Friday, 27 June 2014

Against Gravity

Last weekend I went to see a puppet show called Against Gravity at the Ottawa Fringe Festival. It was created and performed by Mind of a Snail, a shadow puppet troupe from Vancouver consisting of Jessica Gabriel and Chloé Ziner. They'd contacted me before coming to Ottawa, so after the show we hung out as well.

Photo from their website.

In a departure from most shadow puppet shows I've seen (and, it turns out, a departure for them as well), the performers were in front of the screen, fully visible to the audience. Jessica did most of the puppeteering, while Chloé provided the dialogue, music, and sound effects with her voice and a guitar. The audience was encouraged to join in with any sound effects we felt were appropriate. (They later told me that they'd once performed this show at a rave, where most of the audience was on drugs. The sound effects they created were unreal.)

The show was an expanded version of a piece they originally created for a puppet slam. The story itself was pretty loose, more focused on experience than narrative, which is perfect for a medium that has so much potential for wonderful weirdness. It was generally concerned with the adventures of the human figure pictured above as he(?) literally followed his heart. The journey took him to varied locations, from under the sea, to a decaying urban environment populated by anti-gravity protesters.

These ladies are adept with an overhead projector and they pulled off some neat tricks. The first scene involved a backdrop of lace. To transition to the next scene, they slowly pulled the piece of lace downwards, creating the effect of panning upwards, but stopped when it was halfway off screen. The ragged edge of the piece of fabric then became a field of grass, the setting for the next scene. Some other transitions were achieved by physically lifting the backdrop off the projector's base, bringing it closer to the lens and thereby out of focus, and bringing in the next backdrop in the opposite way.

My favourite part was close to the end, when Jessica suddenly broke the frame by standing up in front of the screen and becoming a character in the show herself. Chloé then used a transparency and a dry-erase marker to draw "on" her! The effect was like watching a film that combined live-action with animation, except it was happening live on stage.

A still from their promo video.

Against Gravity was really neat and a lot of fun, and Chloé and Jessica are really cool and fun to hang out with. Right now they're putting together a new show about crows, called Caws and Effect. They showed me some photos from the development process, and it looks like it's going to be awesome. Check them out!

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