What if the only life you had depended on someone picking you up and taking you out of your box? What if you had no capacity for life on your own, but when you were put in the skilled hands of another, you could bring audiences to tears, cause roaring laughter and see them spring to their feet in appreciation.
We wrote original scripts in a studio just over the river in the state of Washington. As an educational theater company we were the welcome reason children left their classes to experience the wonder of Japanese Bunruku, shadow and hand-rod puppetry. We performed from Oregon to Alaska for children young enough to be mesmerized by the magic of make-believe.
It was my job to provide movement, character and voices for three or four puppets at a time, while a male touring partner did the others. The children energized the performance with rapt attention, laughter and wild applause. It was exciting to see how completely the children stepped into another reality, accepted it, and became the moment. For example, we had written a show about a coyote getting stuck in a cedar tree, but had to revise the scene when I said as the voice of coyote, I seem to be stuck in this tree. Is there anyone who can help me get out? That line was supposed to announce the entrance of a Native American, but to my surprise three hundred children rose from their seats screaming, I can help you coyote. I’m coming.
The puppets were nothing more than fiberglass, fabric and wood, limp in my hands, but in front of an audience they were alive and vibrant, as if the truth of them resided solely in shadow. I became their midwife over and over again, birthing them into existence at each appointed moment, than placing them back inside their long coffin-like traveling boxes after each exhausting exposure.
This was a mind-bending experience, and enough to make even the most realistic among us pause. In performance the life of the puppet became legitimate, played out against the darkened room of the stage, while I watched the shadows on the wall, as another reality, another kind of life, played out next to the one we intended. Was this a kind of karma, or gift for those not ready to move fully into life? Was it a skillful birthing of spirit while hiding in illusion, a sort of trying out life before actually showing up? I don’t know. I just know the chills I felt every once in awhile, as I watched it all play out.