being late was avoidable. (The worst is when you have to go with a friend who you have to be nice to and even though you’re already barely about to make it he decides to get a doughnut and you can’t yell at him because he made you breakfast that day. True story.) But thankfully the show started late and the space was small so really, any seat was ideal. Anyways, I digress). Even worse, is when you’re navigationally handicapped at trying to find places and maps on your phone cans out on you, just because. For what it’s worth, I was in my seat sharply at 8pm.

As I placed my bag and jacket under my seat, and recomposed myself in my seat from the mad dash to make it on time, I took a deep breath and scanned the stage I had forgotten that I had booked a front row seat near the middle (it’s nice when you surprise yourself with such treats simply because you forget). So the stage was right there, within arm’s reach. And it resembled a quiet forest (oh yeah, ‘The Woodsman’, of course). There were just enough branches used to conjure up the imagination, but even more beautiful were the dainty the bulbs of orange light that were wrapped with little jars. For sake of production design, I made sure to note that not all of them were lit because not all of them needed to be. The set wasn’t over the top, it was just right. Even more surprising, was how it extended off stage and into the side of the audience, the magical forest reaching out along the aisles on the side.

It was perfect. And I was already completely enthralled (following my new found love for set design).

The lights dimmed, and the sounds of the forest were heard.

tinman4

Scene from The Woodsman

I’m not going to spoil it, I really will try not to. I will say though, that the show started with a tale, a prologue, narrated by the lead (James Ortiz) who would become our Tin Man. We are also introduced to The Witch, our villain and first puppet on stage. I remember being so taken aback by the quality of the costumes (they were amazing). After the prologue though, the play is completely reliant on non-verbal dialogue (by this I miss ‘words’), making use of body language, music and sounds. All sounds were made by the actual actors on stage, much like how in NT’s AYLI had actors suspended in their forest making the sounds of the birds and the wind. I was completely taken by this, and moved by the moments of melody (and indeed slightly envious of the fact that I personally don’t know how to whistle). What really struck me however, because I personally had never seen it before, was how the actors also controlled the lighting. In a sense that, they were sort of their own lighting crew. Aside from very few stage lights overhead, and the lights behind the set that would flash and become lightning for the scene, the actors would hold flashlights. These were used to emphasize a particular character in a moment, or to convey time of day. They would also use tiny LED lights as fireflies. So there would be a scene with our two main characters, and the other actors around them would gracefully move and blink their lights. I was fascinated by this, and totally captivated. I recall one scene where the theatre was pitch black (I assume the lights behind me had also been turned off as I was in the front row. So what am I to know). The girl (Eliza Martin Simpson) who is the romantic interest of our Huntsman, also the maidservant of The Witch, sat at the edge of the stage shining a flashlight on her face. She looked around, afraid and expectant of the dangers of the forest. And from the corner of her eye, snarled a giant tiger (another puppet, a huge one at that). She screamed, the theatre became pitch black again. It was an extremely cinematic moment, one that I treasure because a) huzzah for being in the front row and b) of my interest in the intersection of film and theatre.

Now, the play was the advertised as a puppet show. I will admit that I arrived being totally prepared to be completely skeptical. I was skeptical simply because I had seen the Czech-American Marionette Theatre’s show, The New World Symphony: Dvořák in America, where they used puppets. I had also been taking a workshop with Phantom Limb Company on how to make a marionette, and so I was interested to see the kinds of puppets Strangemen and Co. would use. Although The Woodsman is hyped as being a puppet show, I wouldn’t call it that. In a sense that, if I were to write a cast list, then the puppets would seem secondary. My only reasoning for this is simply because ,me having very little experience with puppetry as an art and theatre form, I define a “puppet show” quantitatively to mean that most of the show involves puppets being alive on stage. Neither would I say that the production used puppets. Rather, puppets were a part of the human world. They existed to further emphasize the magical realm of Oz. The puppets were otherworldly, they were other beings and I feel a subtle cringe to call them puppets because it objectifies them. Yes, they are objects, but on the stage they weren’t – they breathed life.

