The story behind the life-size handcrafted puppets that have found their way from Germany via Mexico to Woodford is only part of the adventure unfolding in Woodford Hall, as the Meaford Theatre Company (MTC) rehearses its first-ever puppet theatre with actors on stage, opening May 4.
A cast of ten actors under the direction of Esther Boles have been rehearsing her adaptation of Molière’s Misanthrope, a 17th century satire of French aristocracy. Boles is thrilled how readily the cast has taken to the puppets that her mother, Heie Boles, salvaged following a fringe festival in Munich in the 1970s and ensconced in her studio in Mexico, where Esther discovered them and brought them to life.
“The puppets were used in a play called Schlemihl, a folktale in which the main character sells his shadow to the devil in exchange for social graces,” she said. “The fringe theatre performance was a success. The play company was chosen to advance to larger stages. The puppets were thrown out in favour of larger, more durable puppets. My mother found them, fished them out of a bin, and made them part for her studio for a good 30 years. She would say: ‘Revere them. They were made by a real artist. They ought to be revered.’ My mother comes from a family that did puppetry in a celebratory way, usually at weddings, sometimes for birthday parties. On a road trip across the United Sates, she was fascinated with the California redwood and how amenable it was to wood carving. While visiting with relatives she carved the head and hands of a Casper-type puppet to entertain my sister on the drive home. My sister took the puppet very seriously. She began to confide in the puppet.”
The version of Molière’s Misanthrope to be performed at Woodford Hall is Esther’s adaptation, originally written for her middle school students in Mexico.
“When I first saw the life-size puppets in my mother’s studio in Mexico, I naturally associated them to Molière’s Misanthrope,” she said. “They lent themselves perfectly, not one puppet too many, not one less. The students were divided into groups and each group performed one scene. We must start with the fact that my adaptation is based on a translation from French to English. To me, Misanthrope is a profound play. It really moves me. The profundity comes through a bit less than if seen in French. The English translation is more representative of the farcical side of Molière’s play. I had to make it simple and keep it very direct. Puppets don’t have muscles, nor real facial expressions. They can not say things through facial expressions. I had to pare it down to the bare essentials.”
Esther is very pleased how easily the cast has taken to the puppets. “I think they are approaching them with the right attitude,” she said. “Puppetry is something that gradually and organically becomes a skill. The actors must trust the process. No one is trying to gain control of the puppet. Nobody is nervous. Using a mirror to practise is important. You see the character comes alive immediately.”
Performances of Misanthrope will be May 4, 5, and 6 at 7 p.m. Tickets available at Craig Gallery, Sheardown’s Wine Bar and Restaurant, and at the door.
Meanwhile, MTC Director Kim Ransom and a selection committee are finalizing plans for a Norm Foster play in the fall.
The MTC Youth troupe is halfway through its second season under the direction of Kim Ransom. The youth are working on three skits that they will produce 100 percent, from directing, acting, costuming, and staging, and perform for family and friends. The troupe is planning a full production in the fall for the general public.