Puppet Power

It’s thirty minutes past 7 and I’m late. I skate up to the marionette theater and knock on the half closed metal gate. A man rushes up, opens the glass door and asks something in Catalan along the lines of, “Are you coming in?” I had been invited the day before to come at 7 for I was not sure what so I nod and duck under and in. The space is dark and they motion for me to be quiet. I slink past the bar down the stairs and find an audience facing the main stage. Oh so it was a performance they invited me to. I thought it was a party. I find a seat in the back that is low to the ground and am immediately washed over with a sense of belonging, communal encouragement and wonder.
On stage in basic lighting, a man with two white, what appears to be, ping pong balls, one on each pointer finger, has transformed his hands into separable animate creatures interacting on the back of a guitar. They are trying to get across a perilous bridge, the neck of the guitar. I’m immediately transfixed by the capacity for empathy necessary to transform your hands into a relatable being, as well as the simplistic brilliance and transformative power of using a musical instrument as landscape.

The short pieces zoom by, each filling me with such awe and wonder. This, this is a place where I feel at home. A brief intermission and I get up to buy a beer and use the restroom. On my way back down the stairs I run into the woman who had given me my children, the three little birds she had drawn. It often happens that people mistake my genuine enthusiasm as inauthentic. This is understandable. I am a very strange creature. I genuinely care about complete strangers and am almost always on my own. To the untrained eye this is off-putting and uncategorized. I patiently wait for her energy to unguard itself and then present the framed children. She is surprised and smiles wholeheartedly, abandoning her concerns. She introduces me to some lovely puppet people.
The lights dim and we return to our seats. Oh my oh my the next piece completely transformed how I saw intimacy. Again, the puppets were hands. Because of this, the piece had a quite airy and whimsical feel. Intimacy was not laden with symbolic weight or objectification. It was purely two creatures exploring and playing with each other and expressing consent all along the way. Coming from the American south I have a very toxic view of sex. I was taught at bible summer camp and in bible study at Princeton that Sex devalued you. Each group demonstrated this by taking two pieces of tape and sticking them together and then pulling them apart and then sticking them together and then pulling them apart until they no longer were sticky. They explained that this what it is like to sleep with multiple people, you lose your ability to connect and become damaged.
I believed that shit. I internalized that toxic self devaluation. Sex was a thing to withhold and, as a woman, chastity was necessary for my self worth. To see the act of Intimacy so playfully expressed through puppets was instantly transformational and healing for me.
Next up were some immaculate puppets that could play piano very convincingly. And finally four people with white gloves and a black light that created a psychedelic morphing singing head. After the show, the creator of my children came over and introduced more people.

I have not yet discussed the space in its tangible form which is perhaps the most important part. The space is immaculate. It immediately evokes a sense of wonder and play. Almost like a womb of creativity filled with tools and little creations. And, as a functioning workshop, it maintains a sense of life and motion.

The space was founded by one man, a puppeteer who was apparently very eccentric and wholly political – antifranco. He was actually given the space by the city in the 70s and always kept it free and open to the public. He died 10 years ago but his legacy remains. They speak of him so fondly and each person who knew him has many wonderful quirky stories. The space is membership based so you pay 20 euros and you are a member. That money goes to electricity bills. Other than that this space is a family. Everyone knows each other and creates together. There are no formal lessons, instead they have open workshop hours where you come to create and can ask more experienced persons for help.
I am introduced to another girl from new york. She explains that she recently graduated from University and was given a grant to explore the expression and self representation of homeless and transient communities. She received something like a full bright to study this internationally. She started in Puerto Rico which has a fascinating political climate mostly because we treat them so incredibly badly. There she found a booming group of revolutionary young puppeteers and shifted her study to focus entirely on puppetry, she now is essentially just trying to become a professional puppeteer. She had also interned in congress and so we discussed the inefficiency of our government to make any truly helpful changes. I mentioned that I recently lost hope in NGOS with my work in Amnesty International and she laughs and explains that that was actually her main point of study in school and that I was right, NGOS are incredibly ineffective and self serving. I ask what we can do, she laughs and says that she has basically given up and just wants to focus on art. I of course am in the same boat but am for some masochistic reason still trying desperately anyway I can to try and help change this world. I say my goodbyes and skate home.

What we learned

  1. A community can form around a specific art form
  2. One person can make a lasting space that provides a platform for an entire community
  3. There is a precedent for the city government to give space to a particular artist
  4. Puppets can be a subversive political tool
  5. The decorating of the space, the details can be whimsical if left democratically in flux
  6. There are people who have been given money to study things like I am doing. My bank account is jealous.