Is the Puppet the Slave or the Master of the Role Cast for him / herself?
Prof. Dr. Sevda Sener -
Puppet plays have a specific effect on both children and adults: considering the case from both the child’s and the adult’s point of view, it can be observed that the absolute distance between the puppet figures – which are obviously not the reality itself but the imitations of it – and the audience is flexible; if the story is fictionalized with mastery and performed with skill, this distance extends and the puppet characters can be perceived as real persons. This renders the puppet plays a characteristic which enables them to move people while making them laugh, and to make them think while touching them.
Due to the structure of the play, puppets in the puppet plays hold within themselves the feature of producing laughter as a result of the mechanical quality in their movements. It is well-known that movements like falling which are not pre-planned and take us by surprise make people laugh. In Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times, after continuous tightening screws in an automobile factory his continuing the same movement walking on the street is given as an example of mechanical behaviors causing laughter. On the other hand, when mechanical movement is perceived/made to be perceived as a limitation hindering desires, it has the power of awakening and touching the audience as well. Standing up, the ability to stand up, of the fallen certainly makes the child spectator happy. We can say that the ability of resistance of the puppet confined to its performer strengthens the child profoundly.
While watching puppets, we accept that they move by themselves as the rules of the game require. Just like we agree to the actor’s in the theatre plays becoming the character of the role he acts. The joy of the play results from this voluntary illusion because we know that we are watching both the play character and the actor who acts as him/her. The puppet figure’s being not only the imitation of the play character but also the actor who acts as him/her in the theatre play, in short being the imitation of the imitation, doubles the joy of the illusion.
In some puppet plays, at the end of or during the performances, the performers’ appearing side by side with the figures handled is one of the best examples of the method of making people think by surprising them. In this case, the relationship of the puppet and the puppeteer fictionalizes its own story. It seems like the puppet figure is resisting the string/rod/hand of the puppeteer handling it and there is a disguised struggle going on between the puppeteer and his/her puppet. Plays where this struggle is emphasized and the puppet rebels against the willpower of the puppeteer are more appealing for the audience. The situation of the puppet who acts like the master of the role cast for him by the puppeteer, but who in fact is the slave, is equally dramatic as it is funny. This brings to my mind the question of whether we are the slaves or the masters of the roles cast for us in life, just like the puppets. It reminds me of the conditions of the location and time slot we are in and the role imposed upon us by our family, our society, and our own biological and psychological structure. I look at the puppets and think about to what extent we can resist to the strings of the rigid beliefs, traditions, prohibitions, customs and habits which govern us. I go one step further and realize that if we make use of our minds and knowledge, we can change our conditions and become the masters, not the slaves, of the roles cast for us. The ability of the puppet to resist his/her ruler becomes the criteria for my determination of resistance. His/Her defeat defines the limit of my vulnerability.
When I address the case in terms of the art of drama, I see that the heroes of Ancient tragedies and Shakespearean tragedies are not contented with only being the masters of their roles, but take the risk of mortal combats for new masterships. However, realistic drama heroes neither settle for being the slaves of their roles nor can manage to undertake a new role in accordance with the conditions of time. Nowadays, plays covering the story of the ones squeezed under the role cast for them by the force of money and power are written. The tragedy of the ones not being able to rebel, being deceived and exhausting their energy with futile bursts of anger are underlined. We have seen examples showing that puppet theatre can get meaningful results by not only settling for fictions easily amusing and touching but also laying hands on problems of this scale. Witnessing the success of puppetry artists using all their skills strengthens our love for this art with respect. I am repeating my question: is the puppet the slave or the master of the role cast for him/herself?