A Journey Into European Puppetry

Lenka Pavlíčková

Pandemic Gravity

Ghostly Puppet

Ghostly puppet from the Tbilisi Chamber Theatre’s Don Quixote.

Greetings from Tbilisi! It’s been too long since I’ve written here on Gravity From Above. And given the current strictures of these pandemic times I shouldn’t have an excuse. And I don’t. Nevertheless I do have an answer. My video channels have been distracting me quite a bit as well as my observations of the moment. And I have some videos to share.

Tbilisi Georgia has actually turned out to be a very good place to be. Only 626 cases. Almost half now recovered. Just 10 deaths. And the reason the numbers are quite low for this country of about 4 million is that the government took the advice of their medical staff and put things into quite a serious lockdown, which given the touchy feely nature of Georgians in general is quite a blessing, lest we repeat the nightmares of Italy or Spain. Meanwhile there have been moments when the one and half million population capital has felt like a strangely muffled ghost town. Particularly around Georgian Easter.

I won’t spent too much more time telling you about the lockdown here. If you are curious watch some of my videos posted here. It will give you glimpses of desolation that should satisfy your apocalyptic soul.

I guess one thought I’ve had is about puppetry during this pause. I have noticed on Facebook that many puppeteers have been heroically doing little impromptu live video shows to keep up morale for others and for themselves. Actual puppet filmmakers whether animated or live certainly haven’t had enough time to assemble anything too elaborate yet. They are I am sure doing what they’ve always done. They remain hidden in studios moving little inanimate yet highly symbolic objects around to create the images they have often made. But who knows maybe a few puppeteers have decided to dabble more in actual cinematic dramaturgy?

Meanwhile I’m sure that most puppeteers the traditional and the experimental have been itching to get back to the place that they long to be, in their theatres, or on the streets, or in their castelets. And puppets are in a unique place in this worldwide pause that we will be emerging from. They are objects, objects reminding us of the material texture of the world and of actual presence on the stage. Too many people now are feeling the effects of the glut of virtual imagery. Like a lethargy of the mind, too many stories, too many images following on quick succession, without recourse to the physical stuff that dreams are made of, it produces a strange heaviness. Life becomes a series of visual binges, without the tactile sense of daily life, of exploration in the material that makes up our own stories, nor the discussions we use to ruminate over our little discoveries. And so the puppeteer can, upon the reawakening of physical life, bring the object back to the starved folk willing to partake. Yet some will not come because the virtual opioid addiction will be too hard to break. Yet many sensing the unreal rickets of the soul developing in their marrows will want the vitamins of tangible puppetry and theatre as an antidote. And so my suggestion. Get your shows ready. Spend this time developing ideas.

Pancho's Face

Pancho Sanza, faithful sidekick to Don Quixote.

And for inspiration I’m going to pass on a couple of videos I haven’t shown you here yet.

First I present to you Giorgi Apkhazava, theatre director and puppeteer here in Tbilisi. Georgia has gone through tough times particularly from 1989 until 2008. And Giorgi came of age during this time and sees puppetry as a way to fight the virtual disease of which we now being given a mega-dose. I have given you his entire interview because I feel like it is important to understand the meaning of puppetry during these dark abstract times.

Next on a more practical nuts and bolts level I present to you a couple of Czech carvers Lenka Pavlíčková and Mirek Trejtnar who show us more about the actual art of carving wood into puppets. So take heart. Make a puppet. It doesn’t have to be wood. Follow your own muse. But sometimes just watching another creator gets the little gray cells working.

Meanwhile if you you wish to support this endeavor use the PayPal link.

I have 40 hours of interviews and time but I need to get backing to finish Gravity From Above. But I’ll discuss that at a later time.

Also check out my YouTube channel called Georgian Crossroads.

Georgian Crossroads

Well I will be back soon with more…

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia

10 / 5 / 2020

And CLICK here to donate to Gravity From Above.


A Small Feast For The Eyes

Well while I’ve been sidelined on Gravity From Above I haven’t been idle. Now I just have to get to where I’m going by a new route. I’ve exhausted the crowdfunding route. I just don’t have the name recognition, a big enough pool of acquaintances or friends with deep enough pockets to be able to go through that again in the near future. But still it was good to know that I could raise the funds, twice(!), to help me get this far.

But here’s what I have been doing… Someone did get in touch with me about an idea. It didn’t quite work out but it was a good connection. I’ve also been going through documentaries from the last 20 or so years that I have appreciated to see if there’s a producer who might be worth contacting. I did come up with about 10 solid names.

czech-puppet-dancers

A brace of dancing Czech Marionettes in the puppet museum in Plzen.

