Two shows

Today I saw the marionette show in Central Park. Two members of our party were little children, and they were really the target audience.

As adults, watching a puppet show aimed at children was a wonderfully eye opening experience, because we were actually watching two shows.

On the one hand, we were seeing the same show that the kids were seeing, a tale of silly clowns, beautiful ballerinas, impish monkeys, mustachioed strongmen and flying cows. The plot was often ridiculous, but never ever boring.

On the other hand, we were constantly aware of the presence of the puppeteers, just out of our sight. We admired the hook that comes down from the “sky” and artfully engages a piece of scenery, the strings that hold up the lovely ballerina as she twirls so gracefully on a balance beam, the ingenious mechanical wings of a flying bird.

This is all quite difference from the experience of seeing a good play or film, where I fairly quickly forget the artificiality of it all, and willingly suspend my disbelief to become immersed in the story and characters.

But in a puppet show, keeping all the strings visible is part of the point. One is constantly reminded of how it is done, and that awareness is part of the show.

I am reminded of the highest exemplar of this art,Japanese Bunraku puppetry, in which the puppeteers remain visible at all times. We in the audience honor their brilliance by politely ignoring them.

But we never forget that they are there, giving their creations the magical gift of life.

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