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Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus is rarely performed due to the logistics of depicting horrors such as stabbing, maiming, amputation and decapitation with live actors. Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan's solution? Perform it with puppets! 

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Stabbing, maiming, amputation and decapitation: Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus has them all. It’s no wonder the play is rarely performed – the logistics of depicting these horrors on stage with live actors are daunting. Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan is taking on the challenging play in summer 2018, but with a twist: all the characters will be played by puppets.

“We’ve never worked with puppets before,” says Will Brooks, Artistic Director for Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan. “A big part of this is about audience diversification. This particular piece is not one of the normal blockbusters of Shakespeare. Titus is a bit out of the box, and the way we’re doing it is a bit outside of the box as well. The hope is that it will intrigue people who don’t have interest in seeing an average Shakespeare production.”

Titus A. puppet revenge will be performed at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan’s second stage, an intimate venue that seats 100 audience members. Actors will control tabletop rod puppets and incorporate shadow puppets, projection and masks into the show.

Two Independent Artists grants funded Stumped Productions to build the puppets and stage a three-day workshop and reading of select scenes in advance of the production. The 44 rod puppets they created vastly outnumber the characters in the play, but several versions of each are needed for when there are costume changes or when characters reappear after having their hands cut off. Each puppet has 14 parts, not including hats, wigs, costumes and tiny pairs of Roman sandals, all handcrafted specifically for the characters.

“Puppetry puts the audience at ease. There is this unspoken reality that puppets get away with more onstage than live actors do. By making the audience feel safe, we can end up with them feeling more moved by the production,” says Crispi Lord of Stumped Productions.

The show presented some unique casting challenges. Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, which receives funding from the SaskFestivals program, typically presents two productions each summer, with the same cast for both. This time, the actors had to play comedic roles in The Merry Wives of Windsor and be puppeteers in Titus A. puppet revenge, an uncommon versatility. Brooks assembled an ensemble of actors with traditional theatre backgrounds, as well as those who specialize in puppetry, clown and musical theatre. “When everyone comes out of the productions at the end of the summer, they’ve all gained something from the people they worked with,” he says.

Titus A. puppet revenge runs at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan in Saskatoon from July 31 to August 19, 2018.

 

Photos: timkip IMAGING