Friday, March 30, 2012

Book Review: Let's Start a Puppet Theatre by Benny E. Andersen


This isn't going to be so much a book review as it will be a look-see at one of my favorite (if not my absolute favorite) old puppet books in my collection.  As you can tell from the front and back covers of my ex-library copy, shown above, the aesthetics of the puppets and the illustrations in this book are very, very cool.

The super-blondness of the girls on the cover, the weird green room, the "theatRE" instead of "theatER" in the title, and the je ne sais quoi of the illustrations on the back are leading you to one conclusion, right?  We're "across the pond" with this book.  But let's not assume that this dubious "Benny E. Andersen" is from the United Kingdom.  Take a look at this small notice, tucked away on the copyright page:


Ah, the Danes!  My wife's people!  

So there is no Benny E. Andersen, but rather the Forlags of Copenhagen (I'm calling them the Forlags because I don't know how to write the crossed-out-O's in their first names on a keyboard).  I'm not Danish, but I think in some strange way, the Forlags are my people too.  I've always wondered if there's a common thread between all the weird music I like: the Ramones, Frank Zappa, Faith No More and Mr. Bungle, Gentle Giant, Nomeansno... my wife would say that the common thread is that it is weird music.  But sometimes I like to focus on one factor I've noticed: all those bands are much more popular in Europe than they are here in the USA.


Take a look at these goofballs and tell me they're not my kindred spirits.


The photos and illustrations are really the best part of this book, so it's easy to just pick it up and flip around.  The text is trying to tell this story of the "prima donna" puppet, as she keeps adding parts to her puppet play as she discovers new ways to make and perform puppets -- for example, the authors show you how to make a puppet out of a loofah, and a puppet out of old glasses or whatever, and then she adds them to her puppet play... yeah, it's kinda goofy, so don't waste too much time reading it.

 the "prima donna" puppet


Part of the reason I skip stuff like this in the text is because I could probably have figured out how to make a puppet out of a loofah on my own if I wanted to.  Joe Soucheray, a local sports writer and talk show host here in the Twin Cities, has a bit on his radio show called "Who are they writing this for?"  In one of these bits, he drew his scrutinous eye upon an article printed in the Star Tribune about the excessively hot temperatures we had been having.  Within the article was a little infographic thing, giving tips on what to do to "beat the heat."  One of the tips was something along the lines of, "if it's uncomfortable in your home, and you don't have access to air conditioning, open a window."  Joe rhetorically wondered "who they were writing this for," because, obviously, if you have the basic wherewithal to obtain and consume a newspaper article, you already have the common sense to open a window if it's too hot.  Well, the same applies to this book (and others like it): I can make puppets out of stuff in the junk drawer on my own time.  I came to you to see pictures of really kick-ass puppets and puppet theaters.



...and this book provides that, more than enough to make up for its goofy narrative.  Again, the illustrations are pretty fun, in their non-accurate, free-hand way.  By the way, this really is the best way to make a pattern for a basic glove puppet, like the ones I make sometimes:



In the few years after I had gotten this book, I made a few puppets based almost entirely on the aesthetic of the puppets in this book: papier-mache heads with glove puppet bodies.  They actually take a while to do... or at least they did when I was doing them; I may have been -- actually, I was -- much lazier back then.  I like this next picture of one of the puppet makers' work table: in case you've ever wondered what my work table looks like, just picture a far less tidy version of this.


This book, a Danish work being filtered through a British translation, has its quirks.  I feel like enough of a dork running around the suburbs of Minneapolis -- going to Michael's, Hancock Fabrics, etc. -- invading the little old quilting ladies' hotspots with my weird puppet-making needs.  But imagine how awkward and strange it would be if I tried to use this book's "Where to get materials" appendix.  For example:


Piano castors: Can be obtained or ordered from ironmongers.

Trestles: Can be bought from timber merchants.

Gauze: Sold by the yard in shops that sell nursing supplies and also from chemists.

Net: Can be bought from drapery shops.

Expanded Polystyrene: Can be bought from firms dealing with the materials for window decoration, insulation and packing.

Expanded Polystyrene Balls: Sold by craft material stockists.



"Excuse me, is this a craft material stockist?  Yes, I'm looking for expanded polystyrene balls.  I'm sorry, I'm in a bit of a rush, I still have to hit a drapery shop and a timber merchant.  And maybe an ironmonger.  If there's time."  Oh, and don't forget to pick up this valuable puppet-making item:


Loofahs: From chemists and department stores.


But don't take my word for it!  There's a weirdly jarring, but oddly sage, bit of advice randomly placed among the book's final pages.  If I was the kind of person who cut out uplifting, philosophical quotes to tape to my bathroom mirror or computer monitor, this would be one of mine:






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