The Old Trout Puppet troupe didn’t want to take any chances.
So when it built Don Juan, it also made him a “hideous male version of a chastity belt.”
The giant puppet is coming to Whitehorse to star in The Erotic Anguish of Don Juan, and the metal, form-fitting belt may have something to do with the title.
The puppet troupe brought the fictional Spanish lover back from hell to teach people a little bit about love.
“Puppets say profound things,” said director Judd Palmer, who’s been hanging out with the little wooden creatures for the last 10 years.
“People relate to puppets,” he said.
“They get our defences down.”
When there’s an actor on stage, “You have the emotions humans have when they’re staring at another human,” said Palmer.
“You might think, ‘Why is this guy lying, he’s not really an evil king?’
“Whereas a puppet is just itself.
“And we create this little spell believing that the thing’s alive, even when we know it’s not.”
But this time around, the puppet troupe has added actors to the mix.
With both puppets and people on stage, things “have gone an interesting direction,” said Palmer.
“The puppets have had to explain why they’re puppets.
“It grounds the whole thing.”
Given the subject matter, and Don Juan’s rather grotesque appendage, it’s “puppetry for adults,” said Palmer.
“It’s a new idea for an incredibly old medium.”
Puppets are the first things humans got around to making, said Palmer.
Long before the wheel, maybe even before fire, our ancestors were making chubby, clay earth goddesses with moving limbs fastened to their bodies with bits of leather.
A few centuries later, during medieval morality plays, this idea of moving figurines was transferred to Virgin Mary statues that moved with hidden mechanics to “freak people out,” said Palmer.
“People would think a miracle was happening.”
In keeping with tradition, Palmer’s troupe always built puppets out of wood because “it’s incredibly old-fashioned and incredibly beautiful.”
But this time around, the troupe was forced to try something new.
The puppets are so big they would have weighed 400 pounds, said Palmer.
So instead of wood, they built them from Shell Shock – a lightweight fiberglass used on movie sets.
The production begins in hell, where Satan has a plan for the notorious womanizer.
As penance, Don Juan is forced to perform the story of his life, wearing his unfortunate chastity belt.
But, like a true lover, he turns that penance on its head and begins championing free love.
“Love is an act of the imagination,” said Palmer, talking about what the puppets taught him.
“It’s not something that happens – it’s something you create.”
The magic of theatre also rests on creation, he said.
“Theatre is a beautiful moment when a bunch of people believe something that is completely absurd together. And it’s that common goal to imagine that I find beautiful.”
The puppet troupe just toured Don Juan during the Olympics and is working on another show.
This one’s about cavemen, and it’s called Ignorance.
“It’s a puppet documentary,” said Palmer.
The Erotic Anguish of Don Juan is at the Yukon Arts Centre tonight through Friday. Performances start at 8 p.m.
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