Ellen: Why were you specifically interested in auditioning for this piece? What about the play speaks to you on a personal level?
Sara: I remember studying Ray Bradbury's novel of the same name in 7th grade or so, and I connected with the story immediately, this tale of two kids trying to figure out what's happening with this weird carnival that has come to town. In the novel, and the play, Nightshade is especially attracted by the carnival, which we soon learn is run by dark forces. I think when I first read it I was at the perfect age to identify with Jamie (Jim in the novel). He wants to grow up, but he doesn't really know what that means. Maybe he wants to stand out, to be a little abnormal and even dangerous, and that's why he likes the carnival. Maybe he already feels different than other kids his age and he sees something of himself in the carnival folk. Either way, I think a lot of kids in their young teens are grasping for something that makes them feel they belong, and the story speaks to that. There are also magical, fantastical things happening in this tale, and when I learned that Martina, the director, is also a puppet-maker, I knew I had to audition. I thought, how perfect to use puppets here, things that we can imbue with a life different than our own. Things that can do things we cannot do. Things that through the magic of theater cease to merely be things. I've always wanted to puppeteer, and I'm so glad I got that chance.
Ellen: If you had to describe the production in seven words (or a haiku…) what would you say?
Sara: I'll never turn down the opportunity to write a haiku! Here it is...
Are we just shadows
or puppets in your dark hands?
'Round we go again.
Ellen: Is this your first time acting as a puppeteer?
Sara: It is. I was so nervous at first. Is it my first time using puppets in a production (though I have done mask work, and some of the concepts are similar), and sometimes I feel so very new to it, so inexperienced. I do believe my experience as a modern dancer has helped the transition to puppeteer a little easier than it could have been. I'm now thinking about all the dance productions on which I've worked. They are sort of scanning across my mind like a filmstrip, and what I'm most noticing about them is how often I've been required to move in a different way, or move like another, or physically move another, or analyze the movement of another. I've tried very hard to bring all this history to bear on learning to move a puppet in a true way. I think of it like it's me, or like it's another person. I hope that helps.
Ellen: What was most challenging and most rewarding about the rehearsal process?
Sara: The most challenging thing for me was to not worry about looking stupid. It's funny. When I teach kids I have no problem looking and acting like an idiot, and getting them to do so, because I know it works, but when I'm working on something new or something at which I feel I won't be skilled, like puppetry, I have a tendency to get very meek. I try to bring Teacher-Sara into the room and follow my own advice. The most rewarding part of our rehearsal process was those few moments I suggested something that worked and got included in the production. I always get a little thrill when that happens. I guess it's a feeling akin to getting an answer correct in class and getting a sticker from the teacher. Everyone likes to think their ideas are good, right? Another rewarding thing to me is that by the end of the run, I will have performed this show 9 times. I rarely get to do that with dance productions, and the rehearsal period is normally twice as long if not longer. I think the most performances I ever did of a dance show was 6 times. It's really satisfying to be able to perform something for long enough that it really begins to have its own life outside of the rehearsal room.
Ellen: A long time ago I was supposed to do a puppetry workshop with the production’s director Martina Plag (alas I moved to NYC and never got to meet her). What was it like to work with Martina? She is quite the puppetry guru!
Sara: She is. Her puppets are beautiful. She also makes so many different types of puppets, which is something that immediately interested me about her. She doesn't specialize in one kind, she challenges herself to create puppets out of anything. In the show we are using puppets as varied as shadow puppets cut out of cardboard and affixed to poles, intricately shaped and dressed tabletop and hand and rod puppets, and a hot air balloon that floats across the space on a string. And many many others. There are so many moving parts in this show. Martina is a fan of trying things and trying them big. Try big, and fail big if necessary, but don't worry about it. If you mess up, shlock it to the floor and pick it up again. I also really admire Martina's vision for this production. At the beginning of the rehearsal process, she talked at length about what the set would look like, and what she wanted the sound and lights to do, and even in general where our blocking should be. She could see every physical detail in her head and wanted to make sure we could see it too. I'm a very visual person, so I appreciated her communicating these details to us early on. I am so grateful that she saw the potential puppeteer in me when I auditioned. Her faith in my ability to learn surprised me, and it really gave me a lot of confidence. So, basically, she's awesome to work with.
Ellen: Do you have a favorite moment in the production, or a moment that you are most proud of?
Sara: Favorite moment: climbing the tree so I can peek at a couple through a window. I love that Jamie is curious and naughty, and I love getting to climb the set. Proudest moment: seconding the Will puppet during a lengthy father-son scene. When a puppeteer helps a lead puppeteer on his or her puppet by being on the other hand and/or feet, that's called seconding, and it requires you to be really in tune with the lead puppeteer. You have to anticipate where they're going next, and I'm very glad I've learned this skill. I think I'm getting pretty good at it.
Ellen: What other projects are you up to next? How can we see them?!
Sara: The next thing I'll be working on is a project with dance company RealLivePeople(in)Motion, rlpim.org. It will be a project about jobs, and the starting point will be interviews with people that have jobs that are different from each other, jobs that are very different from our own, jobs about which we know little and would like to know much. It is slated for performance in the fall, but I'll keep you updated on its progress! Thanks so much for interviewing, me, Ellen!
Ellen: And merci mille fois to Sara! If you are in the Philly area go see this show! I will be sending my dramaturgical love and support to the production from Sibiu, Romania...!