Maybe that's Odysseus?
Author: Andrėja Gričiutė
Tell me, Muse, of that man, so ready at need,
who wandered far and wide, after he had sacked the sacred citadel of Troy,
and many were the men whose towns he saw and whose mind he learned,
yea, and many the woes he suffered in his heart on the deep,
striving to win his own life and the return of his company.
Nay, but even so he saved not his company, though he desired it sore.
Excerpt from The Odyssey
Maybe that’s Odysseus?
I also embarked on a journey to which I was invited by the Puppet Animation Scotland’s festival MANIPULATE, which had shown several adapted performances to the quarantine audience. For a long time, I didn’t find the courage to watch the performances of this festival.
To all of us, the first quarantine was challenging, stressful, and confusing (I’m talking about individuals here), not to even mention organizations such as theatre. And it didn’t matter if you worked in a chamber theatre, a private organization, a public or a puppet theatre. Everyone, without exception, was at a LOSS! After all, since the very beginning of theatre of ancient Greece, it has been obvious that theatric performances are to be watched live in order to be able to turn one’s glance to things one finds aesthetic. But now? Now it has become SCARY to watch a performance online. Really! I was afraid... Before this festival, I had seen multiple online performances and groaned, writhed, searched for matches to help keep my eyes open... With all due respect to the actors and directors, I didn’t find it cool at all. For a long time, I had been pondering and asking myself what magic of theatre makes one want to watch it only live...? Maybe it’s because the screen only reaches eyes and ears, and preparing to watch an online performance reminds me of Odysseus’s unknown journeys full of hope or disappointment, therefore I feared that watching the performances of the Puppet Animation Scotland’s festival MANIPULATE would again bring me suffering, I would need to look for matches... but… To my great surprise, I devoured those performances with my eyes. In puppet, things, and object performances there are lots of metaphors, symbols, shapes, interesting and unexpected directorial decisions, visual projections, circus, and clownery. The topics of the performances were deep and not superficial, raising questions of the human existence (Ballad of the Crone), social problems (The End of TV), and poetic moments of a lonely wanderer (Crunch, A Lonely Sailor Weather Station: Broadcast Series) that can be experienced during every performance so that viewers can identify with the wanderer and follow him in his journeys to places yet unknown.
The Puppet Animation Scotland’s festival’ MANIPULATE performance A Lonely Sailor Weather Station: Broadcast Series (its director or, rather, animator Meghan Judge from the Republic of South Africa claims that it was an experiment created especially for the festival) lasted 8 minutes and took us to the unknown expanses of space or water by using music with inarticulate sleepy radio talk, while the crackling sounds helped to create the impression of anxiety or tension.
Excerpts from this experiment can be found on the website of the animator Judge, where they seem to be divided into seven parts – areas. Maybe those are dedicated to each day of the week in order to reflect the lonely sailor’s discovery, frustration, meditation, and the search for new spaces for meditation.
The author Meghan Judge creates these broadcasts at a weather station where in order to show us the loneliness of the character she does experiments and research on air temperature and humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind direction and speed, precipitation, and other phenomena are displayed and recorded by various equipment and that can be heard and seen during this performance.
Area 1. A visual projection is presented, in which there is a puppet controlled by actors, accompanied by a musical rhythm of strange sounds, inviting the viewers to start searching for their own world, mood, and atmosphere. The viewers remain motionless with the moving (though slowly) image, sinking into it for as long as they like it or until the meditation is over with the puppet moving towards the unknown into the black depths of the room. Other earthly beings (the actor and his character – the male puppet) also say farewell to the puppet. The puppet (sailor) is controlled by three puppeteers who work synchronously thus creating the impression of the character traveling to unknown places of the world.
“The Black Box” principle helps to create a sense of depth and suspense. Its title is related to the fact that the room most often, though not always, is painted black, which gives an impression of any place. Thus, it becomes easier to make the audience feel a part of the performance because in this case, the visual scenery becomes closer to the depths of our subconscious. “The Black Box” gives even more prominence to the whitish puppet that begins its journey in an unearthly environment where the viewer can wander and at the same time experience the adventures suggested by the subconscious as if while reading The Odyssey.
Area 2. Flying meteorites and the Moon above the lonely sailor are his only escorts that neither surprise nor scare him. Maybe it’s not his first journey? The viewer can only perceive one thing – that the lonely sailor lives in every one of us in the world traveling among people... them the lonely sailor does not meet... they are as if somewhere among weird sounds that remind of social media, some randomly scattered sounds that drown our subconscious. The actors are submersed in meditation – they are hypnotized by the moving puppet and the suspense of the journey. To them this journey is ordinary. Did Odysseus fear the hardship of the journey? The lonely sailor is compared to the Moon because you never know when the world begins or ends. The Universe does not have a beginning nor an end. We are the Universe, the illusion of uncertainty, no reality or realism whatsoever. Only one thing is realistic – the bathtub where the sailor comfortably sits in, thus alluding to the earthly world. He also reminds us of a child who is waiting for the mother to come and bathe him.
