FESTIVAL ARCHIVE  —  2023

2023 Festival Archive: Théâtre de l’Entrouvert

Théâtre de l’Entrouvert: Anywhere

January 19-22, 2023

Chopin Theatre Mainstage

Presented by Théâtre de l’Entrouvert and Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival

With special support from: Ferdi Foundation/Julie Moller, Jentes Family Foundation, Justine Jentes & Dan Karuna, and the Manaaki Foundation

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Ice and Impermanence in Théâtre de L’Entrouvert’s Anywhere

An Essay by Ana Díaz Barriga

When I first saw Oedipus’ full figure on the stage, I knew he would not be there much longer. I knew it with more than the usual certainty I have about the impermanence of all life. Oedipus was a marionette, and the marionette was made of ice.

Théâtre de L’Entrouvert’s Anywhere, which I saw in the Chopin Theatre on the evening of January 19, 2023, is a loose adaptation of Œdipe sur la route by Henry Bachau. It tells the story of Oedipus as he, old and blind, goes into exile with his daughter, Antigone, but the narrative in this performance becomes secondary to reflections on ephemerality and death achieved through its technical innovations. Anywhere breaks a series of expectations: in the material out of which the puppet is made, in the relationship between the puppet of Oedipus and his puppeteer, and in the embodiment the puppeteer must use to operate the puppet. These disrupted conventions position the performance in the realm of object animation, highlighting the materiality of the puppet to remind its audiences of the relentless passage of time.

I knew going into the performance that the marionette representing Oedipus was going to be made out of ice, but something changed when I was confronted with the material and its transience. Theater maker and scholar Eleanor Margolies places this phenomenon at the center of object animation: “draw[ing] the spectator’s attention to the relationship between performer and everyday objects by overturning expectations.…Through this process, object animation can reveal normally hidden material properties” (2014: 326-327). The marionette in Anywhere is hardly an everyday object—the intricate design and manufacture of its ice limbs and joints into a human figure show the expert craftsmanship that allows it to move in the stylized manner of a traditional marionette. However, ice itself is an object of our everyday, whose manipulation forces our awareness onto its material properties. These properties are not so much hidden as they are usually forgotten in their ordinariness. But by becoming Oedipus, the king in exile, the ice is recontextualized. Regardless of the animation that is made possible by the design of the marionette, the material performs a story of disintegration.

Early in the performance, Oedipus walked into a circle of stones center stage accompanied by Antigone (played by human performer Ashwaty Chennat). They walked on the stones, around the never-ending circumference that became the path of their journey. In the darkness outside the circle, puppeteer Mark Blashford held a complex controller against his body to manipulate the strings of the marionette. Traditionally, marionettes have a vertical relationship with their operators, in which the puppeteer, standing above, controls the figure below. Yet the relationship between Blashford and Oedipus was horizontal, with the manipulator standing on the side of the puppet he controlled. This, as puppetry scholar Paul Piris outlines, shifts the relationship of the audience as well, who are now able to see the puppeteer more easily as part of the world of the performance (2012: 15).

The threading of the strings that was required for the horizontal relationship between Blashford and the puppet increased the involvement of the puppeteer’s body in the manipulation of the marionette. Blashford had to use his whole body to move Oedipus’ limbs, managing his own body weight in an intricate kind of dance. Blashford’s “co-presence” (Piris, 2014), which positioned him as a being that coexisted with Oedipus and Antigone, invited us to think of him at times as the force that gave Oedipus life, or as death trying to take him away. As the performance progressed, the puppeteer moved from the wings onto the stage, dancing around the circle, close but remaining always on the outside.

The puppeteer’s relationship with Oedipus was mediated by Antigone, who oftentimes positioned herself between them. The more time passed, the more the ice melted, and as more water got on the ground, the harder it became for the exiled king to walk. Antigone had to support Oedipus’ steps, directly holding his hand and at times carrying him—Oedipus becoming a direct-manipulation puppet in her hands. But every warm touch of comfort provided by the human dancer brought the ice figure closer to its demise, troubling the question of who—the daughter or the approaching puppeteer—was actually supporting Oedipus’ life and who was accelerating his dissolution.

As the performance ended, Oedipus—thinner and frailer—rose into the air, the ice slowly dripping, reminding us he was an aging king. The puppeteer’s voice described this moment of Oedipus’ life as one in which his daughter no longer had to ask him to wait for her, as his pace slowed and his incessant walking stopped. The marionette reached the ceiling and looked out into the audience. He remained, floating, almost nonexistent, and although the ice had not yet fully melted, I was aware that this Oedipus would have to be replaced by a new puppet the following night. Those of us in the audience on that January 19 would be the only ones to have witnessed this Oedipus’ journey—and isn’t that true of the journeys of all whom we encounter?

Works Cited

Margolies, Eleanor. “Return to the Mound: Animating Infinite Potential in Clay, Food, and Compost.” The Routledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance, edited by Dassia N. Posner et. al., Routledge, 2014, pp. 322-335.

Piris, Paul. “The Co-Presence and Ontological Ambiguity of the Puppet.” The Routledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance, edited by Dassia N. Posner et. al., Routledge, 2014, pp. 30-42.

—. The Rise of Manipulacting: The Puppet as a Figure of the Other [doctoral thesis]. Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, 2012. Available at: https://crco.cssd.ac.uk/id/eprint/406/. Accessed July 31, 2023.

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