by Rick Curtiss Dramaturg
happysadness is better with puppets.
Everything is better with puppets. The nature of this phenomenon might not seem obvious at first. After all, puppets are for kids aren’t they? Haven’t we, as adults, moved past the juvenile and broad nature the world of puppets provides? The answer to both of these questions is a steadfast no.
Adults love puppets.
It might be attributed to nostalgia, butt here is something inherently adult about puppets. This can be seen in the many ways puppets have been marketed for adults. The Muppet Show had kid-friendly content, but the goal was to entertain the whole family, adults included. Others followed this trend with various degrees of family friendly (and not so friendly) content. Madame’s Place, Dinosaurs, Sifl & Olly, Greg the Bunny, Crank Yankers, and several other tv shows included puppets as primary characters and were targeting beyond the kid market. Puppets for adults hasn’t only happened on television. The musical Avenue Q purposely spoofed Sesame Street to tell a decidedly adult tale, and Schockheaded Peter used puppets to warp a children’s book into a much more adult affair on stage.
happysadness uses puppets which deal with mature themes. These beautiful creations were made by Nat Reed’s 2016 puppeteering class at BYU. They are beautifully constructed and completely believable. I remember watching The Muppets Take Manhattan as a child and thought that muppets felt like real live connected beings in the world. The actual human performers felt flat and two-dimensional next to them. This flatness isn’t the case for happysadnessl; the humans are just as expressive as the puppets, but it highlights how easy it can be to connect with two eyes and felt draped over a hand. Some say that puppet show are a good way to talk about difficult issues–if anything becomes too serious, it can be laughed away as being silly because of the puppets. This isn’t the case in happysadness. The puppets aren’t placeholders for real things that need to be diffused to become accessible. Instead, the puppets are the reflection of inner experiences– the actual reflection and the best representation.
This might be why they are so successfully integrated into the show. They reveal the deepest layer of your fondness for puppets. It isn’t only childhood nostalgia, or the ability to dampen the difficult with the humorous. These puppets go further and reveal that skin and bone isn’t that different from felt and wire. When we look at puppets onstage we see the familiar reflections of our own inner self. Beautiful, scary, simple, and complex–a pair of eyes that never blink; but we can’t help but stare back with wonder.