Last Saturday I went to see a puppet show production of The Tempest at the downtown library. It was in the children’s theater, so I got to see the children’s department for the first time. I was really impressed by its size and comfort, as well as the whimsical and colorful artwork displayed all around. The theater itself was set up for kids and their parents to sit on the floor. It was fun watching a show with small children, who giggled at the puppets and made little sounds of wonder when the puppets and puppetteers did amazing things.
The marrionettes used were about 70 years old, hand made by a Nashville puppetteer named Tom Tichenor who got started giving shows for children in the public libraries. They were cute or silly, dressed in pretty robes. The courtly characters had beautiful, rich garments, and the Ariel puppet was particularly ethereal. I was also impressed with the staging and scenery. The effects they used to create the storm were pretty impressive.
It’s about a half hour show, vastly condensed for a child audience. It’s in modern English, with a few quotes dropped in. The effect of the abridgement was to make the story seem even more like a fairy tale than it already is. The stakes seemed lower, since the happy ending started happening almost as soon as the conflict was introduced. Postcolonialists might have been scandalized at the way Caliban was made into a caricature, rather allowed to raise important questions about the way we treat native peoples. However, the purpose of this series of puppet shows is to introduce children to Shakespeare’s plays so that they’ll better understand and enjoy them when they encounter the bard later in life, not to communicate the complexity of the drama and the Elizabethan language. The show suits that purpose just fine.
The puppet show plays this weekend and next, on Friday and Saturday, at 10:30 and 11:30 AM. That means today and tomorrow! This show is just part of a series, so I hope to see the future shows as well!