To Puppet or Not to Puppet

By Liz Oakley12th Grade, Brearley High School What happens on stage, happens on a stage. As an audience member, you know that the events unfolding before you are being presented by actors, and are shaped and colored by other members of a show’s creative team. So if watching a play is inherently a lie of sorts, how can theater feel so true? Especially when the actors are puppets? When you go to the theater, you enter into an unspoken agreement to believe. Sometimes a play’s story is so realistic that you don’t even have to make an effort to accept what is you see. Other times, you have to consciously suspend your disbelief to follow a show. But when your willingness to believe is such that you perceive inanimate objects as real places or living creatures, that magic is at its finest. Puppetry is thus the essence of a theatrical experience. It is thrilling to see a puppet and puppeteer perform in front of you; you have full awareness of their façade, but simultaneously believe that whatever they’re showing you is real. Puppetry exhibits a reality that speaks not only to your eyes and minds, but also to your heart. Puppetry renews your spirit of make-believe. It is an old and versatile tradition, and one that crosses genres easily. Avenue Q and War Horse are two current productions that use puppets to tell their stories, though very differently and to very different effects.  In the recent off-Broadway production, The Nightmare Story, the company uses shadow puppetry to turn paper figures and model cardboard towns into the artful world of a fable. When seeing theater, you must, like a child, submit to your imagination. You must trust that a nearly blank stage can be a room in a castle and that a puppet can be alive, though all the visible evidence tells you that the stage is only a stage and the puppet only a puppet. Shows like War Horse prove that puppetry can produce some of the most beautiful and emotionally honest moments in theater that you will ever see, and believe.