Puppets Take Center Stage in “Measure for Measure”

Posted on October 30th, 2018 by

Chances are it’s been a while since puppets have been a part of life for most adults. But the puppets involved in the Gustavus Adolphus College upcoming production of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure are definitely not your average childhood puppets.

From a gigantic puppet that spans the entire width of the stage, to much smaller shadow puppets, to bunraku puppets controlled by multiple actors, this fresh take on a Shakespeare comedy brings a new perspective to the themes of power dynamics and manipulation.

The show follows the story of Isabella, a nun whose brother has been sentenced to death by power-hungry government official, Angelo, for a small crime. Angelo says he will let Isabella’s brother free if she sleeps with him, which she refuses to do. From there, the plot unfolds into a tangled web of comedy, tricks, and lies.

While most of the characters in the show will still be performed by traditional actors, the chance to include a more intentional visual representation of power dynamics adds another layer of complexity to the production. The show’s director Amy Seham collaborated with Anne Sawyer, puppeteer and arts educator at Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, to create the concepts for the puppets. Students were then invited to several puppet-building workshops where they learned everything from sculpting the molds for masks to creating the mechanisms to make the puppets move.

Senior Emma Myhre’s character, Pompey, is a large bunraku puppet, of which she controls the head and legs, while another actor controls the hand movement. She says the chance to work with the puppets has been enlightening. “I can’t imagine I would get the experience to do this kind of theatre at any other school,” she says. “It’s a unique art form, you grow up watching the muppets, but you don’t realize how complicated it is to act as a puppet until you try.”

From learning how to “breathe” with the puppet to figuring out how to keep the puppet’s eyes focused correctly, Seham says it can be a challenging additional element to any production. However, she says it is well worth it, especially given the ability to communicate through puppets in a non-verbal way. “I think it’s making the play more accessible to the audience,” she says. “It’s making the comedy more present and some of the other themes come through in a heightened way that goes well with the heightened language of Shakespeare.”

Measure for Measure runs November 8-11 in Anderson Theatre at Gustavus Adolphus College. The show may not be appropriate for children as it includes sexual content. Tickets can be purchased by visiting gustavustickets.com or calling 507-933-7590.


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