On Saturday Nov. 4, the Tanglewood Marionettes entered the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry and broke through walls… well, metaphorical ones. The Tanglewood Marionettes’ rendition of “Sleeping Beauty” offered an interesting take, not on the story itself, but rather on the method of presentation by breaking the fourth wall.
The fourth wall is a term used in the world of performance pieces in which there is an imagined, invisible wall between the performers and the audience, usually at the edge of the stage. Breaking the fourth wall can involve talking to the audience, expanding the performance into the physical space of the audience and other forms of audience participation.
In the case of the Tanglewood Marionettes’ version of “Sleeping Beauty,” Peter Schaefer, a co-founder of the puppet theatre, took two of his marionettes and carried them through the seated audience. The bad witch, based off of Maleficent, flew over audience members in her sparkled cloak. Similarly, the shepherd boy, based off of Prince Philip, wandered throughout the audience, walked over people’s laps and even climbed atop a woman’s head as if it were a tree.
While this method would likely not have worked with more mature audiences, Schaefer knew it was just what the children in the audience were looking for. The fun technique elicited surprised giggles from its elementary audience and their amused parents and grandparents.
In addition to breaking the fourth wall, Schaefer broke another performance convention by not operating behind a curtain. Typically, puppeteers erect a curtain above the stage to hide their movements and the controls from the audience, giving the show a more magical feel.
Schaefer did no such thing. Instead, throughout the show he was in plain view so that the audience could see him mouthing along to the pre-recorded narration and dialogue, exchanging one marionette for another and operating the puppets’ controls.
Matt Sorensen, third semester puppetry graduate student, said he appreciated Schaefer’s unconventional techniques. “I like that a lot, personally… I mean classic puppetry started out where all of the secrets were kept. They wanted all of the magic to stay secret… But over the years… the more mainstream it becomes… the secret’s out, you’re not fooling anybody,” Sorensen said.
Schaefer cited more practical reasons for operating without a curtain. “I don’t have to travel with a big masking so that’s one less thing that I have to set up. Also, it’s really fun to actually be able to look up and see how it’s going,” Schaefer said.
Overall, what the performance lacked in an intriguing storyline, it made up for it innovation.
Alex Taylor is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.