Designer Chris Griffith Talks About Puppets

Chris Griffith (Z Puppets Rosenschnoz) returns to MJTC this holiday season with brand new puppets for a brand new production of Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. Chris won an Ivey Award for his puppet designs in MJTC 's Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (2008). Read what Chris has to say about the art of puppetry! 

 two-headed goblin in  hershel and the hanukkah goblins  (2017)

two-headed goblin in hershel and the hanukkah goblins (2017)

"For twenty five years, I have been exploring the art of puppetry. As a builder and designer, I revel in creating circus troupes out of ping pong balls, monkeys out of fur coats, and papier-mache crocodiles. As a performer, I delight in giving inanimate objects the illusion of life.

We all know the goblins aren't alive, for instance, but we (the performers and the audience) agree for a minute to believe that they are. The puppeteer's job is to create in her imagination an image of that goblin that is so real and complete that we all forget they are not alive. If that image is strong enough, an eerie thing begins to happen: we start to see things that aren't actually there. Our imaginations fill in what's missing, and this is where puppetry gets very exciting. Did we just see an eyebrow raise up in surprise? Did that puppet just blink? A minute ago, the goblin was crying, but now the same face appears to be laughing.

"The puppeteer's energy mixes with the energy of the audience

to create the illusion of life in the puppets."

Puppetry is a collaboration between the puppeteer's and the audience's imaginations. The puppeteer's energy mixes with the energy of the audience to create the illusion of life in the puppets. My favorite performances are the ones where the performer's imagination meets the audience's imagination at the edge of the stage, and they explode in a magical moment of the puppet springing to life. When this happens, everybody in the room feels it on a primal level, and suddenly, the room is filled with real goblins.

If this is your first experience watching puppets in action, get ready! You are about to enter a world where anything is possible if you can only imagine it. Have a wonderful and festive season of light. Happy Hanukkah!"


Chris Griffith.jpg

Chris Griffith (Puppet Design) is a co-founder and Creative Director of Z Puppets Rosenschnoz. Additionally, Chris is a Teaching Artist with the Children’s Theatre Company, a clown and juggler, and an arts education consultant. Previously, he was a co-founder of Galumph Interactive Theater, Education Coordinator for In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, and editor of The Puppetry Cookbook. His work has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Minnesota State Arts Board, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, Jim Henson Foundation, Puppeteers of America, Jerome Foundation. Chris received an Ivey Award for his puppet designs in MJTC’s Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (2009).

Set Designer Michael Hoover Discusses Inspiration

Michael Hoover returns to MJTC to design Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins after designing several previous MJTC productions (most recently, Via Dolorosa). Here's what he had to say about his inspiration behind the set design: 

"The production takes place in the fictional Russian town of Helmsbergville.  The playwright describes it as "a worn-out village, the kind of village in which the houses droop off of hillsides and the people droop through the streets."  In my research I discovered a painting by the Russian artist Antonov Nikolay (see below).  The painting is simply titled “In Village”, and it provided the initial inspiration for the set design. 

antonov nikolay "in village" 

Set design, hershel and the hanukkah goblins, michael Hoover.

Another aspect of the design is that I hoped to keep the set pieces from feeling too heavy or clunky.  I challenged myself to try to create a setting using only sticks of lath board cobbled together.  The design then evolved into a morph of the painting onto the compilation of sticks, resulting in a playfully abstract little setting in front of which our story can be told!" 

Michael Hoover square.jpg

Michael designs sets locally for many theaters, including Uncle Vanya, Choir Boy and Proud to Present at the Guthrie Theater, Ragtime and Gypsy at Theater Latte Da and Idiot’s Delight at Girl Friday. In addition to his freelance career as a scenic designer, Michael is on staff as the Lead Scenic Artist at the Guthrie Theater.

 

Robert Dorfman reflects on his Jewish Experience

KATIE: Robert, would you mind telling me a little about yourself? 

ROBERT I am a Jewish actor born and raised in New York City and spent most of my adult life living in New York and Southern California. I moved to the Twin Cities almost five years ago. I've performed in The Lion King and Social Security on Broadway, and locally, I've been in at least a dozen productions at Guthrie Theater.  

   Robert Dorfman in a solo performance of via dolorosa

  Robert Dorfman in a solo performance of via dolorosa

KATIE: Thank youI'm curious, has working on Via Dolorosa deepened your personal faith or enriched your Jewish experience? 

ROBERT: Here in the Midwest I feel my otherness--meeting Barbara Brooks and working with the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company on Via Dolorosa and We Are the Levinsons has greatly enhanced my sense of self as an artist and as a man of faith. In this theater, I get to commune with an audience and a group of artists that are interested in life affirming plays about the human experience and the Jewish experience. I greatly look forward to the dialogue that is sparked by Via Dolorosa.

KATIE: Me too! I am especially blown away by the narrative. There is so much rich content-- and very strong storytelling. How would you describe Via?  

ROBERTVia Dolorosa is written by David Hare, of course. He, himself, was the solo actor in the original iterations of this fine play. A poet and an intellectual, he touches on themes of politics and faith set against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian condition. 

KATIE: I like that. Were there any particular elements of the play that you found challenging to work on?

ROBERT: Taking on this role for the MJTC production, I have been forced to question what I ever thought about the subject, whatever allegiances I may have for one side or the other, and have found a greater understanding and compassion for the lives of the Israeli and the Palestinian people who are putting themselves on the line everyday to protect their citizens and find a peaceable continuity to their own historical stories.

KATIE: Wow. I look forward to seeing all the work you've put into the show. Oh! And I almost forgot--how's working with director Raye Birk? 

ROBERT: I love working with Mr. Raye Birk. He is in every sense “a man of the theater”. A consummate actor himself, I feel very fortunate to have him help me shape this performance, [and] represent the great themes of the play in an honest and focused manner.

KATIE: Thank you, Robert. I'm so excited to see what the two of you created with this incredible script!

Via Dolorosa runs August 19th-27th. All are welcome to join in on the dialogue for our post-show Doorways Programs following the August 20th 1:00pm performance and August 24th 7:30 performance. 

CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS. 

On Stage: We Are the Levinsons

On Stage is a new audience development program that is sponsored by Springboard for the Arts. It brings local actors to college classrooms in an effort to involve a young and non-traditional audience with theater in the Twin Cities. MJTC's 2017 world premiere comedy, We Are the Levinsons, was featured in several classroom workshops, involving artists of the production, including playwright Wendy Kout and actress Alyssa DiVirgilio.

We Are the Levinsons runs through May 14, 2017. More information can be found HERE.

More information for On Stage can be found HERE