Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Grand Portage revisited, pt 2 Punch and friends

Early one evening during Rendezvous week at Grand Portage, Mr Punch made his appearance. No modern or PC character he, this was the 18th century antagonist, the street theater Punch of Everyman.

The English street show grew out of the Commedia del Arte tradition of Italian theater. Pulchinello found new homes and audiences outside Italy, becoming the founding character for a variety of puppet traditions throughout Europe. Coming to England in the 17th century as a marionette (though he was already a glove puppet, too, in Italy), Punch as he became known soon moved from a comedy relief character in larger theater pieces at fairs, notably Bartholomew Fair, to a character with his own story, outlook, and personna.

England already had a long tradition of glove puppetry. Punch began life as a glove puppet "out front", doing fight schtick and inviting the public into see the larger marionette productions (you can see such characters in Hogarth look at right side of the photo for the glove puppets, with a painting of Punch with his wife, Joan, in a wheelbarrow).

Although there is a lot of exposition behind what is really going on behind the action of Punch (political and social, the rage of the lower/middling classes to the institutions that controlled their lives, and so on), suffice it to say that Punch represented the "great unwashed" who enjoyed the show for what it was and what Punch was able to do.

Even though the actual crowd at Grand Portage would not have seen something like this, Punch and his puppet cohorts had existed in the New World for a couple centuries, certainly being performed along the Atlantic seacoast according to various accounts (ref. Paul McPharlin's "Puppetry in America"). The audience attending this 18th century performance, albeit in the summer of this year, were definitely engaged. I was a bit apprehensive of the children in the audience, but they were even more vocal and boisterous, encouraging Punch, than their elders.

All in all, I want to thank Ft William Historical Park for "calling my bluff" and encouraging me, as a professional puppeteer in real life, to mount this show for their July rendezvous, and Grand Portage for inviting me to present, too. And most of all, the audience. I believe that puppeteers and reenactors are the two groups who present the best audiences for this type of show, understanding both the context and temper of the times, and the Art.

Next up for Punch, the North American Voyageur's Council Fall Gathering (NAVC) in November at Folle Avoine, Danbury WI.

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