Akron Beacon Journal
Four puppets for `Amahl,' how they work
Dec. 04, 2005

The puppets that Basil Twist has created for Red's new Amahl are life-size, and then some. King Balthazar, dressed in an African-inspired gold-trimmed purple robe and matching cap, has an enormous head.

And to accentuate the fact that King Kaspar is deaf, this dignified figure, dressed in black tuxedo, red sash and many medals, has one oversized ear.

In a clever detail suggested by Jonathan Sheffer, Twist built stacking drawers into King Kaspar's chest. The king can pull them out when he offers to show young Amahl the treasures he is carrying.

Melchior, the third king, is dressed all in white, in a costume modeled on the pope's garments.

The mother wears a soft turtleneck and a long tiered skirt, like the ones every teenage girl was wearing last summer.

All of the costumes are lightly sprinkled with glitter, which helps them show up on stage. Small glassy bits in the puppets' eyes will catch the light, too.

Twist brought with him two puppeteers he has worked with in New York, Lake Simons and Oliver Dalzell, and hired six additional local puppeteers. The puppets are heavy, and their movements are highly choreographed. ``Everyone has to think as one,'' to operate them, said Dalzell, a native of Shaker Heights who now lives in New York.

A team of two puppeteers, standing side by side, will operate each puppet. There's a head control, and a knob at waist level on the backside, allowing the puppeteers to hold and operate the puppets. The puppets have false legs, which help support some of the weight. Small toggles built into the elbows allow a puppeteer to make the puppet's hands move expressively.

While in London recently, Sheffer saw the Anthony Minghella production of Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly in London, which used puppets. He came away convinced that Red's puppeteers -- who will be visible -- should dress completely in black.

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