They weren’t super extravagant. They were simple, but well made. Part of this sense of life having breathe into the is not only how they were effectively incorporated into the show, but the form in which they were. The puppets were controlled by the actors – who, I should’ve mentioned earlier, are always present on stage and take on many roles – in a way that made them synonymous to each other. What I mean by this is that, the actors weren’t simply controlling the puppet, but they were embodying the puppet’s character, and that’s something I had never seen before. A prime example to take would be The Witch. What initially intrigued me was the decision to have two actresses control The Witch. Such a character could be designed in a way whereby it is only maneuvered by one actor, but it wasn’t. Here, having two actresses elevated the character particularly by the use of their voices. The actresses would hiss and gasp and exclaim as one, creating the eerie sense of The Witch’s voiced being comprised of multiple voices. Super creepy, and so well executed. The actresses were constantly animated – again, they weren’t controlling The Witch, they were The Witch.

tinman2

Image from mediatimeout.com

The same goes for the Tin Man. As he loses his real limbs and is fitted with his suit of tin, the Huntsman eventually leaves his body. At first, Ortiz moves along with two other actors who help control his limbs. Eventually, Ortiz becomes a ghostly figure on stage, not playing the Huntsman or the Tin Man, but embodying his spirited. As a group of actors now maneuver the Tin Man, it could easily have been the case that it simply looks messy on stage. On the contrary, because of the camaraderie between actors and the fact that they embody the characters of the puppets, I believed I was seeing the Tin Man and not a group of actors play him. Eventually, because he is completely made out of Tin and ashamed of what he has become, he leaves the love of his life. A controller/crutch appears from the ceiling, and the actors string the Tin Man until he in held in place. And there he stands, alone on stage, the first time a puppet is completely without a living body behind it. Completely without spirit.

When I talk to peers about this show and they ask me whether it was a funny show or a sad one, I reply saying that it’s tragic. It pulls your heart out, but it’s still super funny. They in turn, as expected, give me a really confused look. It is a tragic story, but humour is embedded in it (so at least you don’t feel like your heart has been torn to pieces by the end of it). And if I may add, my favourite character is the caterpillar-like doctor, played in fact by three actors (so characters? Or team?).

The Woodsman was ever so masterfully executed. It is clear that every decision made was thought of carefully and thought of in a way that would make sense to the whole production and not just a particular moment.

IMG_0696

Photo by author. I just couldn’t resist, even though I rarely take pictures at the theatre.

With the biggest smile on my face for the love of theatre, I called a friend (indeed the same one that stopped for a doughnut) because I just had to have a conversation about everything I had just seen. He too had just seen a show that he loved. So there I was aimlessly walking around Times Square talking at a million miles an hour on my phone about the magic I had just witnessed, occasionally stopping in my tracks or even jumping with glee.

He urged me to immediately write down everything I was feeling. And so I wrote, a thick paragraph with no interest whatsoever in being grammatically correct, my intention being to record how excited I was and what in particular about the show excited me. So below, for my own sake really, I will write down a more coherent form of what kind of aesthetics I discovered that I personally like.

  1. As it turns out, I’m interested in folklore. I do have a faint recollection as a child of being interested in melodies which I can only now describe as being Irish-tunes. I didn’t realize that ‘folklore’ was the word I was looking for. I previously connoted it with folk tales, which where I come from are old tales involving the personification of animals. I hadn’t really realize that folk tales were really stories that had been passed on and that folklore, as I have recently found out, means “the traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community, passed through the generations by word of mouth” (thanks, Google). I have AYLI in mind when thinking about this, especially the final scene with the communal dance in the forest. Key words to remember: mysticism and magic.
  2. Actors as stagehands. In The Woodsman, the actors we meet the entire cast in the prologue and they are all always on stage, save for a few moments. For the most part, they control the lighting and the sound (like having flashlights and whistling).
  3. You don’t really have to have wind, you can represent it. And I mean this for all other things and not just the wind as well. Being a film major, one of the things that I’m concerned about is making things seem ‘real’. In theatre though we can employ Brechtian techniques whereby a spectator is always aware that the performance is a representation of reality, and not reality itself (all hail Brecht). I wonder what happens if Brechtian techniques are applied to film?
  4. Something about the show was cinematic. I’m still thinking about this one, being someone who is interested in the intersection of film and theatre. I can pick out certain moments, like the moment when the theatre was pitch black and the tiger jumps out.
  5. You don’t need words to convey feeling. The Woodsman is super clever about the moments they choose to have the characters say something and moments where there are lyrics to the music.
  6. Live music on stage and keeping it simple. I just realized that most of the time, if not all, there was a violinist on stage. And only a violinist. So beautiful, so powerful, and just the right instrument for the mood of the play.
  7. No set genre. Does a show really need to have a set genre? It is what it is. To me, this was part physical theatre and part musical theatre. The physicality of the body and the power of the voice are two things that really intrigued me about this play.

