Robyn Flatt, DCT Co-Founder and Executive Artistic Director
Kathy Burks, Founder of Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts
Nancy Schaeffer, DCT Education Director
Storytelling takes many forms in theater arts. Moving performances by live actors, visually stunning puppetry, and clever blends of both elements can create a very unique production. While puppetry has been utilized in DCT shows from the very beginning of its 29 year history, several shows in DCT’s current 2012-2013 season feature puppetry in a prominent way. DCT’s Executive Artistic Director Robyn Flatt, Education Director Nancy Schaeffer and Resident Artist Kathy Burks tell us from their unique individual perspectives what it is like incorporating puppetry into the artistry at DCT.
DCT audiences are in for a special treat when our mates from Australia, Terrapin Puppet Theatre, present their highly acclaimed show Boats, April 19 – 21. Robyn Flatt first saw the show in Seattle at One Theatre World, and she was so impressed by their unique storytelling and artistry that she decided to ask them to perform here in Dallas, making it DCT’s very first international presentation. “It’s a marvelous family piece. You get a sense of what it is like to go out on the sea, and all of their magic is totally visible to us,” she says. Boats follows a very Australian tradition of telling tall tales with found objects and embellishing them for the sake of the story. Puppets are tied from ropes, a boat is made from a table and many of the sound effects are made live. She adds, “I think they are enchanting with the variety of ways they use the objects around them to bring their stories to life.”
Rumpelstiltskin and The Nutcracker
Of course, you can’t talk about puppetry without mentioning Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts. This season, the renowned troupe performed its productions of Rumpelstiltskin, a faithful adaptation of the classic Brothers Grimm tale with rod puppets that magically come to life, and The Nutcracker, which presents a great variety of characters and moods and contains departures from realism with multiple forms of puppetry. “There’s so many ways to tell a story through puppetry,” says Burks.
After a performance of Rumpelstiltskin this spring, a grandmother and her grown daughter told Burks that they had seen the troupe’s shows at the Haymarket Theater years ago and now were bringing a grand-daughter to see it. “That’s good stuff that I have enriched all three generations,” she says. “That’s the ultimate test when you get the audience to respond.”
DCT’s response to the company has always been positive and the two companies’ mutual admiration for one another was made public in 1996 when they officially joined forces. Since then, Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts has been a resident company at DCT, presenting two or three productions annually as part of the DCT season. Plus, on occasion, Burks’ master puppeteers are asked to collaborate or advise on DCT productions, too. “We frequently need puppetry techniques in our shows, and having an expert so close and involved has been a great asset to DCT,” says Flatt.
This January, DCT transformed into the famous Great Green Room for Goodnight Moon, which incorporated both puppetry and live actors. “We worked for months on the best ways to incorporate many types of puppetry into the production,” says show director Nancy Schaeffer. “And of course, I could never have done it without the amazing collaboration with Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts. They worked so hard to make the magic happen.” Expanding upon the famous childhood bedtime story, additional characters and flights of fancy are brilliantly woven together, staying true to the nostalgic feeling of the tale while making a stunning production on stage. “It was one of the most challenging shows to put on technically – but it was also one of the most rewarding.”
Looking Ahead: Puppetry
in the 2013-2014 Season
So what is coming up next? DCT’s highly anticipated 30th anniversary season for 2013-2014 has even more fun surprises and stories to tell. Flatt, Schaeffer and Burks share their final thoughts on what they look forward to next season and the importance of keeping alive DCT’s rich tradition of puppetry, storytelling and family theater.
“I am very excited about the puppet fish in Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat. The fish is so nervous having a cat in the house – understandably. He is constantly trying to be the voice of reason on that cold, cold, wet day,” says Schaeffer.
“In Mariachi Girl, the protagonist has a Mexican Barbie and a blonde Barbie, which she uses to talk and argue back & forth. They extend her exploration of who she is and who she can be. The emotional impact of her personal struggle is powerfully portrayed through the interplay between the two dolls,” says Flatt.
“I am looking forward to creating all new puppets for Beauty and the Beast. A family theater is the most important because you are enriching the young mind with beautiful ideas like ‘true beauty comes from within’. When it is done right, you’ve blessed your community for years to come. I do think DCT is succeeding in doing that, and I’m proud to be a part of it,” says Burks.
And don’t forget, Boats is a special storytelling and puppetry engagement with only three public shows! Click here for a sneak peek.