Message From Your Host

Feb 14, 2008

These death scenes are taken from the greatest puppet shows in history – not merely the most famous, or the most popular in their time (for indeed true art is often far ahead of its own era) – but indeed the greatest, according to the judgment of one who has dedicated his entire life to the art of the puppet death scene: myself. My credentials in this regard are simply the choices I have made: judge for yourselves whether I have chosen rightly.
The scenes have been re-created as faithfully as possible to the originals. In many cases, of course, there is no published script to work from; instead I have had to rely on folk-memory, second- and third-hand accounts, traditional Italian field-hollers, court records, and in some cases my own surmises. Nevertheless, I believe they closely approximate the original works. Of course, a puppet show is not an immutable thing; it changes with every audience, and these scenes were intended for very different audiences in very different places and times. To that extent, they must be viewed with a certain philosophical imagination.
I have gone to considerable effort to assemble the original puppets; some had been lost for many years, and many had long ago considered themselves retired from public life. Nevertheless, I scoured the world. For years I plundered mouldering crates, shadowed attics and ship bilges, trudged through craggy bleakness and jungle swelter, interviewed crazed witnesses, followed hastily scribbled maps, battled competitors, and spent a fortune thrice over, to pluck these noble ancients from the dried fingers of their grizzled makers, to summon them to the stage once more for you.
Allow me to anticipate some potential criticism. There are those who hold ‘Dungbeetle’s Lament’ by Thingwald Singh as the apotheosis of the art of the puppet death scene, for example. I excite controversy no doubt in saying that it is shallow and manipulative, and deserves no place in the eternal canon. Some scenes, I admit, were impossible to reproduce – surely the climactic finalé of Düsseldorf’s ‘Colossal Jesus’ should take its place here amongst the hallowed, but the theatre is only so large and the practice of human sacrifice has largely gone out of fashion. If anybody has any clues as to the whereabouts of Schnebel and Jorge, the beloved puppets of Jan Schnink, please let me know. I would dearly love to include ‘The Last Days of Don Santiago’ in future productions, but I have been unable to track down their whereabouts. Schnink himself has been of no assistance, due to his current circumstances, which need no elaboration in these pages.
I have laboured long on this production; one might say it is the culmination of my life’s work. The pieces are carefully selected so that they produce a cumulative effect that I believe sheds light upon the very nature of our art, and of our souls. When watching the show, I hope you will keep the following parable in mind: the well-known Eastern parable of the Elephant in the Bag.
According to the story, certain monks encounter an elephant in a bag. It’s never been made clear to me why there is an elephant in a bag, or why it is not obvious to the monks that it’s an elephant in a bag (perhaps they are blind?), but the monks endeavour to determine the bag’s contents by sticking their hands into it and feeling about. One grasps the tail, and says it must be a paintbrush in the bag. Another grasps the trunk, and says it is a tree. We here assemble different graspings into a different bag with a different beast inside. That beast is ourselves, and it is we who do the grasping; what we find in our hands, and what we call it, is up to us.
Thank you for coming. It means so very, very much to me. Please enjoy the evening’s entertainment as much as you can manage.
Nathanial Tweak