I have been mulling this list over for a while. Enjoy!
1. I know the importance of good lighting, backdrops, and quality sound. In other words: I can totally rock a Zoom meeting.
2. My wardrobe is mostly a slimming black that is easy to maintain.
3. I have MANY puppets...I am never, ever alone.
4. I can talk to myself in many different voices and it all makes complete sense.
5. I have a great imagination. I sometimes imagine that the scenario (world pandemic) is otherwise. Perhaps I am in an experimental biosphere where I am required to be secluded? Or perhaps a space voyage to a new world where all families have their own ship and can only communicate by video?
While it is often satisfying to make extravagant goals and plans at the outset of a New Year, this year will be different. It must be. Too much uncertainty of the moment and too much awareness of how wrong so much of "normal" was. More on that in another musing.
I have decided to participate in one practice, though, and declare a "Word of the Year" for 2021. If you are not familiar with the concept of a "Word of the Year" (or "One Little Word" project) it involves the practice of choosing a word to focus on, contemplate, investigate, and even frame the new year. The practice was begun by Ali Edwards in 2006 and has grown into a movement. I had a word for 2020, but I had to chuck it out the window in March for reasons that should be obvious.
My word for 2021? It is COUNTERPOINT.
It's a word with many possible interpretations. I'll start with Merriam-Webster at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/counterpoint.
coun·ter·point | \ ˈkau̇n-tər-ˌpȯint \Definition of counterpoint1a: a complementing or contrasting item : OPPOSITE
b: use of contrast or interplay of elements in a work of art (such as a drama)
2a: one or more independent melodies added above or below a given melody
b: the combination of two or more independent melodies into a single harmonic texture in which each retains its linear character : POLYPHONYcounterpoint
counterpointed; counterpointing; counterpoints
Definition of counterpoint
1: to set off or emphasize by juxtaposition : set in contrastcounterpoints the public and the private man— Tom Bishop
2: to compose or arrange in counterpoint
I'm interested in creating a 2021 that acts as a bridge between 2019, 2020, and the future. Not creating a new universe, a new world, from scratch. Choosing parts to keep, parts to get rid of, and parts to invent -- but all the parts in orchestration together. Not just harmonized and pretty, but a COUNTERPOINT. This year can be (must be) a year that transitions what was, what is, and what can be. The things that we do must work towards this. Our actions this year must be in COUNTERPOINT to our past actions. Not in a way that ignores the past, but in a way that is deliberately creating a future built with deep intentionality.
As a teaching artist, I have to break down the things that I regularly do as an artist. It’s interesting how much effort it takes to understand the things that one does instinctively within one’s genre or medium. As artist doing art is akin to a fish in an aquarium: it is difficult to describe the water that is just… “there.”
Break things down we must, to phrase it as Yoda. Watching Yoda teach Luke Skywalker “how to Jedi” in The Empire Strikes Back is a great analogy. Luke has a hard time seeing WHY he must do all this “crazy stuff.” It is much the same way when you learn puppetry and the first thing that comes up is BREATHING.
BREATHING. YES. BREATHING.
We do not think about this life-sustaining, autonomic action our body does around 21,000 times per day. But it is something performing artists (and even authors) do when we portray a character, be it as an actor or through a puppet. Odd though it may sound, our puppets must breathe, too. Learning how a puppet breathes helps us focus the movement, solidify the character, and develop an appropriate voice that works for our character.
Is your character an elephant? A mouse? A butterfly? They all breathe differently. Old? Young? Fast? Slow? So many essential questions that determine how we breathe.
Eager, squirming eight-year olds (and even twenty-somethings embarking on a professional career) find this idea perplexing. To be honest, I don’t make eight-year olds do a lot of breathing with their puppets, but it still needs mentioning. Eight-year olds, however, will more willingly participate in such exercises for a longer period than the twenty-somethings who are on a career trajectory – then often just want to really nail their lip-synch technique and practice in front of a camera. Breathing can seem like a waste of, well, breath.
But the puppets – and, by extension the puppeteers – need to breathe first. So, like Yoda, I will take my Puppeteer-Padawans through the basic exercises until they can do it with their eyes closed, feeling the life force of their characters.
This infusion of life force through breath is the foundation for the first Puppetry Superpower: Animation. Pillows, food tongs, pool noodles, and more can be manipulated in a way that transforms them into puppets. Of course, you can also manipulate a puppet, but it’s not the use of a puppet that makes someone a puppeteer. The manipulation of an inanimate object to give it a sense of life is what defines a puppeteer.
Animation is a power utilized by many wizards and sorcerers (and Jedi?) as they control the movements of objects and make them come to life. We see this power wielded magically in Harry Potter during Professor Flitwick’s charms class as teapots are made to dance and when suits of armor are rallied in the defense of Hogwart’s Castle. Animation by means of physical manipulation is the heart of what a puppeteer does.
I am taking a deep breath as I dive into more blogging -- perhaps even with a series of blog posts centered on the superpowers that puppeteers have harnessed to create their work. These are, for the most part 😊, allegorical superpowers, of course. Mostly.