The Brelby Ensemble is hard at work designing the upcoming show “The Age of Eibhleann.” Rehearsals are well underway and designers, Luke Gomez, Shelby Maticic, Mia Passarella, and Devon Mahon have taken time out to discuss with us their process to bring Draiocht to life through props and puppets. Read to the end to learn more about the unique way they would help the Ensemble finish their Quest to open the show!
Let’s talk about designing props for the peoples of Draiocht and Chronos. What overall influences are you drawing from in your designs?
Luke: A lot of my work has crossover with costumes so that certainly is a big factor. For me, the idea will be to use things that are like otherworldly but just slightly different, from bags and weapons to common tools. I’m going for a slightly off, slightly strange quality that I hope people notice.
Discuss your initial designs in creating the puppets. What influences did you draw on in your design?
Shelby: Our early inspiration was the puppet style of Bunraku. Bunraku involves puppets with numerous realistic joints and multiple puppeteers. Brian and I were really intrigued, as directors, by the idea of more than one artist manipulating the same character. Our ensemble isn’t large enough (nor is our studio) to have fully embraced that style… there can be up to four puppeteers on one puppet. We found a happy medium developing a rod puppet that would involve two actors, but still tried to utilize some of the distinct movements and expressiveness of that style. Mia is one of our strongest visual artists at Brelby, so having her skills available to sketch out early design drafts was so valuable.
Mia: Designing puppets is a lot of fun! From the very beginning, we knew few things about Avia. We knew she was a shapeshifter, she can fly, and her true form was a small (about 2 feet in height) creature. Beyond that, Avia had been mystery. The largest inspiration for her design were the tiny, blue pixies from the second Harry Potter film. We also drew from dragonflies, tree branches, and other renditions of fantasy lore creatures.
Devon: We then we settled on green as a primary color with a few different accent colors like red. We’re going with the color aesthetic of a Quetzal (one of my favorite bird species). We want the Darras to be short but lanky creatures. Our rehearsal puppets are pretty fun, one is a Cabbage Patch Kid and the other is a cloth doll…we taped large popsicle like sticks to their limbs and went on our way. (The one we use in the show will be much more impressive)
Discuss the magic present in this show and how you are going to be representing these kinds of items through props.
LUKE: Mac is probably the best example since his power is control of metal, most prominently displayed when he pelts people (mostly me) with metal balls.
Talk about the experimentation process that has gone into creating the movements of the puppets and how the creatures magic will come into play with the combat elements of the show.
Mia: I don’t think we’ve done something quite to this scope before with puppets and it’s great to see everything come together and watch our actors puppeteer has been really interesting.
Shelby: Having one of the actors who is portraying the puppet on the design team was really beneficial. Devon also has experience with puppets from his undergraduate studies at NAU. Watching Devon and David play and create an original movement style with our puppet prototypes has been fascinating. We just blocked some of our combat sequences last night, and watching them demonstrate how the Darras race can teleport around the stage is so fun to watch.
Devon: David and myself have played around a lot with movement of the puppets since for majority of the show we maneuver one together, which has taken a lot of experimentation. If on the ground I control her feet and head while David is her arms, and if in the air I focus on her waist and wings (also feet) while David covers arms and head. In some circumstances we each control one leg and one arm. We’ve also found some other neat ways to enhance our puppets movement…but you’ll just have to wait to see the show.
Talk about the challenges and benefits of working on a devised show.
With a devised show there is so much to learn and explore and discover. There is also a lot of compromise, and a lot of giving up on ideas. It’s also a big challenge that so many of us are doing multiple jobs so there’s a lot to keep track of. We’ve had the added challenge this week of finally being able to move onto our stage and now have to adapt all the blocking we’ve already done in the lobby. Nothing is set in stone with a devised work–we’re constantly changing the script and now, where we rehearse. Tweaking and adjusting to the new space is always a challenge, but the greatest benefit is the rush you get from creating something completely original with your fellow artists. When you trust your group, a lot of pressure can get relieved knowing that the load is shared evenly. We made this story, we weren’t just handed a script–we created it. We created these characters… out of nothing. And we didn’t just leave it as is–we adapted it and continue to mold it into exactly the show we want it to be. We’re bringing it to life, and it’s a rush.
The Quest is underway! As we continue down the path charted by our road map, the Brelby Ensemble encounters a troll that is a staggering ten feet tall with a club and two black mages that can control the elements of fire, water, air, and wind. How would you take on these enemies? Choose a weapon from the Directors and an item from the writer’s pack to help win this fight!
Luke: I would use the extra pair of socks to wear to protect my feet as I run away as fast as I can from the fight and then have the Swiss army knife in case someone tried to catch up with me.
Shelby: I’m going to go rogue because Director. I’d need to use the Caffeine Empowerment Spell to whip up a tasty quad shot dirty chai with some vanilla to give myself an energy burst. I’d then pull out my now green & sparkly magical swiss army knife, and use it to throw a net around the troll, and knock him over. I’d then use the power of silence to give that troll a stern talking to. I’d let Mia & Devon handle the mages…because it sounds like they’ve got a good plan.
Mia: So I would first take out my jar of peanut butter a throw it at the troll. This wIll, of course, distract him for quite some time and ease his temper. I mean. Free food man! I would then use the magical Swiss Army knife to turn it into a magical bow and arrow (I’m assuming the mages are at a distance. Mages always attack at a distance) that is impervious to the elements. Take them out and sneak past the troll who is too busy eating peanut butter to even know what happened.
Devon: I would use the mask that disguises me as any race and make myself look like a black mage. Clearly this troll has no beef with the mages, and then I would casually greet the mages as I drift by saying “just doin’ my rounds.” I would have no need for weapons with this disguise.