Area 3. The puppet is standing, one leg on the bathtub’s edge. Is he looking for the coast, exploring the distance and the possible spot for disembarking? The anxiety is evident based on loud breathing, the changing rhythm of sounds, minimal tension, more rapid movements of the puppet. He is watching the world but not wondering... He and the Universe... breathing... or, maybe, merging with a higher power and adaptation, because he cannot decide for himself. The Moon is far away, and he is losing strength. He is alive. The pulsating masculine energy drowned in scattered sounds (male voice in radio noise, uneven breathing of someone in a hurry, or even running).
The lonely sailor is observing the Universe as if asking who he is? Why is he like that...Watching the horizon... or maybe something beyond...
Area 4. The puppet is shown as if in water, as the actors imitate swimming, thus reminding us that we were born out of our mothers’ wombs, screaming and kicking against it. The character – the puppet – is content as a fish in the water, which is evident by his wide swings. It is not the first time that he is here. Swimming in water... like a floating astral body... breathing that is rushing forward but at the same time is safely floating. Calm and regular breathing is a sign of bliss. There is no outside noise. Immersion into oneself, one’s being, and the search for purpose.
Area 5. Now the puppet is closer to us, so we can scan him and observe his facial expression. For a moment it is unclear whether he is next to us, or we are next to him. He is looking straight into our eyes. His are black. He is inviting us to dive in and look at ourselves. Only breathing can be heard, and it is not pleasant, as there is crackling mixed with the exhaled air and abstract uneven sounds of the weather station, a sudden pause, after which the breathing comes again. The transparent film is like an X-ray – a blank space in the middle of the lonely sailor at least symbolically reminds of the fragility of life. Emptiness and darkness around and within him. Fragmentation of personality, video-manipulation make the noise go away. Where is he? Maybe already inside you?
Area 6. The sequence of numbers (0000, 0074, 0154, 0231, 0309, 0769, 0843, 0919, 0995) shown at the bottom left part of the screen might symbolize the flow of time Although it also reminds us of social media and live broadcasts with the number of watchers displayed, the sum of all the numbers is one (1). One combines the primordial beginning, oneness, and the connections of the Universe. One can help to understand and know oneself, to grasp the essence of things or phenomena, to discover one’s individuality. Maybe this character – the puppet – is our guide towards knowing ourselves better?
For displaying the puppet’s double, treble, etc. image a visual projection is used, which helps to plunge the viewer into meditation and uncertainty. The lonely sailor is thrown into unknown expanses, he loses his (the tub), while the suspense is achieved by means of scattered sounds of music and the female voice of a siren... The puppet disappears because the world with sounds vanishes.
Area 7. The puppet is walking across the starry sky or maybe he has also become a star. The screen is divided by a thin white line as if separating that which already happened from that which is going to happen... You are merely dust in the Universe where you can lose yourself. You will turn to dust, while the world keeps on existing. Life, existence... They will live and exist without you. The last gulp of air before existing – we breathe in at birth and breath when dying, but between birth and death there is a long journey of a lonely sailor and only we can decide whether it will turn into an Odyssey, or not...
8 minutes. This performance experiment takes us to the unknown expanses of space and water. The puppet (controlled based on the principles of traditional Japanese puppet theatre bunraku) hypnotizes and through movements and gestures tells a story of a lonely man, which can be interpreted in many ways: as a spiritual journey, man’s relationship to nature, empathy, helplessness, the journey of a lonely sailor that turns into meditation. In this performance, a pause becomes an expressive pause when the lonely sailor meditates before his new incredible discoveries. The puppet is controlled by 2, 3, or 4 people so smoothly that it barely can be noticed by the viewers. Only after watching the performance for the third or fourth time did I notice the liveliness of the actors’ faces and how they reflected the movements of the lonely puppet figure. This loneliness is presented in an atmosphere that is created by using rhythmic scattered sounds (similar to the erratic noises of a weather station): the sleepy female voice creates even bigger tension, as she reminds of the lost siren who destroyed the ship of the lonely traveler – Odysseus.
After watching such an audiovisual project, you might feel partially empty just like the lonely sailor, and deep inside you realize and admit your fear of silence, because you can drown in your subconsciousness, where you float like the lonely sailor, but do not listen to your own breathing and your thoughts. So, when will Odysseus be born in you and take off to the vast unknown?