A Journey Into European Puppetry

Spain

Fighting On Till Mid-January

Spanish Puppet

So you think you know what puppets are??? An Unusual Spanish Puppet or automaton with a birdcage inside.

I was hoping to have finished my crowdfunding task by this time. And yet.

Fortunately I have one final date for a deadline: January 14th 2015. And that’s it. I either get my total by then (We do have money but not enough.) or I have to put down GRAVITY FROM ABOVE for the foreseeable future. It’s kind of stark. I suppose I could finally get money from someone to get this done, but at that point I will be completely exhausted. I won’t go into all of the setbacks I have had this year on this. There have been more than one. (And as I write my mother has had to be transported over a thousand miles for an unforeseen and serious operation.)

But until January 14th at midnight I am fighting!

Romeo Fights

A sword fight from the Comedy of Romeo and Juliet at the Théâtre Royal de Toone in Brussels from my 2012 expedition.

I really feel this project, GRAVITY FROM ABOVE, a serious documentary film on the subject of puppetry in Europe, needs to be made to show a real alternative to so much of the virtual inanity that makes up the present time. Because of the cultural upheavals of late 20th Century people have been focused on changes in music or film as sources of societal renewal, revolution, change etc. But through 35+ years of cultural examinations of these fields I think I can fairly accurately state that nothing is coming from that direction. Yes there have been great musicians and films in recent years, but so what? They don’t effect the motions of society in any degree that matters anymore. The time of Elvis, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols and Nirvana is ancient history and is basically being continually repackaged for us as nostalgia to re-buy ad nauseum until we are choked with it. Likewise there is no Bunuel, Fellini, Bergman, Bresson, Kurosawa and certainly no Tarkovsky in our time. You can again purchase the BluRay Discs if you still care about deep thought provoking films. But if current trends have any relationship to your lives chances are you haven’t got time. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and your iPhone probably absorb too much of your schedule. Besides these great 20th Century art forms have created too many celebrities, superstars, messiahs. They are extremely weak at providing the cultural, let alone the spiritual, vitamins we lack.

And so I come back to puppets. Puppetry is no miracle cure. There are plenty of lousy puppet shows in America and elsewhere. Nevertheless with a bit more un-modern artistic ingenuity there are distinct possibilities remaining here that have been flushed out of many of the more obvious forms. A small puppet show can still communicate something that can barely be whispered in music or film. And that is why this documentary is so important to me.

I remember when I took my first really serious journey into European puppetry in 2005 (note that was nine years ago now), near the end of my remarkable and life changing tour I stood on a bridge over the Salzach River in Salzburg, Austria. In the dark, after having seen my last puppet show of the trip at the Salzburg Marionette Theater, I thought of everything I had seen: from Guignol in Paris to the students at ESNAM in Charleville-Meziérès, to shadow puppets and startling comedy in Berlin, artistic puppetry in Krakow and heroic puppetry in the Czech Republic, to the anarchic Buchty a loutky in Prague and the complex art of marionettes in Salzburg. I realized that I had seen something that few puppeteers had even seen. There were few on my trail from puppet theatre to puppet theatre if any. Did any other puppeteers see what I was seeing in puppetry? Even the most intelligent and clever? I’m not sure that even in the puppet school in France they were really putting the picture together. Time and more conversations have not changed my opinions. Puppeteers, as one can imagine, are not swimming in money. They move from one project to the next. The puppeteers in France don’t have much of an idea of what’s happening in the Czech Lands and vice versa. But here I was standing on a bridge in Austria looking up at the Salzburg Schloss in the night having just put a extraordinary picture together.

Puppetry has a potential that has evaporated from so many of the arts that dominated the 20th Century. It can still speak without being stale. And it naturally, as a form, has something to communicate to a world virtually baptized in a stream of undiluted technology. It is tangible and does not suffer the virtual world gladly. It does not naturally create stars (except on television which is really a devil’s bargain). As the Brothers Quay have pointed out, a good puppet creates a mask of otherness that we are forced to read. In other words one create something that raises questions in the mind of the attendees. And that in this age is a good thing. And I don’t mean the usual questions of politics, gender, ecology, economy, dream fulfillment, etc. All of that is usually just propaganda. And worse than pointless. I mean that puppets can still do what a great work of art can do. It can stop you in your tracks and make you reflect on things that need to be pondered. Yes of course it can make you laugh, you can make puppet shows for children, perform folk tradition, etc. But that’s obvious. I don’t need to point that out. But puppetry can indeed speak directly and, here’s the most important part, humbly into our present situation.

How long will this opportunity last? I don’t know. Maybe not long at all if the commercial powers that be find a way to exploit it. Maybe not long at all if the propagandists of the age gets ahold of it. Maybe not long at all if puppets become yet another aspect of what the French gadabout Guy Debord called the Society of the Spectacle. And yet at this moment in December of 2014 there is a small crack in the system that reveals a certain artistic open door.

If you want to see what I saw then join me. It doesn’t matter what continent you are on. Contribute something, anything, everything, to this modest project. GRAVITY FROM ABOVE isn’t merely a little documentary about cuddly little puppets it is ultimately a small torch winding its way through the catacombs of culture to find a way out. I can’t promise to succeed in my task. But follow along. Let me show you what I discovered. Let’s see where this open door takes us.

Please help with GRAVITY FROM ABOVE today. If not at this very instant, which would be the best time, then certainly before January 14th. After that??? I can’t think about it. This must be done.

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

12/11/2014

Go here to learn AND contribute to GRAVITY FROM ABOVE.