The old puppeteer looks tired. As always, after the play is over he bids farewell to the people in the audience. He thanks them for being there. He is still using his puppeteer voice when he tells them, with a smile: “If you loved the play, go tell your friends about it. If you didn’t love the play, let’s keep it between us.”
He is one of the few who keep alive a tradition started in the 19th century: puppet shows for kids and adults alike. The shows build upon famous plays and infuse them with humor and contemporary references. Stories of deceit, tragedy and murder are told with a smile, but it’s not the smile of indifference and cynicism.
It’s funny how we use puppets to tell our stories, the stories that count for us humans. At some point, however, puppets come alive and tell their own stories. Stories that are incredibly similar to ours and yet strangely different.
The theater room is small and cosy. Dozens of old puppets are hanging on the walls. After having served in so many plays, they are now facing the stage just like the rest of the audience. In fact, they are part of the audience.
Wooden beams, long wooden benches, small scene covered by painted wooden boards. The smell of old wood and dust. The little funny speech of the master puppeteer at the start of the play. The moment when the lights go out. When the wooden boards move to the side and reveal the scene. People slowly settling down and stopping their whispering.
You enter this room and you look around and there’s a cynical voice inside wondering if you’ll be able to make it through the play. If your adult mind will still be able to access that state of grace, carelessness and play. To enjoy the show.
And you know what? It happens. After a few minutes you’re swept into that spot of light on the small stage, looking at small wooden frames covered by colored pieces of cloth. They are called Athos, Portos, Aramis, Carmen, Cyrano de Bergerac, Faust, Hamlet, or Macbeth. And they’re alive.
It’s all so real. I can feel the hard wooden bench I’m lying on. I feel the puppets just above me. It’s dark outside. And there’s that unmistakable smell of old wood and dust.
“There are too many frozen souls out there in order not to love wooden characters that have a soul”(Il y a trop d’âmes en bois pour ne pas aimer les personnages en bois ayant une âme) – Jean Cocteau