I realized that I need to make a new trailer to give this producer and new backers an idea of what exactly I’m up to. And so I spent about 50 hours working on a this small feast for your eyes.. This trailer is not meant to announce the film. But it does serve to show how much work I’ve done so far. Some of the images are from animated and live puppet films that I wish to use in the documentary, but will need to obtain the rights in the future. There are many images from interviews which I’ve already conducted. What’s missing is great footage from a few puppet shows to bring the whole project home. But consider this a taste of what’s to come. This is somewhat the mood of the forthcoming film. More poetic than didactic. But let me know what you think of it? I’d appreciate your thoughts.

And here is where I could really use help. Who do you know who can help get Gravity From Above made? Do you know a hungry producer? Do you know someone who’d love to donate and get involved? (We can even work it out to make it a nonprofit contribution if that’s an issue.) Do you have or know someone with ideas? Think with me on this. I need to get back out there as soon as possible. And one of you might have the key.

budrugana-gagra-poster

Here’s a poster for the unique hand shadow puppet theatre in Tbilisi Georgia called Budrugana Gagra.

In the meantime enjoy the new trailer!

Byrne Power

Haines,Alaska

10/30/2016

Thanks to those who have contributed by using the PayPal ‘Donate’ button up above.


Hanging By A String

84 Groteska Balladyna2

We Come Humbly Beseeching You Like this Poor Puppet from the Groteska Theatre Production of Balladyna in Krakow 2005.

Okay I have a confession. I’m stuck. I need help. I did this crowdfunding dance two years ago and it was so hard I swore I’d never do it again, but I made it. This time it’s much harder.

On the evidence of 75 percent of the people who contributed to my last attempt to raise funds, the world is in a global recession deeper than anything since the great depression. I thought the recession was supposed to be bad back in 2009 and 2010. But this time, with a few happy exceptions, the majority of folks who seemed so supportive back in 2012 are in some kind of financial straights so bad that all I’m getting is exactly the kind of ‘I-wish-I-could-help-but’ notes that make one look a little too long into the dark water down at the dock at midnight. Or in a more pleasant variation, ‘this-is-all-we-can-afford-now’, and I graciously receive about a quarter of what I might have been given before. And it’s not one or two people. And it’s not one kind of person or just Americans.

Salzburg Mozart

This Mozart Puppet From the Salzburg Marionette Theater in Salzburg Has a Wistful Expression. Maybe it’s Because He’s So Poor that They are Going to Have to Bury Him in a Pauper’s Grave AND He Never Supported GRAVITY FROM ABOVE. Oh My!!!

Now I believe my friends and begrudge no one a dime. This must be a weird time for quite a few people. And I wonder about my timing. But then again by all reckoning the autumn is the best time to fund raise. But actually in Alaska summer is usually better. But many of these people don’t live in Alaska. Or maybe this whole crowdfunding thing is just getting overplayed and people are just giving too much to too many people.

Or, and here’s another theory, maybe it’s just me. Maybe some people are saying something like ‘Well we gave you money a couple of years ago, why aren’t you done yet?’ (I hope someone remembers how much it costs to make films?) Or maybe people are thinking ‘How can my little contribution help to make a film?’ (It can! It can!)

Or maybe it’s the lack of me? (How’s this for a convoluted theory that might actually be closer to the truth.) I mean, actually all this social networking doesn’t make you closer to people. And the occasional ‘Like’ doesn’t mean anyone is all that involved in anything you do. And so you think maybe people will understand why puppets might be helpful in this weird world. But then I think how can they? They haven’t read any books or essays on the subject. They probably have never seen a decent puppet show. And they certainly haven’t seen my film, because I’m having trouble finding the resources to make it. So it’s probably not me personally, it’s the ‘not me’ which makes me just another cluster of digital pixels.

100 Chrudim Museum

A Few Old Czech Puppets Hanging by a String in the Czech Puppetry Museum in Chrudim Just Waiting to Have Their Stories Told!

Now I’m not down and out on this project yet. I pushed the deadline back to December 18th. And I’m right on the edge of 15% of my total. (And if it gets really desperate I have one last January fallback position.) But I must say my plan to raise my money has been largely scuttled by these odd collective financial difficulties. I had planned to raise a certain amount through my friends and supporters from last time. Then to use that momentum to keep the ball rolling. There are also some other differences between then and now that I won’t burden you with, but they are differences that add up. But it’s also clear that I have to change my strategy. And I need help with ideas of how to do that.

