Jessica Lewis and Shane Adamczak are starring in Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s adaptation of The Little Prince. Both studied at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. Jessica is a founding member of of Unkempt Dance and Shane is a founding member and current Artistic Director of Weeping Spoon Productions. Spare Parts Puppet Theatre has been dedicated to sharing the magic of puppetry since 1991.
Image Credit: Tanya Voltchanskatya
Jess and Shane talk to The Street ahead of The Little Prince season.
WHY PUPPETRY AS A CAREER?
J: I actually come from a contemporary dance background, so puppetry was not something I initially planned on. But that’s the great thing about the performing arts – your career path often takes weird and winding turns and you end up in places you never expected! But I was delighted to be introduced to puppetry. Like dance, it requires a heightened sensitivity and awareness of your body, and so puppetry has been almost like developing an extension of my current skill-set, transferring that awareness from my own body to the puppet’s.
PUPPETRY IS A UNIQUE ARTFORM WITH INTRINSIC DISCIPLINES AND TECHNIQUES. WHAT IS THE PUPPETRY LANGUAGE USED IN THE LITTLE PRINCE?
The main puppets in The Little Prince are rod puppets, all carved from wood, with both Shane and I manipulating them in full view of the audience. This transparency allows us to compliment the puppets’ movements with our own expressions and reactions, though always keeping the puppets as the main focus. Our set (a major feature!) is also built of wood, and changes, adapts and transforms throughout the play, allowing various characters to emerge as the story unfolds.
HOW FAITHFUL IS THE ADAPTATION TO THE ORIGINAL STORYBOOK?
J: Our adapting writer Simon Clarke and Director Michael Barlow have done a superb job in creating an adaptation that very much keeps the essence of the original story. In order to prevent it from becoming a 3-hour Little Prince extravaganza we ultimately had to lose several of the book’s colourful characters, but the Prince’s most important encounters and relationships are certainly there, gently bringing to light the rather philosophical ideas and discoveries that The Little Prince is so fondly known for.
WHAT IS INVOLVED IN ANIMATING THE PUPPET CHARACTERS IN THE LITTLE PRINCE? TALK US THROUGH YOUR PROCESS.
J: Initially, we experimented with what movement worked best with the Prince’s physicality and range – working closely with the text and movement simultaneously was important for me as we discovered his strength in large dynamic shifts to punctuate the main points of his dialogue. In term of his personality, I try to take on all of the Prince’s feelings and reactions as he encounters them, in order to then project them back on to him – we experience the story together, but he takes the lead.
S: Agreed. For me it’s about finding the characters voice and physically and projecting that through yourself into the puppet. It’s a fun journey to figure out physical traits and limitations with each new puppet and seeing how far you can push that.
JESS, YOU ARE ACCLAIMED FOR YOUR PORTRAYAL OF THE LITTLE PRINCE. WHAT HAVE YOU DISCOVERED PLAYING THE ROLE?
About a week into rehearsals I discovered that puppetry is not for the weak armed! So I had to get nicely acquainted with push-ups…
I have certainly been able to get reacquainted with what is essentially a child-like view of the world – I love The Little Prince’s inquisitiveness and his ability to challenge the views of the adults he meets on his quest to find out more about the universe. Many aspects of the story remain in a sense unexplainable, and I have enjoyed coming to realise that a little mystery promotes not only deeper thought, but the opportunity for imagination to fill in the rest.
SHANE, WHAT ARE YOUR CHALLENGES IN PORTRAYING THE HUMAN CHARACTERS?
My background is rooted firmly in acting and comedy, so if anything the human characters are the easiest to play, being a human myself. The challenge is making the relationships and interactions between the human and the puppet characters seem believable, as soon as it looks like a person talking to a puppet, the audience won’t come with you on the journey. It’s about making sure all the characters, human, animal, puppet or human all fit in the same world and that’s what we do with this show. It feels like one big universe that all the characters belong in.
PUPPETRY HAS A LONG HISTORY DATING BACK TO 1000 BC AND THERE HAS BEEN A RESURGENCE OF INTEREST WITH PUPPETS PLAYING MAJOR ROLES ON OUR STAGES AND FILMS, APPEALING TO AUDIENCES OF ALL AGES. WHY DO YOU THINK PUPPETS CAN CREATE MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCES AND PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN TRANSFORMING OUR VIEW OF THE WORLD AND EACH OTHER?
J: There’s just something very special about seeing an object, one you are fully aware does not have a pulse, come to life and make you feel things. There is a strange kind of magic that happens in your brain that allows you to disengage from reality, and look at things more deeply than just their surface value. For children, their natural sense of imagination means they can have very powerful experiences watching puppetry; for adults, puppetry can re-ignite that sense of imagination and delight, which is important to hold on to in a world that is often overwhelming and hardened.
S: Yeah, I think, especially in our show, the puppet characters give the kids someone closer to themselves to relate to and, like The Little Prince, take a step back and observe all the strange “Adult character” in the world.
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY IN LIVE PERFORMANCE AND CONTEMPORARY THEATRE CURRENTLY?
J: I watched a Fringe show this year by artist Nicola Gunn which really gave me a creative spark. It was a one-woman show that incorporated a storytelling-style monologue within a stylised movement vocabulary. It was honest and hilarious and bizarre and totally captivating, and really showed me how exciting a simple merge of dance and theatre could be.
S: I’m all about Fringe. I’ve seen so many ridiculously big budget shows that have failed to move me even half as much a tiny show-string-budget one man show in some tiny theatre.
WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?
J: I just powered through Orange Is The New Black (and wept uncontrollably), and now Game of Thrones is also over I’m at a bit of a loss…Being on tour means there is a lot of time spent in hotel rooms, so I’m mortified to say that I’ve actually been watching far too much reality TV – mainly Shark Tank and House Rules! My last great read was Still Alice by Lisa Genova, but I’m rather into podcasts at the moment.
S: Jess and I have been enjoying our Game Of Thrones nights on tour! I’m currently watching Voltron On Netflix and nerding out with Saga Of The Swamp Thing.