SANDGLASS THEATER Artistic Director ERIC BASS, after 30 years, is passing the puppets from his signature piece Autumn Portraits into new hands. The result: a look at a new piece, WHEN I PUT ON YOUR GLOVE, performed by his daughter SHOSHANA BASS.
Shoshana Bass is an interdisciplinary performing artist, with a background in physical theater, dance and circus. Working with director Gerard Stropnicky, she has worked puppetry, dance and spoken word into a piece that explores her relationship to her father’s Autumn Portraits. Eric Bass has performed Autumn Portraits since 1981. The show has traveled around the world and won awards on several continents. It has been performed in three languages. The passing of these puppets into new hands marks a pivotal moment of generational transition for Sandglass Theater.
photo by Kirk Murphy
When I Put On Your Glove is a puppetry, dance and spoken word piece that explores a daughter’s relationship to her father’s work building upon a premise that puppets are containers of memory. In it, a daughter explores what it means for her to slip into her father’s art – and not just the form, but the actual pieces. This work addresses universal questions of belonging, childhood, fear of loss, death and the complicated nature of navigating generational artistic legacy. The passing of these puppets into new hands marks a pivotal moment of generational transition for Sandglass Theater. It is an engagement with what legacy means in the field of puppetry; how an art form endures and transforms as it is handed to the next generation; meeting the voice of the past with the voice of the present, and singing it into the future.
This project is supported in part by the Vermont Arts Council and donations from all those who generously contributed to the GoFundMe Campaign.
“Shoshana’s enactment of her inheritance is technically and artistically assured, a faithful replica that honors the original while placing the young performer’s own creative stamp on it. The show as a whole is a kind of coming-of-age, as the daughter comes into her own as an artist and as the father, rather than simply retiring the show and the handmade, love-made puppets, passes his glove to the next generation.”
-Chris Rohmann, The Valley Advocate
Video by Willow O’Feral/Haptic Pictures
Photos by Kiqe Bosch
When I Put On Your Glove
Review by Wes Sanders
Shoshanna Bass Catches at the Sands of Time
The morning after the performances of When I Put On Your Glove, I asked a young woman how she like the show, and was surprised to hear her say that she thought Shoshanna Bass was mostly doing her father’s old show, Autumn Portraits. I was gob-smacked. You could as well say Stravinsky was just quoting Pergolesi in Pulcinella, and Shakespeare was just parroting Plutarch in Julius Caesar. I felt like telling her to read T.S. Eliot’s essay “Tradition and Individual Talent,” but kept my mouth shut.
At one point in the show, Shoshanna says (in voiceover) “puppets are memories.” I’m not sure all puppets can be so called, but certainly the creatures in When/Glove fairly vibrate with memory: in the moments after the table-top fairy-tale, the figures from Autumn Portraits rest on their stands as if in a museum, while the delightfully unruly, insatiably curious sprite of a puppet with which the memoirist-puppeteer portrays herself as a child peeks about among them, free to touch them inquisitively, because they are another (rather odd) set of grandparents. From the start we are invited into two layers of memory––the cultural pasts from which Eric Bass’ original puppets emerge, and Shoshanna’s personal memories growing up on the road with her itinerant-performer parents. I was put in mind during the performance of the stories Buster Keaton told of being thrown into the orchestra-pit by his parents as part of the show (there was a mattress in the pit, but the audience did not know that).
In those parts of the show when Shoshanna is performing her father’s puppet-monologues, we see the apprentice demonstrating her mastery––the precision, timing and subtlety we are used to seeing in her father’s work. She is not just performing Autumn Portraits; she is showing us, in this her coming-out as a puppeteer, the rich, flexible voice with which she can convincingly portray male characters and charm us with her singing of a Hebrew lullaby. Her performance of the portraits, in other words, is the 3rd stage of her autobiography as an emerging artist, which begins with the irrepressible upside-down nose-dive of her childhood, legs spinning in mid-air, and progresses to the fall that ended her circus career.
In marked contrast to the Bunraku-like movement of the portraits, Shoshanna explodes from time to time into dance-movements, executed with skill, beauty and imagination. We feel her urgently striking out for self-determination in these intermittent bursts of dance, and get to see––as she struggles with the discipline of her father’s legacy(?) and her own confessed waywardness––some of the flamenco moves she has told us that a stage-manager taught her on the road.
I found the puppeteer-dancer’s own verbal language rich, often poetic and always thought-provoking. It did not wander off poetizing or philosophizing into its own orbit; it remained wedded, in its reflections, to the concrete terms of the memoir. “What animates a puppet is not the puppeteer,” she said, as her girl-puppet climbed the ladder to the sandglass / trapeze; “it is the memories of the audience that animates the puppet” (quoted from memory––it was not in the script I was sent). An overstatement, of course, but what a provocative and tantalizing idea!
How often do we get to see a meta-puppet show, a puppet-piece about puppetry, a deep take on the creative processes of our art, and their origins in the robust inner child that has survived every puppeteer’s actual childhood ––a show that probes the making of this art in ways that look both backward and forward at the same time: the older puppeteer disappears behind his/her puppet-table to make the puppet fully visible; the young puppeteer dances in the open space between the staging stations, portraying in her own body the journey she has willingly taken on. This gift from her dad which Shoshanna has taken possession of as a way to tell her own story––Portrait of the Puppeteer as a Young Woman—I received it as a gift in turn from her to us, her fellow-puppeteers, exploring for us her initiation into what Julie Taymor calls “this rare and mysterious art.”
Founding Artistic Director (retired), Underground Railway Theater
Director, URT History Project, Inc.
Author, Underground Railway Theater, Engine of Delight & Social Change (an ebook with videos)
Available in all digital formats as of 4 July 2017