The Center for Puppetry Arts is currently running a new performance entitled Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, a dark and intense puppetry production aimed at older children (age 12 and over) and adults. The show combines multiple Poe classics, including The Raven, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado. The detailed stage design, the fine acting, the music and sound effects by Klimchak, and the blood (yes the blood!) combine to tingle the senses and draw you into the macabre universe. Performances run through March 3. BURNAWAY interviewed director Michael Haverty by email to get his thoughts on Tales of Edgar Allan Poe.
BURNAWAY: Is this your first time directing a puppet show? How does directing a puppet show differ from directing a “regular” show at a venue like 7 Stages?
Michael Haverty: I have never directed a ‘regular’ show in my life! But to answer your question, I have written and directed a number of puppet productions, and there is a good amount of technical knowledge needed in order to choreograph puppet movement. More so than your typical stage play, the director must have an eye for dynamic visual communication. However, the basic mechanics of acting are the same, and I am lucky to work with performers who are both excellent actors and skilled puppeteers.
BA: What drew you to the source material? How difficult was it to make a coherent story and production using 9 (by my count) different Poe stories?
MH: The script was adapted by Bobby Box in collaboration with the Center’s Artistic Director Jon Ludwig. Poe’s stories are quite similar in structure so it feels natural to weave them together into an exciting and coherent narrative. I found the source material an inexhaustible source of inspiration for our production.
BA: Is there one of Poe’s stories that is more dominant than the others? If so, which one?
MH: The Raven is Poe’s most famous work, and the bookend to our performance. It truly stands the test of time as it contemplates the unending horror of obsessive guilt and sadness.
BA: Have you watched the new Fox TV show The Following, where the serial killer is obsessed with Poe? Do you thinking spending a lot of time with Poe’s work can actually inspire someone to commit dark, criminal acts? Or at least give them a darker personality and view of the world?
MH: I have not watched the TV show. My interpretation of Poe’s work—and this production in particular—is that dark thoughts occur in all of us to a degree, but it is only through a diseased or damaged mind that someone would act upon these thoughts.
BA: How important is the actual design and artistry behind the making of the puppets (and any backdrops) to the impact of this show? Is it more important than costume/scenery in a typical “human” production?
MH: Absolutely—puppetry conveys information through primarily visual means. We spend many months planning the visual elements of design in our productions. An actor can change their expression, can change their character, but a puppet, once built, is that character and must contain within it all the expressions that are needed to play the role. The nature of puppetry is transformation—bringing a puppet to life is the most basic transformation—and we give to our sets and costumes a transformative nature as well.
BA: What other shows have you directed? Do you have firm plans for upcoming shows?
MH: I’ll be directing The Navigator, an interactive fantasy-adventure, in a production by 7 Stages at The Goat Farm in September, with giant body puppets, silhouettes and video projected onto huge sheets of china silk. I’m also working on a Theater for the Very Young show with the Alliance Theatre scheduled for December, which will have a design scheme inspired by japanese origami. And Red Badge of Courage will be created with tabletop puppets and overt performers, much like Poe, to be produced at 7 Stages Theatre in February of 2014.
BA: Children seem to have a natural affinity for dolls and puppets. Is it harder to create a show to hold the attention of and entertain adults?
MH: Children are very eager to participate with live theatre in general. I find that adults who come to a puppet performance are already stepping back into a child’s mind in certain ways, allowing their imaginations to collaborate with the performers in bringing the puppets to life. In this way these adult audiences are great partners in the fantasy. Visual theatre in general tends to grab the attention of all ages quite dynamically.
BA: Finally, do you have a personal favorite Poe story? If so, how did your feelings from that story affect your direction of this production?
MH: I love Berenice, a story we tell in the production. It is not as well known as The Raven or The Tell-Tale Heart, so our audiences are very surprised by the ending, which is truly horrifying. It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it, and I sought to bring that feeling of fright to the entire production.