The Unlikely Birth of Istvan, by the Old Trout Puppet Workshop, is a modern work of intelligence and creativity. Through the use of puppetry and ingenuity The Old Trout’s have created a hilarious, crass, and heartfelt piece exploring the essence of life, death and all the small intricacies they hold. Each element in this piece played together beautifully to help portray the challenges which the main character, Istvan, must over come in order to continue the life he loves to lead.
As I sat in the Decidedly Jazz Dance Studio theatre, patiently waiting for the show to begin, the eye popping colours of the small set caught my attention. The rows of flowers all lined the edge of the small stage which surrounded the compact area which would become the playing area. On the top of the small playing area the inside of a cartoon-esque house could be seen with each item build in it’s own fantastically simple way. No single element of the set seemed to stand out as particularly odd creating the joyful environment of the play.
What I found particularly amazing was the complexities of the simple things which wouldn’t have been possible without the use of puppets. The limit of language by the puppets was a choice which I felt added to the sincerity of the puppets movements and gestures. Although the nature of the content was racy and mature, the child like nature of the puppets made every moment accessible. Each challenge face by the puppets would be answered by a clown logic answer. From saving a pig by means of ordering a pig rescue kit to placing a flower into a coffin in order to give it a proper burial. No matter what the challenge was an answer was always given, often including the audience in on the joke. While these moments of comedy were present they often were used to veil very serious points of discussion such as revenge, and grief.
This show also used costume to it’s advantage. Although the majority of the characters within the piece were puppets, the red outfits worn by the actors (Petyu Kenderes, Peter Balkwill, Teddy Ivanova, and Nick Di Gaetano) seemed to create a cohesive atmosphere within the piece. The colorful nature of the set seemed to play joyfully off of the childish costumes creating a cohesive world of wonder and delight.
After seeing this wonderful performance I began to reflect on the production of Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett which I intend to put on in the next few years. I believe the natural existential questions which appear all through Mr. Beckett’s plays, would be complimented by the absurdity and relativity of puppetry. Both plays bring into question the odd monotony of life in two very different ways.
If I were to cast this piece I would most likely choose two actors who I believe would have extremely good chemistry with one another, namely Edward Norton as Estragon and Michael Keaton in the role of Vladimir. Both Of these actors play extremely well off of one another in the 2014 movie Birdman and have a look which might not be considered traditionally beautiful which I believe is a necessity when putting on a play which asks so many questions such as Waiting for Godot. Rounding off the cast I would place the Old Trouts team of puppeteers who would be manipulating the puppets of Lucky, Pozzo, and The Boy.
I have chosen to place the set within the small and intimate space of The Big Secret Theatre in the Arts Commons in Calgary, AB. As I feel that the audience needs to share the feeling of entrapment which Estragon and Vladimir feel throughout the play.
As far as set is concerned I believe it is necessary to keep the set simple yet inventive in order to keep the integrity of Beckett’s piece alive. The Set would be a grey center stage with a large tree blooming, there would also be an outer ring with a space large enough for a puppeteer to comfortably manipulate a puppet from one side of the stage to the other. the outer ring where the puppets would appear from would be colorful and bright. The reason I would do this is to contrast the world in which Estragon and Vladimir feel they are in.
As far as costume is concerned, I would put Vladimir and Estragon into tattered suits showing the mundane world they come from. For the Puppets they would appear bright and colorful similar to the set, I believe by doing this I will able to convey the way which Vladimir and Estragon see the world differently than it actually may be.
The most important element that would come about in this piece would be the special effects. The use of stage magic within The Unlikely Birth of Istvan was one of the most powerful tools for stating a point of interest. I would use some of the techniques Whenever Estragon or Vladimir would approach of touch the colors they would change to a grey or beige coloration. This would be done through the mechanics of projection of color or clever puppetry tricks such as the flowers physically deforming upon the approach of the men.
I also observed from The Unlikely Birth of Istvan how language is relative and a series of grunts, sighs, and moans can be equally effective as words. I believe this would translate very well over into my production. While Vladimir and Estragon are capable of speaking quite well, the remaining characters in puppet would deliver their lines through gestural work as well as simple vocalizations. This would once again illustrate the disconnect the two protagonists face with the real world.
The Unlikely Birth of Istvan was a delight to the senses providing a constant flow of inspiration, not only for my production of Waiting for Godot, for all of my future productions.
(I failed to take a selfie of myself at the theatre however I held onto my ticket stub, artist pass, and the program for the show)