Mar 11, 2020–Why have puppets fascinated humanity throughout history?
Why do they continue to fascinate us?
Because they cut across every culture, era, language, and age, according to Rob D’Arc, who will be building them at his workshop this weekend during the Llano Earth Arts Festival (LEAF).
“People can see faces in snowbanks,” said D’Arc, who has been studying and making puppets for 38 years. “That’s because our brains are constantly looking for the humanity in inanimate objects. We look at a pattern and we see a face. Puppetry is the same thing, except it’s moving, it’s breathing, and we respond to it the same as we do when we see another human’s face.”
Historically, this human tendency was tapped into far deeper than the entertainment focus we ascribe to puppetry today.
“It goes back to shamans in ancient history,” D’Arc said. “People would explain things they couldn’t explain in nature by using puppets. If you wanted to have an example of the gods manipulating humanity, you had a mask for the god and a puppet for the humanity. That is a good example of the scale we are talking about.”
The art of puppetry is enjoying a worldwide revival. D’Arc notes the role of large and articulated puppets in Broadway shows such as the Lion King and War Horse, as well as the 40-foot-tall King Kong.
D’Arc will be leading a workshop at LEAF titled Giant Parade Puppets from Recycled Materials on Friday and Saturday (details below).
For D’Arc, there is magic in both the making of and performing with puppets of all types and sizes, from marionettes to masks to finger puppets to shadow puppets to the giant puppets his students will construct. And contrary to some, he believes that magic is amplified by revealing the mystery of puppetry. At the end of every performance, D’Arc makes it a point to bring out his creations and show anyone interested how they work. This stems from his own experience as a boy upon seeing his first puppet show in Greenwich Village. He was so enamored he refused to leave his seat when the performance ended. The puppeteers noticed he “had the bug,” and invited him backstage to see how it all worked.
See short video of the completed puppet in action LEAFPuppet7434
“If you are not realizing there is magic in both the making and performing of puppets, you are missing the point.”
For this workshop, D’Arc has “no idea what we are going to make,” other than it will use lots of cardboard and possibly be 15 feet tall and just as wide.
“I will have no idea on the day of the program,” he admitted. “We will look at some basic construction techniques and start drawing some things out, then we’ll start building. Over two days we might build one, maybe more giant puppets to be operated out on the street.”
That brings up another myth about puppetry–who controls whom.
“People think puppeteers are very clever about making the puppet do what they want it to do. The truth of the matter–and this is the big secret–is that the puppet does what it wants to do. The clever puppeteer watches it and figures out what it can do, then makes it do what it already can do, really well. So we’re going to have to take some time to rehearse before the parade to see what it can do.”
When all is said and done, and the puppet is built and has ruled over the parade, there always remains one unanswered question that must be addressed. The LEAF event will be no different:
“We have to figure out what happens to it. After the parade, who is taking it home?”
Rob D’Arc will lead Giant Parade Puppets from Recycled Materials, a continuous 2-day workshop Friday, March 13, 1:00 pm–10:00 pm, and Saturday, March 14, 10:00 am–6:30 pm, culminating with the Fashion Circus Parade at 6:30 pm Saturday. Pre-registration required, although there may be room for walk-up participants in the building of the puppets all day Saturday.
The Llano Earth Arts Fest takes place on the banks of the Llano River at Grenwelge Park in Llano, Texas.
Friday March 13, Noon–11pm
Saturday March 14, 10am–11pm
Sunday March 15, 11am–7pm
Monday March 16 (Free Day), 10 am–5pm
LEAF Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the gate. Some workshops and events are extra. Visit website for tickets, schedules: www.llanoearthartfest.org.