Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Beth Peterson Puppet designer for "The Night Fairy"

Flory (Emily Yetter) admires Hummingbird (Catherine Adell) and her babies in The Night Fairy.
Whether it’s a four-person operated raccoon, the brightest-of-blue hummingbird, or even a giant spider, Beth Peterson, puppet designer, has taken on the challenge of making these characters and others come to life in The Night Fairy, South Coast Repertory’s Theatre for Young Audiences show.

Peterson has been creating puppets, masks, pageants, and parades for almost 25 years. She takes great care for the specific functions and appearance for each puppet she creates. We sat down with her during a rehearsal break and asked her more about this amazing art form.

How did you first become involved with puppets and why do they appeal to you?
I made puppets as a child, but as an adult what brought me into puppetry is the ability of puppets to share stories—very challenging and very wonderful stories—in a way that people can connect with them. And maybe help people hear stories in a way that they wouldn’t normally through a conversation and or through just actors alone. I also love the colors and the forms and the personalities and the life that emerge from the process.

Flory (Emily Yetter) and Bat (Jonathan C.K. Williams).
What’s the process like to make puppets?
Really grasping whatever its role is in the story helps determine how a puppet needs to move, its size and scale, its personality and purpose. Those are all can that be reflected in the form that it takes. Part of what I do is listen and read the story and talk with the people involved with the play so that I understand the movement that’s required. Then I work to find a good form to fit that vision. For example, in The Night Fairy, the spider is in its web, and there are lots of strings, so it seemed to be a good match to make that role a marionette because of all the strings, webs and legs.

Working at SCR has been amazing! We had two workshops with actors and puppeteers and that really helped the design process because let me see what would work and what could even be a stronger way of sharing the characters’ stories.

What is the most challenging part of puppetry?
For this production the most challenging was that everything character to be really BIG, which is an unusual size for these animals. So I needed to keep in mind how to adjust the size and still give the puppeteers ability to operate the puppets.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Well, on days like today, I love being able to see these things that are objects and ideas start coming alive and emerging with the personalities of all of our puppeteers. The work of the director and sound and lights and all these people has come together to create something beyond what just one person could ever imagine.

Skuggle (Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper) and Flory (Emily Yetter).
What excited you the most about bringing these characters from The Night Fairy come to life?
I really like this story for many reasons. When Flory first meets every creature, they’re very odd and strange to her. But whether they’re scary or cute or beautiful, she grows from seeing a stranger to building a relationship. I feel like that’s a journey that every kid and every adult goes through; we all move through situations that feel strange and then find our way and find friends. This play is a wonderful way to share this journey through these incredible animals.

If you could be any puppet, describe what you would be and why!
I love all the puppets and really don’t think I can choose one! The puppets all have their own personalities and I end up spending so much time with them because it takes hundred of hours to build them with many people involved. I really appreciate everyone who has helped to bring the puppets to the stage.

I hope people come to see The Night Fairy and enjoy the story and the characters. ”Hopefully, a few people will say, “WOW! I can go home and make my own puppets!” That would make me very happy. All of the puppets you see are made out of very simple ingredients, everyday things that anyone can find. It just takes some imagination, engineering and creativity. Anyone can make a puppet!

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