PULLING STRINGS

GI­ANT PUP­PETRY IN THE HAR­BIN­GER

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - JODIE MUNRO O’BRIEN

Stand­ing ner­vously in the cus­toms line at Bris­bane air­port, David Mor­ton wor­ried that 2½ months of his work would be de­clared il­le­gal to en­ter Aus­tralia.

“Whoa! Cool!” came the re­sponse from the cus­toms of­fi­cer, upon open­ing Mor­ton’s bag to dis­cover two wooden pup­pets.

Re­lieved, pup­pet builder Mor­ton, 26, co-founder and artis­tic di­rec­tor with Bris­bane’s Dead Pup­pet So­ci­ety, ex­plained to the of­fi­cer the lit­tle wooden men were new char­ac­ters about to fea­ture in the lat­est re­vamp of The Har­bin­ger. The show is cur­rently tour­ing Aus­tralia and ar­rives on the Gold Coast tonight.

Dead Pup­pet So­ci­ety was formed in 2008 by a group of Queens­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy drama stu­dents.

They cre­ate pup­pet-based visual the­atre for adults in Aus­tralia, and now the US.

Mor­ton says the company started as a joke be­tween six friends with a univer­sity as­sign­ment.

“It was a drama course and in our fi­nal year of study, we had a pro­fes­sor who chal­lenged us to find some­thing that didn’t cur­rently ex­ist in the lo­cal in­dus­try,” he says.

“Almost as a joke, we sub­mit­ted the Dead Pup­pet So­ci­ety idea ... then, af­ter­wards, we fig­ured since we had al­ready put a lot of work into it, maybe it was ac­tu­ally worth giv­ing it a real go.”

In 2011, the group’s third show The Har­bin­ger, fea­tur­ing a 3.5m-tall el­derly man pup­pet in a wheel­chair named Al­bert, be­came a hit.

Al­bert took three months for Mor­ton to build and needs four pup­peteers to make him move. The gi­ant lives in a book­shop in a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic city and is the fo­cus of the story.

A street urchin girl one day es­capes from an or­phan­age, breaks into the book­store and re­fuses to leave. She be­comes the cat­a­lyst for Al­bert to re­live good and bad mem­o­ries from his past.

Mor­ton builds his pup­pets from the ground up. Lit­er­ally. First comes his vi­sion, fol­lowed by a sketch on pa­per.

Even­tu­ally, he draws a chalk out­line for the feet on the floor and starts build­ing the pup­pet’s feet, legs, body and lastly, the head.

“Each pup­pet has its own de­mands and needs,” says Mor­ton, who started learn­ing how to build pup­pets dur­ing univer­sity.

Mor­ton has made about 50 pup­pets in the past five years.

Some of the new, small pup­pets fea­tured in this year’s The Har­bin­ger are hand cut from wood, have about 400 pieces each in them and took Mor­ton three weeks each to build in his Brook­lyn stu­dio apart­ment.

This year, the Dead Pup­pet So­ci­ety moved to New York after be­ing ac­cepted into a year-long res­i­dency at the New Vic­tory The­atre, the city’s premier off-Broad­way the­atre ded­i­cated to chil­dren and fam­i­lies.

There Mor­ton and the group’s man­ag­ing pro­ducer Ni­cholas Paine are lead­ing the cre­ation of a stage adap­ta­tion of Laser Beak Man, based on the draw­ings of Aus­tralian visual artist Tim Sharp.

They are also work­ing on The Wider Earth in con­junc­tion with Bris­bane’s Queens­land The­atre Company.

The Har­bin­ger, tonight and to­mor­row, The Arts Cen­tre Gold Coast.

The Har­bin­ger

pup­peteers Emily Bur­ton, Kath­leen Iron, Bar­bara Low­ing, Giema Con­tini and Anna Straker re­hearse for their open­ing night tonight.

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