Puppet Origin Stories: Black Body
In 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, we spoke to the Makers and Designers of the puppets we have in The Finger Players (TFP), to create the repository that is the Puppet Origin Stories – a humble effort to highlight the background, and the making and design history of these puppets. We hope that this can be a continued endeavour at TFP, and we hope that you can go on this journey with us.
This puppet was created for the 2015 production of The Spirits Play, directed by Oliver Chong. It was hung up by a noose in the middle of the space. During the show, it was first lowered via a pulley in a controlled manner. At a later cue, a pin connecting the head and body was pulled, causing the decapitated corpse to drop to the floor.
The makers for this were Myra Loke and Oliver, and they had created the puppet based on the body of Alvin Chiam, who was one of the cast members of the show. They did this by building layers of papier mache off Alvin in order to get a cast of his body. After the cast was removed from Alvin, they used boning to reinforce the structure and made it more flexible. Finally, they reinforced it by adding on more layers of papier mache. The multiple layers were important because it had to be both sturdy and flexible enough to not completely break apart when it fell from a height of about four metres. The boning was initially connected using rivets, but due to the fibrous nature of the boning, the rivets were unable to hold it in place. In the end, the boning was sewn together painstakingly. A stomach cavity was also built in, for actors to retrieve confetti from within the body of the puppet. To allow the actors to violently tear through the paper covering the stomach cavity, the covering had to be replaced after every show.
The joints of this puppet were made of velcro straps, so that the puppeteers could rip off its limbs, but still maintain the integrity of the body when it dropped from a height. The head however, was attached to the body with a pin. The corpse puppet was then attached to the noose.
The white nylon rope noose had to be weighted on the inside, so that when the pin was activated by yanking it upwards, the noose would remain sufficiently still, instead of also being yanked upwards. Upon pulling out the pin, the head would fall forwards while the body backwards. This pin was situated in between a single rope and double rope configuration at the head, to reduce the friction from the whole body hanging onto one pin, allowing it to be dislocated by the pulling action. This dual-rope configuration also stabilized the puppet, so that when it was pulled up or down, the puppet did not spin on its axis too much. Oliver also wanted the puppet to always be front-facing, so this configuration mitigated the chance of it spinning to the extent where it’s back would be seen by the audience. Though this made the pulley system for these ropes rather complex, the staging crew at the Drama Centre Black Box was able to assist in this.
This mechanism required much experimentation, and many nights were spent in the rehearsal room rigging and adjusting the puppet. However, through this process, they realised that certain parts of the puppet would acquire more damage and thus required more repair, which made the team well-prepared to handle these issues before moving into the theatre.
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