So you go to a puppet show. (Doesn’t everybody? All the time?)
You smile and giggle and chuckle the whole way through. Maybe you even laugh out loud a few times. You leave feeling uplifted and joyful. Yippee!
But have you ever stopped to think about how much practice might be involved in making puppets elicit the delight they do?
I hadn’t. Until I volunteered to co-produce Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Basketballs, a 90-minute puppet show playing at the Almonte Old Town Hall, May 12–15.
I joined the production team in October. Rehearsals, I was told, would start in early January. Four and a half months before the show. Eighteen Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm with an hour for lunch and breaks. Let me see. Quick calculation: 18 days x five hours/day = 90 hours of rehearsal time before the show itself. How many person-hours would that be I wondered? What do you think?
Let’s do the math
Nine puppeteers, one director, one stage manager and sometimes the props manager at each rehearsal. Twelve people x 90 hours = 1080 person-hours of rehearsal time. But not everyone is required to be there for every rehearsal. Let’s say an average of only seven people (director, stage manager and five puppeteers) are needed on any give Sunday; seven persons x 90 hours = 630 person-hours of rehearsal time before the week of the show. To put that in perspective, 630 hours is the equivalent of 26 twenty-four-hour days (26.25 to be exact).
If that seems excessive, consider these facts: the script is 70 pages long, there are 25 individual characters and most of the nine puppeteers ‘play’ several of them. The two acts comprise a total of close to 20 scenes, which take place in eight separate areas on a set that, in the case of ‘the Hound,’ is 16 feet wide by 10 feet high by about 10 feet deep. (More about the script and the set in upcoming posts.)
That’s a small space in which to maneuver. The puppeteers roll on little stools between the set’s front and back panels and run behind the back one. And they do, literally, run. This puppet ballet (or mayhem, depending on the day) must be choreographed or ‘blocked,’ as they say in theatre-speak. That’s the director’s job (read about director Joey Graff in the May Humm). I’ve picked this up, along with much more about puppetry in the past several months. Steep learning curve.
On the Monday of the week of the show, the set will be moved to the Almonte Old Town Hall for technical and dress rehearsals on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. Everyone is present for these including the sound and lighting people, the stage crew and the props manager. Sixteen people for eight hours each day: 16 persons x 16 hours = 256 person-hours.
Add that to the 630 hours that will already be under collective cast-and-crew belts by then and we have a total of 886 person-hours of rehearsal time for our May 12-15 production. That’s the equivalent of eight solid weeks of twenty-four-hour days. Whoa!
Tons of fun and more to come
That said, it’s definitely not all work and no play. Besides taking a ton of effort, it’s also a ton of fun. A lot of laughing goes on during rehearsals. The puppeteers are expert ad libbers. Many of their extemporaneous one-liners end up being written into the script for the later enjoyment of audiences – people like you! Other quips will never leave the room (for reasons you can probably guess), but they cause much hilarity and often make rehearsals raucous.
There’s something energizing about collaborating on projects such as this – it fires up imaginations and gets creative juices flowing . That’s likely why a good time is generally had by all.
Besides rehearsals, there’s a plethora of other fascinating behind-the-scenes stuff that goes into the making of productions like this. It would be impossible to include it all in a single post. Stay tuned for more in the series I’m dubbing ‘Anatomy of a Puppet Show.’
Give the show a go
In the meantime, you should know that everyone associated with our Hound production is a volunteer and that the show is being sponsored by Cleland Jardine Engineering, 8OO8 Lingerie, SportsSystems Canada, Baker Bob’s and the Humm.
But hey, you shouldn’t go to see the original Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Basketballs because a bunch of folks have put in a lot of time, effort and money to make it happen. Or because it’s a fundraiser for Puppets Up! 2022. Or because I said so.
You should go because it’s clever and funny. Very funny. And the puppeteers are amazingly talented. And the costumes are stunning. Truly. It’s not to be missed. Get your tickets here.