 

After this long post, I really have only one thing to say: I loved it so, so much. Seeing The Woodsman in my final week in NYC was a perfect reminder as to why I am studying theatre, and a realization for certain aesthetics I am drawn to.

I would just like to thank Strangemen and Co., for taking me on a journey to Oz that spanned years, and for making me believe in magic.

 

A total mess: a review on ‘The New World Symphony: Dvořák in America’ at La MaMa

In writing another blog post (to be posted very soon), I began to write about a show I had seen in March. I realized that there were quite a few things I wanted to say about it, and thought I’d write a separate post to really pour how upset I was by it.

Finding myself with nothing to do one afternoon in March, I decided to buy a ticket to whatever was showing at La MaMa. A rather impromptu buy but hey, when in NYC you gotta see as much theatre as you can. I bought a ticket to see the Czech-American Marionette Theatre‘s show, ‘The New World Symphony: Dvořák in America’. Simply said, I thought it was an absolute mess.

The show’s log-line reads that it, “explores the influence of African-American and Native American music upon the work of the famed 19th century Czech composer Antonín Dvořák and consequently on music development worldwide.  Performed by Czechoslovak American Marionette Theatre with puppets composed of musical instrument parts, live actors, and musicians, and with an original hybrid score of classical, jazz, and rock music”. It was pretty much advertised on La MaMa’s site as being a puppet show, and I was really keen on seeing one.

I felt cheated.

I thought I was going to go see my first ever puppet show. I ended up seeing a show where they almost never used puppets and when they did, they served more as props than anything else. They had displayed some beautiful and hilarious puppets in the foyer, and here were there puppets being used nothing more than for a moment of amusement or variety. I mean it quite seriously when I say that, this isn’t fair for the puppet! If the objective was to show how puppets are secondary and are just objects, then fine. But it seems to me that that really was not the intention.

As a general comment to the whole show, I think they had a lot of ideas and hadn’t figured out the structure of the play. Which is fine, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a lot of ideas put together and no sense of structure. I just think that at some point, they focused too much on being humorous and making the audience laugh to the point where it was just plain silly and they lost the essence of their show. It also became such that certain moments which might have been funny, simply weren’t because they seemed out of place and overdone.

While I don’t think theatre should ever be talked about in a way that comments how a show ought to have been a certain way or done certain things, rather than having a conversation on what it did do, I do think that the Czech-American Marionette Theatre got it all wrong. They seemed to be hoping for the exotic quality of their puppets to sell rather than the story of Antonín Dvořák (or whatever they wanted to convey). They also had an insanely huge warehouse-type space to performed in, which in hindsight was terrible for when it came to showcasing their small marionettes (well they looked small from afar). Perhaps the only choice I found interesting in the entire show, was the decision to have one of the African-American musicians stop playing whenever a racist comment was made in a scene and approach the character who made the comment. In fact, the musician would take a violin and – in slow motion-like movement – strike the character who made the comment, on the head, whereby after which the violin would break into pieces and the character spin dizzily. I liked the sense of intrusion, for the musicians to intrude on the scene because it befit the play, but it was well overused. After the second time, it just became a “really, again?” moment. Another decision which made sense to the play, was how Native Americans would be referred to as. A character would call the ‘Indians’, before later adding the phrase “who would later be known as Native Americans”. I quite enjoyed this, as it in some way made aware that the play was historical yet relevant to our time by making these ‘futuristic’ references.

Aside from these moments though, the actors seemed almost like caricatures. The actors on a stage with no real sense of a well-rounded character in a structure-less play by a theatre company which might have simply been happy to have received such a big space at La MaMa. While I do understand that shows at La MaMa are typically works in progress, this one has a lot of work ahead of it.

For me, the best shows are when I lose track of time; when I am completely absorbed in the world of a performance. But at this show, time couldn’t have moved any slowly. I was waiting for it to end. Usually I stay to here the last routine of the orchestra or band, but I’m sad to say that as soon as the actors bowed, I made a dash to leave. I was utterly confused by the show, and to be frank, so bored. Did I come away learning anything about Dvořák? Aside from the fact that he was a Czech composer who came to ‘America’, nope, not really. This comedy, had far too many errors.