Miguel Romero
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   Archipelago of Delight
   The Tempest
   Drums and Shadows
   Boy in a Barrel

ARCHIPELAGO OF DELIGHT

BY HARLEY ERDMAN, CHRIS HAYNES AND MIGUEL ROMERO

When my colleague Harley Erdman and I began collaborating on a puppet musical, we first considered a generic journey of self-discovery that evolved to island ports of call based on the Seven Deadly Sins. As lyrics and music took shape, we realized that some of the "sins" had both positive and negative aspects (love versus lust, hunger versus gluttony, etc.) that we wanted to explore. This meant trimming the seven sins to three: greed, gluttony and lust. All of this progressed in a wonderful spirit of teamwork involving not only Harley and I and Chris, the composer, but also costume designer June Gaeke. She attended our meetings from the outset and admirably served as facilitator, sorting out the wealth of creative ideas that we debated in those meetings. Once these ideas gelled, the input of students, performers, and colleagues all served to give the work its final shape. Special mention goes to Penny Remsen, who designed the lighting; Sebastian Roser, whose mask workshop was an important creative influence; Nick Keenan, who gave the puppets distinctive and expressive voices; and Shannon Weston, an undergraduate art major in my class, who approached the project with boundless enthusiasm and creativity.

My objective from a directorial/design perspective was to synthesize the many sources of inspiration that I had explored during my sabbatical semester in Japan and Indonesia where I did field work and research in puppetry. The production employed many puppet styles—shadow, rod, modified Bunraku and Kuruma Ningyo (a, b). I had observed the Kuruma technique, the hallmark style of Nishikawa Koryu at his theatre in the Hachioji suburb of Tokyo. Puppeteers sit on low rolling stools with their feet attached to the feet of the puppets, providing for fluid movement and the illusion of walking. Nishikawa has perfected an amazing technique for a single puppeteer to manipulate both arms with one hand. (In some instances, the puppet’s head is connected to the forehead of the puppeteer, which also permits a wide range of movement.) Understandably, our cast could not master the complex hand technique in a relatively brief rehearsal period, so we modified the technique to provide each puppet with only one moveable arm. The puppeteer’s other hand manipulated the head.

My primary design concept was to have the recurring central characters transform their bodies for each island.

A conical body shape highlighted the hands and faces for the Island of Greed. On the Island of Gluttony the cones inflated in full view of the audience as the puppets gorged themselves with sausages.

All clothing came off for the Island of Lust, revealing abstract nude bodies. After their destructive orgy, all that remained of them were grotesque, armless, mask-like torsos with legs performing a jig.

The principal puppet mask for the Singerās double was beautifully sculpted from wood by Sebastian Roser. Many of the other principal heads, primarily designed by Sebastian and Shannon, employed a folded paper mask technique developed by Sebastianās father, Albrecht Roser. Using the paintings of Bosch and Bruegel as inspiration, I produced drawings, but gave the student puppetmakers freedom to make their own contributions, often with thrilling and exceptionally theatrical effect. The result was that my design concepts determined the movement and bodies of the puppets, but gave others the opportunity to give the heads character based on the requirements of the script.

The work employed a variety of scales. The singerās double was depicted nearly life-size, but in the scenes in which she rowed her boat to the archipelago (through a sea of bungee cords, threatened by a pleated paper sea serpent), she appeared in miniature as a rod puppet realistically rowing her boat.

Among the other visual highlights were:

  • The transformation of the Singer in her room into the character on her journey at sea.
  • Shadowy black forms rising from a stage trap, dripping with gold jewelry on the island of Greed.
  • The Rube Goldberg-like machine, staffed by a small army of puppet piglets, for manufacturing sausages on the island of Gluttony. In fact, most of the cannibalistic piglet puppets were masks because the puppeteers needed their hands free to operate the sausage machine.
  • Towering sensuous vegetation, paper sculptures designed by Shannon that also rose from stage traps, through which human arms seductively beckoned on the Island of Lust.
  • Hoards of rabbits hopping by means of pliant plastic legs to illustrate the excesses of procreation on the island of Lust.

Read a review of "Archipelago..." by Larry Parnass in The Daily Hampshire Gazette (May 3, 2001)

Read a review of "Archipelago..." by Andrew Periale in The Puppetry Journal (Summer 2001, Vol. 52, No. 4, p. 30-31)

Read a review of "Archipelago..." by Ali Crolius in UMASS Magazine (Fall 2001)

Visit Sebastian Roser's website Puppets on Demand (alternative link)

 

Copyright © 2002 Miguel Romero. All rights reserved.