One thing that I do have this time, that I didn’t have last time, is that more puppeteers and folks in general know about the project. Since I started doing this over 100 people have joined my Facebook page for Gravity From Above. Yet while I have received some very enthusiastic thumbs up, except for a few generous people, that hasn’t yet translated into anything financial. Maybe it’s because puppeteers are a fairly low rent breed and are also just scraping by. And yet I know also most anyone could make a 5 dollar, 5 Pound, 5 Peso, 5 Euro contribution and believe it or not little contributions add up and eventually inspire more money. So if each of those people gave $5 dollars I’d be up $500. Now that’s not likely to happen for the same reason that statistically most people will not give to anything. But wouldn’t it be great to buck the statistics! And this is a case where it should happen. (For the reasons I gave in my last essay.) Really.

108 Chrudim4

But Really We Are Just Puppets What Can We Do? These Puppets in Storage at Theatre Groteska in Krakow Poland Seemed to be Asking in 2005.

But here’s a thought for my friends who truly are strapped for cash and can’t afford anything at all. Help me in other ways. Sharing on Facebook etc is an obvious way. But in the end that produces the same low return. It’s just the numbers. But here’s where it counts. I’ve got a temporarily tax deductible project that is wildly unique and visually arresting. Gravity From Above is the very opposite of dumbing down and adding to the chaos of the present. This isn’t more noise. This film is a bid for people to try to find a way through the virtual gunk that clogs us up at every turn. It’s about reality, and how to connect people to it. Surely somebody must know somebody who can help with financing?

This is where you can help. You have a friend here (me) and someone trying to get something done that needs to get done. It quite literally won’t get made if you don’t help. If you are a puppeteer you should really be starting to understand what this project is about. So think with me. Work with me. Whoever you are? Even if you’re broke as I am. Look around. Who do you know who does have money that can help? Do you know an organization that can help? Does anyone know anyone who is willing to take very little risk, since it’s tax deductible, to help get this made? I don’t need people who say things like, “Hey have you looked into the Henson organization or the NEA or ARTE etc etc.” Helpful, but ultimately obvious. I need people who will look into those things themselves on behalf of this project. (If anyone brings in a live fish they will get some kind of Producer credit.) Who are your relatives? Friends? Employers? Associations?

These are short samples edited on iMovie. Give a listen. (We do need pro editing tools.)

Or let me ask another question: I’ve been working on this project in varying degrees for something like eight years. I’ve got a start, but nowhere near where I need to be. Am I the only one who sees the need for this? (I might be, because few people, even in Europe, have seen what I have and put the larger picture together.) Does anyone else want to see this film besides me? Seriously? (If you’ve given this time or in 2012 you are excused and have proved yourself.) I believe there are people reading this who do? So even if you really and truly don’t even have a couple of dollars to help out, get creative and think with me. How can I seriously raise this money before December 18th?

Salzburg Weird Puppets

And If We Don’t Get The Funds It’s Going to Get SCARY!!! (Salzburg 2005)

I realize I’ve probably violated some rule for fundraising here. The rule that says you are always supposed to remain confident. Well I am confident. I am also realistic. I’d rather seek your help now than wait until five minutes to midnight. I can recognize that my own resources are starting to get thin. But I’m fully confident that someone out there has a piece of the puzzle that I need.

If you have ideas? Connections? Encouragement? Etc?

Write to me at reckoningmotions (at) yahoo (d ot) com or at my Facebook account or below in the comments section. Or heck! Just get your helpful soul over to Hatchfund and throw a few coins in the hat.

This is not surrender. This is a fight to preserve the meaning of this project.

With Gratitude!

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

11/20/2014

By the way if anyone wants a kit with photos and narrative of the project to use let me know.


Storms, Trains, Carvings, Theology Students

Puppets and blades

Lenka Pavlickova’s unfinished puppet heads and blades

I was awakened by the sound of the BBC coming from the kitchen. It turns out that heavy downpours of rain had flooded many parts of the U.K. And it seemed that my travel north towards Durham might be interrupted by the waters. Nevertheless as I have learned in past moments of uncertainty, you commit yourself to a course, even if it is doubtful. And so I arrived at King’s Cross Station an hour and a half early. And it’s a good thing I did. Because as I sat there waiting I heard a sound on the public address system that definitely announced that the train to Durham, my train had been canceled. So I got up, dragged my weighty bags and got on a different train also heading north. I figured that I would at least get as near as I could, which in this case was Newcastle. As I passed field after flooded field north of York the train announced that there would indeed be a stop at Durham. Evidently many of the people aboard had the same idea that I did and since they had just cleared a fallen tree we would be the first train to pull into the station.

