I thoroughly enjoyed Ronnie Burkett’s show Billy Twinkle up in Sydney, as well as an unexpected Q & A session afterwards. These are some take-away musings:
Billy Twinkle is partly about legacy – the cycle of the master passing on his skills. So its funny to me that most of my thoughts about the evening have been about what seem at first to be things that go contrary to legacy. Burkett publishes his scripts but doesn’t allow his shows to be recorded, as he recordings never do justice to performance, and theatre is about the live fleeting experience. He also has a somewhat dispassionate view of his puppets, in the sense that he regards them only as fine instruments with which he tells his stories. They are beautifully made and over the years have been perfected technically, but in the long run the idea of putting the collection on a pyre has some attraction for him. Sometimes, as a maker, I hope I am making more than that, a piece of art or a spark of character that stands by itself. In truth though, I think in both cases the real art is the process, the understanding and experience that takes place while making theatre, or while making instruments for the theatre. It’s a challenging outlook, (especially when society seems to be recording more and more, and it would be a shame not to have any record of Ronnie performing), but it makes sense: art is an ephemeral process and life is finite.
Strangely, this seems to have similarities to my musings recently about Should the real time web be able to forget?
I was really interested to hear Burkett say how much exciting puppetry is happening in Australia, especially in Melbourne. That is my impression too, so it was cool to hear it expressed by a visiting master puppeteer.
A puppeteer with marionettes that operate their own teeny tiny marionettes is pretty cool and meta!
Lastly, it’s tricky for a puppeteer to have a solo eye-to-eye conversation with a glove puppet that doesn’t have a moving mouth. I’ve seen Neville Tranter demonstrate how we always instinctively follow the largest movement, and in this case the audience instinctively follows the puppeteer’s mouth when he is talking for the puppet. So there is some confusion as to who is talking, especially if the puppeteer is talking passionately and the repartee between the two characters is quick. It is possible confusion was intended; I’m not sure.
Update: By chance this morning I rediscovered the 4th episode of The Puppeteers (Mabel and Maude), which, if I am reading it right, does a great job of taking the piss out of all this puppeteering and legacy talk.