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"Puppets-on-the Wrist" and some more facts about the theatre

" The "2 plus Koo" show means two actors plus puppets (kookla in Russian). It is more than people and puppets. It is a different world which builds up our inner life and fills it with wonder. "2 plus Koo" is more than a small puppet-show which travels all over the world, lock, stock and barrel and for which there is enough room in a car and in one`s heart. "2 plus Koo" is a new cultural phenomenon. It is really so, as one sees quite a unique, puppetry technique and puppet-show. A new class of puppet is called now "Puppet-on-the Wrist". Their designer is Vladimir Zakharov is manphenomenon, he is an expert of robotics, actor, singer, writer, sculptor who created and developed a new line in root plastic art. Olga Kushkova is no less unique a wonan, a muse of the theatre. Olga and Vladimir do everything themselves, i.e. make puppets, write plays, act, etc. Each of their plays is an event in their life; they are so complete, bright and real. Once you saw their show you will be their fan forever.

"Two plus PU" Theatre (Tomsk) Vladimir Zakharov professional robot design engineer for some years worked in Tomsk puppet theatre "Buffoon". The puppets to well-known productions "The Foundation Area" and "Master and
Margarite" were invented and embodied by him. After Zakharov left "Buffoon" he together with Olga Kushkova organized his own puppet theatre. The only performance of this theatre is "Jean from the pod" after their own written play.

- When I came to the puppets (as a designer of professional puppet-show) my previous occupation of robotics interfered aaa lot with my new job I did not trust the hands of an actor, I was indulging too much in mechanics. I lacked ideas for puppet design. But I managed it in due course.
My second "puppet invention" was a puppet on hand. The body of the puppet is fixed on the hand so that the fore finger and the middle finger would act as legs of the puppet. The most important moment was the control of the head. The hand movement is respectively to the forearm transferred to the head. Appearance of this puppet stimulated establishment of our own puppet show. One of the tasks of the show was the design of a new puppet and exploration of space in which the puppet could work.
The first play after the continuous search was being decided to be staged after my own scenario mainly because of professional dramatic composition for the puppet show lived much to be desired. Besides specific character of the show puts forward some demands such as: the show should be interesting for kids, adults and for those who composes and acts it. At first we tried to make traditional puppets, which were painted. But soon we have realized our mistake.
A very lively puppet did not correspond to a lifeless painted face of it in spite of lively eyes and mouth. Then I made a wooden head with black ball type eyes. The look has become rather intelligent the puppet itself has become more gentle and lively because the wood had been soaked with bees wax. It has become traditional to use cedar roots to make our puppet. Cedar has proved to be very good for rather compound puppets with working mouth and eyes. Also the simplicity of a structure, convenience and reliability of such puppet is higher than the same papier-mache ones.
The main thing while making a puppet is adjustment. The puppet should be sensitive to any movement of the hand of an actor. Then the puppet will do everything itself. One will have only to watch it and to prompt where the puppet is mistaken. First puppet had the head motion transfer mechanism placed above the wrist which effected rather badly the appearance under the sleeves.
The next design of a puppet solved several problems such as: to hide control mechanism under the hand, to make the bottom of the puppet not grappling the wrist to make it possible to work with an open hand (without glove), to work through mouth and eyes control, to make puppet's hand with moving fingers to make it work with an object, to change the position of the hand. The new puppet made it possible to work side by side with an actor and to be inferior to him in liveliness. It goes without saying that the puppet requires a laborious task while being under construction and adjusting as well as at operating it. But all this is a great pleasure to reject which is a sin.
They say that such mechanics is not seen by a spectator. I object strongly. Still there is something to be noticed, something may not be believed but assumed so that all small things would make the picture of an "alive puppet". The closer to the puppet the more is discoveries for the spectator. It is just like in "a live" theatre. Later after the play a kid would run to the puppet and would be astounded of the fact that the puppet would grasp his finger with its hand, and pull him closer, would look into his eyes and smile happily.
To help to understand our show I should tell a little about it, about its structure. While acting there are two of us. "Two of us and puppets with us..." There are no electricians, no operators. Everything is being done by us, by our hands and legs. When preparing a play I write the script, invent puppets, make them and scenery. Equipment, electronics and programming is being done by Sergei Goorin. I only do bodies, simple automatic schemes, tape recording, mechanics... Another guy Volodia Kozlov comes and sits into the producer's chair when me start rehearsing. He "sculpts" the play and actors of us at the same time. When we go to the festival our master of style Larisa Smakovskaya joins us. She invents and saws the suits for us. Slowly she is involved into the play with her small bits of fabrics. My task is to provide easiness of their creative labour, to make instead of them things they do not want to do, things which prevents them to work creative. Then they will do things I can not do. I do not forget about myself. Because I shall have to install and to carry everything we make it should be light and compact. It should be also interesting for me that is why there are a lot of tricks and automatic stunts (I call it "grimaces of robototechnical past).
There is one more a very important man. His name is Andrey Ryumin - director of "Protey" company. He picked us up a year and a half ago and proposed his help. Now two of us have salary.
We have confidence in the future. We have means to by necessary materials, details, equipment. Andrey's company helped to buy us PC, presented us with a digital tape recorder. Besides there is always a car to take us to act plays. Thanks to these people we can create quietly and put forward before us incredible tasks.
Exploration of working a space for puppet was a rather difficult because it got entangled wit our working space which developed somewhat according to the formula "two of us and puppet with us".
Working on our first play we were making at the same time puppets scenery, rehearsals, music and lighting. How I shall try to describe the equipment we have today not mentioning stages it has undergone during two previous years. It is difficult to do because of constant changes and improvements.
It all happens spontaneously. As an example Kolya Curtain. We made show-booth with a curtain. One had to raise the curtain. For us it was not convenient. A driving gear was needed. And why should this gear rotate for nothing. We placed a puppet, fixed its hand to this gear and named the puppet Kolya Curtain. And why Kolya should keep silence. So we taught Kolya speak. Sergei Goorin is a very talented programmer and system technician. Long time ago when he suggested his help. He wanted to help very much. I proposed and not without fear to make light control... He answered it was too easy to make.
He wanted to make something complicated, intricate. His idea was to involve PC into the process. It was an outrageous thought to us. Now NOTE-BOOK (NB-386SX) controls all the equipment during the play. Programming language is "2K".
This is a unique language of parallel programming, which Sergei worked out for our show. Controller acts a link between PC and the rest of the equipment (through the parallel port). It has 64 logical outputs, 32 logical input and 6 analog outputs (to control lighting). Power module provides the equipment with required voltage. Lighting equipment has six controlled channels 1kwt each and commutator which provides switching 18 lamps to 6 channels. player with an amplifier (20 wt) and speakers (6 wt) provide phonogram of the play. It all also is controlled by PC. Six lamp (100 wt) with controlled light beam direction an filters changing mechanism (30 color changes during a play). Two fans with controlled speed (it is our wind). Kolya Curtain is a stage operator.
The equipment, show-booth and puppets go in two boxes (which are the table at the same time). Overall dimensions of which are: 70x60x17. All this weighs 35kg. It takes us to install scenery and show the play one hour and half. To dismantle it is takes 30 minutes. There is a push-button by means of which (by leg or a hand) we switch on the code blocks. The program is written in russian and looks like this:

