the mare’s progress IV

With the head complete, here is the second Mari Lwyd puppet as assembled so far. The ribcage and front legs have yet to be added. The legs will just be held in position under the shroud by the second puppeteer rather than attached to the shoulders, an arrangement that will make the manipulation more fluid. I think there will be no back legs. The photographs show the transparency to good effect. I haven’t added the ears. I felt that they cluttered the shape and made the head less skull-like. I may yet change my mind about this. Right now everything is by way of trying things out.

The puppet responds well in the hand and is a good performer. The head was more difficult to make than I’d anticipated because I wanted it to have a ‘soft’ open/close effect for the jaws, and that took lots of trial and error. I got it to work eventually by hinging the lower jaw to the neck rather than to the skull. The jaws open and close automatically when the  head is moved into the correct positions, though they can be made to work manually in any position by a second puppeteer.  The smooth motion of the jaws is only possible because of the light materials. Anything heavier would have required a different solution. Anyway, it’s turned out well. Spotting that plastic mesh in the craft store turned out to be a serendipitous moment.

Puppets are at their best when true to their nature and honest in their manufacture. Here everything is on show, from the construction of the figure to the puppeteers operating it. I think it likely this Mari will be lighting/camera friendly, which is something I’ve tried to keep to the front of my mind while making it. Above all I hope it will have the quality that I need most from it, which is the one I would need from any actor in a significant role, and that’s ‘presence’.

Above: seen in this close-up the the head is a hard-edged and unyielding construct of plastic mesh and wire, and yet at only a little distance… as shown in the photographs above it… the materials dissolve into something far more insubstantial and atmospheric.

6 thoughts on “the mare’s progress IV

  1. The full length photos show the puppet and it’s possibilities very well – I can see how, in the hands of an experienced puppeteer, it could really come alive and be a powerful presence. There must be so many decisions to make during this process, but it looks like you’re enjoying it!

    • I’m satisfied that this is developing into a puppet that has lots of performance character and visual potential, given that I’m playing with ideas and trying to keep things fluid. There were only the briefest of sketches, as I was determined not to lock things down too quickly. For me, Phil, making puppets takes much the same route as making art. There has to be lots of ‘playtime’!

    • It’s an interesting process, making a puppet. Here the intention is to conjure a Mari Lwyd, a Welsh folk tradition variety of hobby-horse. And to complicate things further, what the audience will see on the stage is supposed to represent the central character’s fears stemming from his memory of an early encounter with a Mari Lwyd, rather than the Mari itself.

      The wonderful thing about puppets is that they give such free-rein to the imagination, both to the makers and the watchers. Nevertheless I have to produce something that is plausible within the context of the narrative, and moreover has the capacity to instil a sense of dread. Horse-like, without actually being a horse. While I’ve carefully researched horse anatomy in preparation for this project, the research is really just to give me a comfort-zone of knowledge within which to work. Anatomy flies out of the window as I judge by eye what will look right on the stage.

      Once the puppet has reached a state of completion, I’ll be better able to judge whether the neck is the right length in relation to everything else. Like you I look at it and sometimes judge it to be too long, and sometimes it looks just right. But I know that may change when the front legs are added. Until the puppet gets onto the rehearsal stage and either works or doesn’t, it’s best to consider it a puppet-in-progress. Right now I’m hoping that the neck isn’t too short, because it would take a lot more work to lengthen it!

      Glad you’re enjoying watching the process of making the puppet.

  2. She looks especially nice in the top two images on this post. Her neck looks a bit long, but I’m not that familiar with with proportions of a horse – I’m sure you have carefully figured all that out – maybe she needs to be a bit more fleshed out or finished for it to look “right” to my eye. You are a busy imaginative person! So nice to see what you are doing.
    Happy Summer,

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