Wave at Seaham

The Stormy North Sea Coast at Seaham England

My main reason for going to what would prove to be the smaller town of Seaham, on the North Sea Coast, was to meet Lenka Pavlíčková, a Czech carver who had made my own Nimrod puppet for our Great Ziggurat show back in 2009. We had only communicated online and I thought it would be good both to meet her and to interview her on carving for Gravity From Above. When I arrived at Durham I was met by George, Lenka’s affable English husband, who gave me a guided tour as we drove and quite a bit of the history English labor relations, since he was also a union representative of long standing. He considered himself a socialist, which was interesting on many levels, especially since Lenka, being a good Czech girl was anything but. Yet I enjoyed seeing a relationship where political agreement was not the glue. (One rarely sees this in America anymore.)

Angel of the North

Angel of the North

In Seaham and vicinity I was taken to a spot on the coast that had had so many coal slag heaps once that it had been used by Ridley Scott in Alien to stand in as the foreboding planet where the creature was discovered. On this day though the North Sea was boiling in stormy anger as waves created fifty foot sprays as they crashed into the pier. We visited the old town of Durham and saw St. Cuthbert’s tomb in the old cathedral. I was also taken to see the Angel of the North, a strange statue near the motorway of an Oscar©-like giant with wings like an old biplane. We ended up at a classic fish and chips joint on the docks of Newcastle as the ferry to the Netherlands plowed through the nighttime waters lit like a Christmas tree.

Byrne with Lenka

With Lenka Pavilckova in the old North England town of Durham

I did interview Lenka for the film and watched her carve her curious puppets in her little studio. Her actual craft is a bit worrisome looking to the casual observer since it features her turning a block of lathed wood into puppet parts all the while digging the blades into her body, which is loosely protected by a leather apron and some rather gauged out flat piece of wood. Has she ever missed? Does she have scars? Certainly. But she’s also the total professional. She was currently working on a year long project of making many marionettes for a Czech music video. She also showed me a clip of one her other customers from Costa Rica a man named Randall Gutiérrez who performed an extremely lively dancing puppet show. (This reminds me of how much puppetry there is besides what I’ve seen on my European exploits.) I also had a chance to see many of her current crop of figures hanging up nearby. After talking with her I had a sense of accomplishment. This was my last official interview on this trip. I could now relax and just enjoy the rest of my time in Europe. (Or so I thought.)

Puppets Hanging

Lenka’s finished puppets hanging and bagged awaiting transportation to their new homes.

Puppet Head in Hands

A puppet head near the beginning of the carving process

Carving into Chest

Don’t try this at home. Lenka is a professional carver who knows how dangerous this technique is.

Shellhead

I’d call him Shellhead but Lenka calls him George after her husband.

My last stop in the U.K. was a trip up to Aberdeen Scotland to see my close friend and erstwhile Reckoning Motion puppeteer Carsten Hyatt who is studying systematic theology at the University of the same name. Carsten was staying with another theology student, David, in an apartment not too far from the campus. In a way I felt as if we were all contemporary monks keeping the coal fires low to conserve resources while having meaningful discussions about the nature of faith and humanity in the 21st century.

I did have a chance to see some Scottish folk music at a local club. Well to be precise the band called Amos was from the Shetland Islands, far north of Scotland, almost, and at times in its history actually, Norwegian. Between jaunty fiddle tunes the band members told extremely droll stories in a quirky accent that pronounced house as if it rhymed with goose. Carsten also took me around the town and campus and to an ancient Presbyterian Church, which was going through the same kinds of political/moral issues as Presbyterian churches in North America. All in all I found Aberdeen to be an intriguing town, though devoid of puppetry. I also spent yet another hundred dollars to mail back some of the film equipment I had borrow from my Swiss producers. But the relief to my back cannot be over stated.

Carsten in the Alley

My friend Carsten in a back alley on the Aberdeen University campus.

At last it was time to go. Carsten saw me off at the train station. I arrived in Edinburgh, regretting that I couldn’t look around. Eventually I was packed into a cheap air flight and sent back to Paris for the final leg of my journey. (You may wonder why the extra flight? I actually saved money by flying out of Paris. Instead of Edinburgh or London. Plus Paris is a great place to do a little shopping before exiting the continent.) But the flight itself contained something I wasn’t quite wanting. One more little bug circulating in air, which my travel weakened system, nearly finished with its other symptoms, wasn’t strong enough to fend off.

And I wasn’t quite finished with puppets yet!

Next time we arrive back in Paris for the third time…

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

12/31/2012

For more information about Lenka Pavlickova go here:

http://www.praguemarionette.com/