Hand puppet lovers from Ting by Rolande Duprey

Photo by Richard Termine.


On My Work

By Rolande Duprey

I find it difficult to speak or write of my life and work. Rhetoric does not have the plasticity of sculpture or painting or even dance; words themselves are an experience separate from the experiences they may describe or represent. Nevertheless, in the vast array of semiotica, words seem to be the coinage.

Among other things (woman, citizen, animal lover), I consider myself a theatre artist. I’ve been able to make a living at this art by doing various tasks most people tend to specialize in: performing, designing, directing, and teaching. The interconnectedness of the arts is something I take for granted.

Among this diversity, I am the common denominator. Thus, a certain point of view extends across extreme elements, both in collaborations and in solo pieces. You will see evidence of this in my portfolio, which includes designed sets, costumes, masks, as well as photos from various performances.  

It’s easier to say I’m a puppeteer. This work has a popular frame of reference supported by the media. However unique (and somewhat non-populist) my individual work may be, the label sticks. Sometimes it’s been advantageous. Adults are consistently surprised when they come from one of my “puppet shows” having enjoyed themselves. Maybe I've broken down a few prejudices.

My puppet theatre offerings always entail a certain depth that is easily supported through design and performance techniques. For example, in performing the Russian folk tale of The Snowmaiden, I have in mind the awakening of the "inner child”. The two-dimensionality of the everyday characters in the play is juxtaposed with the three dimensionality of the Snowmaiden (whose character, being supernatural, is from another dimension). The choice to have her communicate in song while the others merely follow a narrative supports this other-worldliness of her character. Her death (disappearance) and subsequent re-appearance is thus experienced as two-fold: in a surreal sense (“above reality”) as well as in the practical and “down to earth” storyline.

Most people watching the show enjoy it, without regard to the layers of meaning. That's as it should be.

Though I’ve had the experience of working in film and video, my first love is live theatre. True dialogue with an audience, either intimate or larger gatherings, is an ephemeral experience. But, it may have extended life within the psychological reality of the individual audience member. The very uniqueness of the live theatre experience sets it apart in memory. After my performance of "Autumn In New York," one woman came back stage, effusively declaring how moving the piece was, and how much work it must have been to paint all those pieces of wood to look like buildings! They are not painted at all - but in her mind and memory she had filled in the details that I had purposely left out.

One reason why I love to perform "Wonderful Walkabouts" is this sense of playing with the audience's perception. Of course they can all see me, so there is no "magic". I am not a ventriloquist. And yet, it is interactive puppet theatre at its purest - the puppet, the puppeteer and the audience (which may be one person or a dozen or a hundred). The performance is not geared to asking for money, as buskers do. Indeed, at a recent event, people asked what I was promoting...I was startled. What should I say? Hope? Playfulness?. 

Sponsors pay for my time. I am free to roam. I rely on the audience of the moment, the knowledge of the character I perform, and those other, unseen forces of circumstance and serendipity to create little, wise and winsome spectacles. Children always understand. Adults, sometimes seeing through the eyes of their children, may perceive a hidden meaning. Most just smile.

We may extend this experience into moments of that other life -- the one off-stage. Thus, each unique moment is a call to perform for our inner children or our conscience or whatever or whomever is there with us, watching, listening, aware or not. There is a deeper self, a self that is carefully covered by layers of consciousness quilting. In this deep self I am alone in darkness, seeing objects of color pass by, lit from some source os which I am only dimly aware..

Quilting layers of consciousness,

my needle doesn’t pass through -

it just sinks and sinks,

and then, I lose it, and must find another.

There is no end to it, and though I

want to believe there is a beginning,

it has none.

As well as descending into depths unknown,

the layers go higher than I can see.

I am inside, between, under some, over others,

Trying to find threads of meaning.

So, perhaps my calling is some kind of poetic paradigm. Like a poem the performance engages the audience and then disappears into memory, inhabiting the mind like a sacred space.

These musings in words must end. Actions, begin! "So, good night unto you all".





Other Articles I have written:

For Puppetry International:

"Parade of Puppets: The New York City Halloween Parade", Autumn, 2007.

"Welfare State: Gone But Not Forgotten", Autumn, 2007.

"Miniature Puppet Opera of Paul Kingsley", Spring, 2007.

"The Biggar the Better in Scotland"

      (about the Biggar Puppet Theatre), Spring, 2006.

"Walking Naked: The Life of Mahadevi Akka told through puppetry and dance", with Matthew Cohen, Autumn, 2005.

"Puppetry via Film, Architecture, History", Spring, 2005.

"The Last Street Punch in London", Spring, 2004.

For Puppetry Journal:

"Create a Character! - Puppetry as a Tool in Teaching Narrative Fiction", Summer 2008.

"Puppetry at the Fringe Festival in New York", Winter, 2005.

"Puppets for Peace in Lahore, Pakistan", Spring, 2002.

"Birth of a Mask and Puppet Museum", Summer, 2001.

For Arts and Understanding:

"Community Fabric", April, 2008.