Have you ever attended a performance of the Cashore Marionettes? These doll-sized characters come to life on stage thanks to the talented work of puppeteer Joseph Cashore. He brings his unique form of theatre to The Buckman Center on Friday, April 13th, at 7 p.m., where he'll debut the new work, Life in Motion.
Over the course of his 25-year career, Cashore has created more than 150 marionettes, puppets that are controlled from above by strings or wires. As the manipulator, he's also on stage, but you are never aware of his presence as he weaves his story with the puppet. He says the characters you see on stage today are far more complex than earlier works, a testiment to his development as a craftsman and observer of human nature.
Cashore has always been interested in exploring the universal themes of humanity: love, compassion, sorrow, desire. In one piece, he acts out the gentle interaction between a mother and her baby, in another it's the frustration and discovery a child makes while doing school work. Audiences are drawn into his world by Cashore's lyrical movement, with each piece set to classical music. (The shows are best for school-aged children and adults.)
Cashore tours the U.S. with his wife, Wilma, performing up to 150 dates a year. Wilma handles the business side of their tour company, but she also does the "light, sound, props, and assists with the puppetry in the show," says Joseph. In addition, she acts as a soundingboard for her husband, making sure each piece rings true. I spoke with Cashore from his home in Pennsylvania about his upcoming performance.
How do you get such subtle movements manipulating an inanimate object?
Each marionette is designed to do what it does, so the mechanics for each are different. With the old ariplane control-style wiring, I couldn't get the subtleties of movement that gives the illusion of my character being alive. I like using wire because it gives me more control. The levers, pulleys, and mechanical devices, make it work but getting the system coordinated is really quite the challenge.
What makes your work interesting is its incorporation of all the arts: acting, dance, lighting, painting, choregraphy. That's a lot to consider when developing a piece.
Yes, most vignettes take an average of six months to create. I'll come across an idea that I want to explore and being to make the puppet to act out the idea. It's a discovery process, really. I make the puppet's head out of a cast mold of neoprene (a hard rubber material) and sew each costume. During that creative time, I'm also working out problems of control, trying to get the character to convey what I have in mind. Sometimes, I'll wake up in the middle of the night with solutions to a problem that I've been grappling with.
Did you ever envision your career having the longevity you've achieved?
Not really. I started out as a painter, and fell into this out of my love for the art form. I feel very fortunate that we've had such good response everywhere we've been. I feel very lucky.