Supporting creative work by women
You’ve got one more week to catch A Girl Without Wings, a lovely play based upon an Andean myth. It’s directed by Kathleen Amshoff, whom Works by Women profiled last year. And, this production features the gorgeous puppetry of Emily DeCola. Run, don’t walk, to the IATI Theater on East 4th through October 27th.
Emily spoke to Works by Women about receiving a Jim Henson Foundation grant for this piece, how she worked with Kathleen in designing the puppets, and her own outfit — the Puppet Kitchen.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Tell me about A Girl Without Wings. What was the inspiration for your designs?
EMILY DECOLA: This piece is about the satisfaction of realizing that more things are possible than you think–so transformation was a huge thematic thread (ha) through the designs. I knew that I wanted to create a kind of visual flexibility onstage in which one image could seamlessly transform into another, just as we transform from one self into another during the process of growing up. The decision to use materials and objects for the puppetry, rather than highly complex, constructed puppets, reflected both a storytelling objective and a practical one: like many families in Ecuador, Chaska’s family is poor. The material reality of the puppetry needed to work with, not against, the material reality of the story. Also, downtown theater is not rolling in dough, to say the least! We decided that we’d get the most bang for our buck with GWOW by focusing most on choosing simple materials carefully and working hard on performance compositions, rather than investing in building expensive objects.
WBW: What was the process for working on this piece?
ED: We came up with a variety of puppetry storytelling techniques–both in pre-rehearsal conversations with (director) Kathleen Amshoff and in workshops with the cast–that incorporated the visual language of the Tigua paintings. I then worked with Kathleen and the actors in rehearsal to devise the puppetry sequences.
WBW: You received a Jim Henson Foundation grant for this piece. How vital is this support to your work? What does it mean to you?
ED: The Jim Henson Foundation is an essential supporter of new puppetry work all over the country, and this project is no exception. Both the rigor of putting together an application for the grant, and the financial boost of the grant itself, helped A Girl Without Wings. We had to really define and refine our objectives to put together a compelling application, and then, frankly, the Henson Grant funding made production possible.
WBW: How did you become a puppet and mask designer — what originally drew you to this?
ED: I love to meet people (audiences, other performers, etc) in a place where impossible things happen all the time, and in every performance we bring an entire world into being with our shared belief. People need to play, especially adults. I love that my work is, essentially, that.
WBW: Tell me about The Puppet Kitchen, your design studio. What’s next for you?
ED: I co-founded the Puppet Kitchen with my partners Eric Wright and Michael Schupbach in 2008. We’re a full-service puppetry studio. We design, perform, build, direct and teach. All three of us approach our work in puppetry from all those directions as it’s a totally multi-disciplinary art form; every project we do reflects that approach. Next up, we have our second collaboration with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, a really fine chamber orchestra. We’re really interested in the intersection of puppetry and classical music, both forms which use both narrative and lyrical means to convey a lot of emotion in a very engaging way. Check out what’s cooking on our website: www.puppetkitchen.com
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
ED: Some of the challenges facing women in American theater are the changes that face working women in every discipline: how to balance professional and personal fulfillment, how to think and act decisively and confidently while contending with a culture which slaps strong, opinionated women with negative labels, etc. American theater, of course, is spectacularly underfunded. The ceiling is low, and the glass ceiling, even lower.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
ED: The incredible diversity of talent, and the marvelous new voices beginning to emerge.
For tickets to A Girl Without Wings and information, visit www.iatitheater.org.