Long ago, before the turn of the century, I was a puppeteer. A love affair with the Muppets since childhood led me to initiate a puppet team at our church. Learning and coaching as we went along, I made puppets, crafted a puppet theatre, wrote scripts, worked the puppets, and even took a few teach-yourself ventriloquism lessons via cassette tape.
If you’ve watched puppeteers like Jeff Dunham, you know that a puppet can get away with a lot that the puppeteer never would. The power of a puppeteer is truly magical – they can put words in someone else’s mouth! To this day, a goofy-looking homemade puppet named Charlie Churchmouse, approaching his thirtieth birthday, sits high on a shelf over my desk, supervising my writing.
From puppets, I ventured into drama. I tried my hand at acting, directing, stage-managing, costume-sewing, and script-writing. The latter is the one that allows you to choose what people will say. When you hear them say it from the stage and witness the audience’s response, it has a certain intoxication factor akin to puppeteering.
Recently, thanks to the internet, I had a hoot watching a play I wrote being performed live in Springfield, Missouri. The unsuspecting actors, having diligently learned their lines but probably unable to tell you the name of the playwright, were pouring themselves into their characters with no idea that the person who put those words together was watching from a thousand miles away. Weird, eh?
Anyway. In this spring’s Prairie Players production, I’m tackling a new theatre role I haven’t tried before: prompter. The prompter is the one who sits just off-stage with eyes on the script, feeding the actors a line if they draw a blank. Naturally, everyone hopes the prompter’s services are never needed. Like insurance. I figured it would be a fun way to be involved without the stress of memorizing all those lines and being in the spotlight.
It occurred to me that the prompter also has a certain amount of power. Who says I have to give the line from the script? I could make something up, shake things up a bit. Write a more interesting story. Pick my own ending. Wreak a little havoc. And if they refuse to say the lines I provide, I could pull out the ol’ ventriloquism act. I’ve come full circle!
Oh, the power.
Now that I’ve confessed this control-freakishness, director Rosa Albanese Rawlings is no doubt all a-tremble. Never fear, Rosa! I am merely putting a healthy dose of fear into the hearts of Lisa Marie Tessier, Nettie Neudorf, Wayne Leoppky, Danica Turcotte, Jordan Thiessen, and Vicki Hooke. Once they’re on to me, your actors will learn their lines so well they won’t need me at all. Why, I’ll probably be able to sit backstage snoozing or writing my next column while your show goes on and the audience dissolves in gales of laughter.
Then again, you’ll never know unless you’re there. Don’t miss the hilarious “Til Beth Do Us Part” at the William Glesby Centre, April 26, 27, and 28 at 8:00 p.m.
I’ll be the one you can’t see.