‘Thirst: Memory of Water’ Dramatizes World Water Crisis with Puppets

Puppet theater has an uncanny ability to take on big themes, and such will be the case when Jane Catherine Shaw, co-director of the Voice 4 Vision Puppet Festival, takes on world drought in “Thirst: Memory of Water,” her newest puppet theater work. It’s a big theme, but Shaw is trying to make it manageable by concentrating on themes of women and water because, as she writes, “around the world women are carrying (literally) the burden of maintaining life by walking for water.” The play, to be presented by NYC’s La MaMa Experimental Theater Club March 25 to April 11, 2010, will nevertheless have an epic feeling.

The play’s narrative is compiled from first-person writings about Ethiopia, China, Bangladesh, Korea, Japan and testimonials from Haiti, Tanzania, and the Jenin Camp on the West Bank. There will also be newspaper accounts from Saudi Arabia, excerpts from the Rig-Veda, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Treatise on Water, and Book Six of The Aenead. Texts have been assembled through The Common Language Project (www.clpmag.org), the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, 1h2o.org, WaterAid America (wateraid.org), All China Women’s Federation (www.womenofchina.cn), Voices for Creative Nonviolence (Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator), and from personal recollections of the all women cast.

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Shaw’s puppet theater productions often tackle scientific topics and she finds the world’s water crisis, arising in part from global climate change as well as water mismanagement, too compelling to ignore. She says, “It has to do with scarcity and conflict–and whether or not water is accepted as a ‘right,’ therefore everyone should have access to it–or as a resource. As a resource it is a commodity that can be withheld or sold at high prices.”

The play concentrates on themes of women and water because, as Shaw writes, around the world women are carrying (literally) the burden of maintaining life by walking for water. This photo shows puppets of Manu and the Fish from the sacred books of the Rig VedaHindu Deluge Story. Later in the play, in a segment about the amniotic sac, a replica of this baby returns as a giant (clear plastic) inflatable baby. Photo by Jane Catherine Shaw.

She continues, “The water crisis is too much material for one play, so I chose to focus on women and water because around the world women are carrying (literally) the burden of maintaining life by walking many miles daily to collect water for their families. The more severe the problems become, the heavier the burden on women-and children.” She found a little known style of puppetry from China in which a three foot rod puppet is held over the head of the puppeteer who is costumed and visible as a performer; “I became intrigued with the image of women performers carrying women puppets who are carrying water.” She adds, “I’m interested in this image and hopeful that it will heighten the drama of the story about women and water.” Shaw also delves into mythologies which relate common understandings of water across cultures. Water as the world’s best solvent or as the best spiritual cleanser is a common theme. She notes that deluge stories are found in many cultures and ritual washing is also a universal practice.

The production has music composed by David Patterson. Choreography is by Hillary Spector. Lighting design is by Jeff Nash. Set design is by Gian Marco Lo Forte. Puppets, costume design and construction, script and concept are by Jane Catherine Shaw in collaboration with the all woman cast of Sophia Remolde, Ora Fruchter, Spica Wobbe, Margot Fitzsimmons, Kristine Haruna Lee and Cybele Kaufmann.

Jane Catherine Shaw in Folk Tales of Asian and Africa, part of 2009 Voice 4 Vision Puppet Festival. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Ms. Shaw began working with puppetry in Atlanta, Georgia at the Center for Puppetry Arts over twenty years ago. As a puppeteer there she gave over 2000 performances. She curated the Center’s Xperimental Puppetry theatre, and co-authored the original main stage production “Dinosaurs.” She created an assortment of puppets for “Youth Without Age, Life Without Death,” in the First Assos Festival in Turkey in 1995. She has worked with Lee Breuer, of Mabou Mines, on “Epidog,” “Peter and Wendy,” “Ecco Porto” and the Obie-winning “Dollhouse.” Ms. Shaw works frequently with Theodora Skipitares on her many productions, in many capacities from puppet construction to performance, including her recent production of “The Traveling Players. Present The Women of Troy.” She traveled to India with Ms. Skipitares and La MaMa founder Ellen Stewart to participate in the Ishara Puppetry Festival in Delhi. She has studied Bunraku sculpting and Kuruma Ningyo manipulation in Charleville-Mezierre with Designated Living National Treasure Nishikawa Koryu IV at the Institut International de la Marionette through a grant from the Institut and UNIMA USA. She recently graduated on the Dean’s list earning an MFA in Directing from Brooklyn College. While there, she directed an experimental version of “The House of Bernarda Alba” which combined live actresses, graphic and giant shadow images as well as life-size puppets.

Performances are March 25 to April 11, 2010 at La MaMa E.T.C. (First Floor Theater), 74A East Fourth Street, in Manhattan’s East Village. Show times are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $18.00 general admission; students/Seniors $13.00. The box office number is (212) 475-7710 and tickets can be purchased online at www.lamama.org.