Friday, January 20, 2012

A Few Good Examples: Beauty and the Beast

Recently, I went to go see the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast.  While the show itself was fun and entertaining, it was the theatrical magic that captivated me.  Understanding that this was high technology developed with an equally high budget; it is still possible to glean ideas and techniques from this experience.

All we have to do, then, is to render it in a medieval fashion.

The techniques of medieval theatrics, and in this case puppet shows, was usually a very well guarded secret.  Only the troupe which employed the techniques and devices would know how they operated and what they actually were.  This in itself isn't unique, many medieval techniques applied to guilds were secretive, but it does cause problems when looking for resource material.

However, not letting that stop me, I can suppose what could have been used in the time period I am looking at and make reasonable facsimiles without compromising our original goal.

Example 1:  A Front Scrim

A scrim is a commonly used device in theatre.  The fabric has unique properties so that when it is lit from the front the screen is opaque.  However, when the theatre is dark and objects behind the scrim are lit, the fabric is translucent.  While scrims are often used as the backdrop for a performance, in some instances they are used between the actors and the audience.

Looking back at Beauty and the Beast, the stylized front scrim was used for several purposes.  Mainly, it was used to frame a certain part of the story that was important; very much like watching a story book.  Additionally, the scrim was used to add depth to the wooded scenes by projecting shadows on it.  This made it appear that the actors were deep in the woods.  Lastly, the scrim was used for special effects, such as rain.

Now the question is:  Could we use something like this in our performances?  I think the answer is a definitive yes.  A stylized front scrim could be used when performing a fairy tale or an underwater scene.  The trick, however, is not using modern equipment that would normally be used to accent the scrim itself. We would need to find another way to cast shadows or give it the blue hue to make it work.  In modern times, this is done by powerful lighting systems with colored gels; but these things were not available to the medieval puppeteer.

Obviously, this idea requires more research and thought.

Example 2:  Set Pieces

Set pieces are important to have.  They portray the setting in a three dimensional way that a simple painted backdrop cannot.  Additionally, set pieces offer the actors or marionettes a way to interact with the world that has been created for them.

While The Batty Puppeteers has been good about set pieces, we haven't fully realized what can be done with them.  Going back to my experience at the theatre, set pieces had one or two different sides.  For example, the front of a house could be seen and when turned around, the inside could be seen.

Incorporating two sided set pieces would not only help cut down on cost of materials, but help alleviate space requirements for transport or storage.  A castle wall, in this case, could be turned around and become something totally different, like a hedge of shrubbery.

This type of project would be rather simple to accomplish and would require critical thinking on what types of scenery could be grouped together.

Example 3:  Basic Stage Magic

The show, Beauty and the Beast, relied heavily on stage magic.  Thunder, lightning, flashes, fog, and even a magical transformation.  While we are currently developing a thunder machine, how do we incorporate other items, like fog?

This will obviously require more research and experimentation.  We need to understand what could be used for these basic items of stage magic an if they could have been understood by medieval man.  This topic will, undoubtedly, be commented on in further editions of this blog.

In Essence...

In all, my trip to the theatre was a fun experience and I was able to walk away with not only a well told story, but thoughts and ideas of how these items could be incorporated into our own humble troupe.

The whole purpose of any performance, be it actors or marionettes, is to tell a story and have the audience walk away with an experience that they will remember.  It is my belief that incorporating these few ideas that we can achieve our goal.

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