Alumnus Lachlan Plain

Learnings: Roman Paska Puppetry Masterclass

Earlier this year, theatre luminary Roman Paska held a masterclass project to explore the ritual origins of puppetry as a means for expressing ‘otherness’. In this blog post, alumni Lachlan Plain and Felicity Jane Horsley reflect on what they gained from the 10-day intensive.

By Lachlan Plain

I knew little about Roman Paska before I applied for his master class. I knew that he was a New York-based director who produces exquisite puppet stage shows, two scraps of information I’d gleaned from his bio and a couple of clips I’d discovered on YouTube, Beethoven in Camera and Dead Puppet Talks. I was particularly taken with Beethoven with it’s fluid stylisation, timeless aesthetic and spidery, long-limbed puppets.

The masterclass was an intensive workshop held at the VCA from 25th June to 6th July in the lead up to the 4th National Puppetry and Animatronics Summit. When I stepped into the Grant Street Theatre on the first day, and saw all those familiar faces, I was visited by a pleasant sense of déjà vu – like stepping back in time to when the puppetry course still existed.

In the workshop we worked on That Lindberg Hop, a half hour sketch inspired by the life of the American aviator Charles Lindberg, that was presented on the Thursday and Friday night before the Summit.

Paska arrived with a definite vision for the first two thirds of the show and, after brief preliminaries, we launched into mapping it out. ‘Mapping’ being the operative word for, like that other New York director, Robert Wilson, Paska’s focus is on the performer’s trajectories within space, the lines made by walking across the canvas of the stage. As opposed to more traditional approaches Paska prioritizes blocking over character development or dialogue.

That Lindberg Hop is drawn from The Flight Across the Ocean, a little-known lehrstücke, or ‘learning play’, written by Brecht for the radio. Brecht conceived it for the radio because he saw no way of staging what was mostly a conversation between a lone man and the elements, the wind, the mist and the frost. This is a study in early twentieth century triumphalism of man over nature.

Drawing on Brecht’s fascination with Chinese puppets the natural elements are conjured into the space by beautifully crafted Chinese hand puppets, which are in turn puppeteered by figures who are either students in a school room or mechanics tinkering with the workings of the play. The nature of the staging – with the precise choreography, the unison of the chorus, the declamatory delivery and the flattening out of narrative elements – works in contrast to the American-style individualism celebrated in the text.

Taking part in Paska’s workshop was like being a cog in a well-oiled machine. Whilst we had a little more freedom in devising material for the final third, within the parameters of the set of course, it was very much about witnessing a master craftsman at work.

Felicity Jane Horsley
Felicity Jane Horsley

Felicity Jane Horsley

Participating in the Roman Paska master class was a 10 day whirlwind of ensemble devising, Paska antidotes, heroism, creative problem solving, and Brecht choral fever.

It was such a wonderful and experienced group of performers who were a pleasure to work with. The level of skill and professionalism enabled us to work quickly and easily, feeling constantly supported by the other members of the ensemble and never forgetting the most important parts, having fun. It was such a privilege to be with this group.

I learnt a lot from Roman’s working process, he is extremely precise with the details even whilst devising the initial moments of material. The level of perfectionism has its pay offs in the clarity and precision of the images that were made. As well as the ability to make material quickly. Roman described his working process like painting a picture, sketching out the shapes first then going back over and filling out more details each time. I admired the strength in his own vision and decisiveness that shaped his direction.

I have learnt some important things in relation to making my own work too. Initially I wanted to do the master class to gain more skills in puppetry an object manipulation and through the process of making ‘That Lindbergh hop’ I gained a greater understanding of the definition of and ways of owning and incorporating puppetry and object manipulation more in to my own work.’

A version of this article originally appeared on Channel, the Faculty’s previous publishing platform.