[A guest post from FY15 Artist Fellowship Program (AFP) Grantee Cecilia Cackley]
All puppets talk, right? Most of the puppetry I grew up with, such as Sesame Street, was very talkative. It wasn’t until I saw a particular piece called The Rose at the O’Neill Puppetry Conference, that I considered the possibilities of wordless puppet theater. Aki, a visiting puppeteer from Japan, created a story with just her two hands. She told us who the two characters were at the beginning, but otherwise, the show was completely silent, without music or anything to cue the audience into what was going on. We were enthralled. Her movements were so precise and poignant that I was nearly in tears by the time the short piece was finished. Today, as I create my own puppet work, I’m constantly thinking about how to tell a powerful story without words.
One reason I have chosen to create wordless puppet plays is that it puts the focus on the visual, an aspect of puppetry that truly sets it apart from other kinds of live theater. Puppets are artwork brought to life by the puppeteer, and taking words out of the equation allows the audience to focus on what they are seeing.
As a person who grew up in a multi-lingual family, I have firsthand experience with the frustrations of not understanding or being understood in another language. Wordless puppetry allows everyone into the story. I created my first wordless puppet show Elle Lit/She Reads to take to the Avignon Off Festival in France in 2009. It was a tabletop puppet play about a little girl who gets lost inside the worlds of the books that she reads. This February, my show Saudade, a shadow play about the immigrant experience in DC, will premiere at the Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival. These shows are able to reach a much greater audience because, as wordless theater, they remove a barrier for audience members who speak different languages.
Another reason I love wordless puppetry is because it provides more space for the audience to bring their own ideas and interpretations to the story. When Wit’s End Puppets performed The Amazing and Marvelous Cabinets of Kismet, it was intended for an all ages audience. We had children sitting with their parents who narrated the entire play for the adult next to them, making their own decisions about who the characters were and what was going on. It was beautiful to see them so enthralled.
Puppeteer Gabriela Cespedes likes to say “The puppeteer creates the piece but the spectator recreates it.” Wordless puppetry lets you decide on your own ideas about the story—and gives the audience that extra space to focus on the visuals, enjoy a story outside of a familiar language, and above all, enter a space of theatrical magic.
— Cecilia Cackley, FY15 AFP Grantee
Saudade at Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Intersections Festival
Saturday, February 28 at 2:00 pm
Saturday, March 7 at 7:00 pm