waiting_of_button();
tape_recorder(564);
waiting_of_place_of_pphonogramm(87);
lamp_2(to the left 6_;
pause 5000;
change_of_brightness_2(255, 3000);
waiting_of_button();

It means that after the button is pushed the phonogram is switched on for a definite period of time (564 impulses constant frequency pulse detector of photodetctor), and from 87-th impulse of phonogram 2-nd lamp will turn to the left to angle 6x4,5=27 and after 5s pause during following 3s will increase its brightness up to maximum (255).
The size of the program is limited only by our fantasy. There are as many of changes of light as one wishes at any speed and frequency (three are 30 changes of color so far), as many of lamp position as possible, any wind we need. Everything depends only on us, on what we need. Of course it is possible to install ten or more simple lamps instead of one but controlled lamp. But firstly one will have to carry all of them, and secondly we have puppet show. So why not to turn a lamp into a puppet? Let it live with all of us. I can talk to it as if I talk to an equal partner during the play. Then it will answer me, look into the auditorium, nod ins assent and wink. But it should not be out of measure. One should not overdo with equipment but just make it alive.
Well, it is a fairy-tale. One can watch it, touch. We even will let anyone to push buttons. But this is not for professionals. We have nothing very complicate. All technology was carried out in the kitchen of the two room flat. One must love it, take care of it and cherish it. And then in the middle of the play to feel suddenly that everything around you is alive, and everybody is equal to each other, and Kolya Curtain and lamp. Everything and everybody depend on each other and rely upon each other. We are like one organism. We made each other. We believe and trust each other. There are two of us and puppets with us...

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