"We played in small towns and big ones. We played for a fundamentalist Christian high school and two anarchist art collectives. We played for younger children and graying adults. We traveled for two full months. The show left people talking. What more could we ask?" This week, Alaska puppeteer Byrne Power writes about his company's U.S. tour, which was supported by his 2009 Rasmuson Foundation Indivudal Artist Fellowship.
If there’s joy in paperwork, then it can be found in final grant reports that Rasmuson Foundation receives each day. The reports, while short and informational, are inspirational, heart-warming and often, entertaining. Haines puppeteer Byrne Power recently wrote about his whirlwind tour around the United States that was supported by a Rasmuson Foundation fellowship in 2009. It was such a fun story, I asked if we could share it here. Byrne agreed.
The Great Ziggurat by Byrne Power
In the summer of 2009, I formed a new puppet troupe for the express purpose of creating a touring show. The name of the troupe is Reckoning Motions. The name of the show was The Great Ziggurat. The show was based on the theme of the Tower of Babel as a metaphor for power and collapse. We also used tower themes throughout history: Rome, the Medieval world, the Modern Age and the postmodern present. Then we integrated tower motifs from various stories and legends into the stew: Rapunzel, King Kong, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, etc. And finally we used a variety of styles ranging from marionettes, shadow puppets, broken toys, driftwood puppets to actors and elaborate all-surrounding curtains.
I commissioned a marionette to be made by a Czech puppeteer that was in the image of the biblical Nimrod. We also constructed portable towers that we would then erect in the middle of the room. We constructed patchwork curtains that stretched more than fifty feet so that we could turn any environment into our space. We made a folding shadow theatre. We bought some specific action figures (Marie Antoinette, Edgar Allen Poe, Carl Gustav Jung and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) for various “roles” in the show. We refurbished other action figures for our own ends. (A Justin Timberlake figure was turned into Stalin.) We built figures from scratch. We made an army of faceless puppets out of driftwood. We used a lot of tinker toys to construct one of the towers. And of course we used different kinds of lights and lots of other odds and ends.
There were four members of the troupe including myself. I booked us engagements that ran from Skagway, Whitehorse and Watson Lake down to Minnesota, Chicago, New England, New York, Philadelphia, North and South Carolina, Florida, Texas, Southern California, San Francisco, Portland, Bellingham and Haines. Then we traveled for two full months, 23 shows over all.
It was a highly adventurous tour, which would take too long to unravel here. Financially we barely made gas money and the rest came out of my Rasmuson lined pocket. I had to buy a used van, which I sold again as soon as I returned to Haines. But audiences were never less than enthusiastic. In fact one of the most interesting facts of the whole tour was the diversity of people we played for and who truly appreciated the show. We played in small towns and big ones. We played for a fundamentalist Christian high school and two anarchist art collectives. We played with younger children and graying adults in attendance. We played for a Native audience in Watson Lake and at a rock club in New York City. We played in living rooms, backyards, and gymnasiums and in one case even at a drive in coffee shop in a mini-mall. We also played in places where there were other puppeteers who were impressed by our style and content.
But the best part was that no matter where we went enthusiastic thoughtful reactions followed. And that was the point to get people thinking. In North Carolina a girl came up afterwards and said “That kind of disturbed me. You were definitely trying to get us to think, but you weren’t telling us how.” To which I answered. “Exactly.” The first point was to get our minds working again amidst the many media that dumb us down. Our point is that before you can truly consider what to do in this world you can’t be simplistic. And that message was gratefully received all round. The show left people talking. What more could we ask?
Find out more about The Great Ziggurat tour at these links:
Thanks to Byrne for sharing his story with us. If you’re interested in creating your own story, the next application deadline for the Individual Artist Program is March 1. Find out more information here.
Have you received an Individual Artist Award from the Foundation? Tell your story below.