Showing posts with label puppetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label puppetry. Show all posts

Sunday, December 7, 2014

More on Blair Thomas, puppeteer

Puppeteer Blair Thomas in front of his
stage. (Image captured from Vimeo.)
A year ago I wrote two posts about puppeteer Blair Thomas who, among many ambitious undertakings (such as an adaptation of Moby Dick), has developed a St. James Infirmary puppet show. You can find my original postings here, including one in which Thomas explains his approach to the SJI show.

Yesterday I stumbled upon a video on Vimeo. It is almost half-an-hour long, and documents an entire SJI performance.

Blair Thomas, in white-face, is in front of the stage playing multiple instruments (and, I think, creating sound loops that play on while he attends to the puppet characters), carrying a coffin on his back, flying the unfortunate woman up to heaven. And, of course, he is also behind the stage, pulling the strings that animate the characters in front of a rolling backdrop.

It is a complicated choreography, and a most engaging performance. It makes me aware of how much puppetry has changed since, as a small lad in Belfast, I watched "Punch and Judy" in the park. (Here, in this SJI performance, Thomas references early puppetry techniques. In other works his approach can be very different.)

This is really interesting!  You can watch the video here: Vimeo - Blair Thomas and St. James Infirmary.

Friday, December 6, 2013

From the hand of the puppeteer: Blair Thomas on St. James Infirmary

Photo from a recent performance of Blair Thomas' puppet show "Moby Dick."
Contrast the style of these puppets with the ones shown in the previous post.
In the previous post I wrote about master puppeteer Blair Thomas, and his show based upon "St. James Infirmary." I wrote to Mr. Thomas, asking "what was it about the song that attracted you sufficiently to create a puppet show around it?" He was kind enough to respond:

"I'm a puppeteer. I make solo shows such as this one, as well as larger shows where I act as the designer/director. I've known the song "St. James Infirmary" for about 20 years. I worked on developing a puppet show based on the song for a long time, and produced this version in 2009. "St. James Infirmary" has a great untold story lurking in between its few short verses. My interpretation of the song uses the visual medium of the single rolling paper scroll and a few puppets. The scroll is motorized so I can run around and do other things. I use a digital loop station to record the music live - usually while the scroll rolls and then it can loop while I use the marionettes and sing the song. I really enjoy playing the music on this - the scroll works well over the music.
"For this show I use wooden rod marionettes - a style of puppetry that is more folk in its origin than the customary string marionette. In a rod marionette the puppet is held up with a single rod to the hand-control, and then just a few strings to move its arms and legs. The result is a more primitive performance style - a rawness that goes well with the song. There is an intimate relationship between puppetry and death, and I see this song as a form of mourning or grief at the loss of a loved one.
"Denial has famously been called a stage in the grieving process. What happens with carnal desire when the body of the one you so desired is now rotting in the ground? Repulsion probably, but I would also imagine emotional incomprehension; where has it gone? A practice for Buddhist monks seeking to free themselves from carnal desire was to meditate in the charnel grounds, where bodies of the dead were decomposing. I am also playing off the New Orleans tradition of the brass band funeral march, mixed in with a heavy dose of sadness and grief."

(For more on Blair Thomas, see here and here.)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

SJI as a puppet show!

Imagine attending a concert in which a "master puppeteer" presents three shows in an evening. One, based upon a script by Federico Garcia Lorca, one based upon a poem by Wallace Stevens, and one based upon the song "St. James Infirmary." The latter featuring string-marionettes, a hand-painted scrolling backdrop, and a puppeteer who manipulates his characters while belting out the song as a one-man band.

You can find out more about Blair Thomas at his web site: The photos I have included here to illustrate this post might be misleading - Thomas performs with puppets of many forms and sizes (some as large as the people animating them).

Look into it. This is fascinating!

(For more on Blair Thomas see here and here)
Inquiries into the early years of SJI