Pardon the cliché, but it was (in fact) a dark and stormy night in summer. The year was 1818 and Mary Shelley sat around a blazing fire with a group of (now) literary legends telling ghost stories. Little did she know that her tale of scientific transgression would spawn thousands of monstrous reproductions in the centuries to come.
Despite our associations with a green-skinned, square-headed, bolt-necked zombie, Frankenstein's monster now comes in many shapes and sizes. Currently he's about 4 feet tall and looks nothing like Boris Karloff. In the small-scale, Tim Burton-esque world he inhabits, however, he definitely stands out.
Beginning this weekend and through Oct. 3, he'll make public appearances at Salvage Vanguard Theater in the Trouble Puppet Theater Company's revivification of its 2008 production of ‘Frankenstein.' But it's not just a re-mounting, and it's not for young kids.
Puppetry is an art form with a hefty heritage, one that Connor Hopkins — Austin's puppet-master extraordinaire — takes seriously without being stern.
Hopkins, the slightly bashful and entirely endearing founder of Trouble Puppet Theater, introduced himself — ‘Hi, I'm Connor, I make puppets' — to a crowd of enthusiastic Austinites a few weeks ago at a preview for the show.
Humble yet bubbling with enthusiasm, Hopkins wants to share the joy of puppets with the world. After explaining the basic mechanics and giving a demonstration, Hopkins invited the crowd to step right up and give puppetry a try.
With two people controlling the same body, it takes serious teamwork to make a puppet come to life. While one person is the brain of the operation, controlling the head and right arm, the second puppeteer is responsible for instilling a sense of gravity. The bottom half of the puppet needs to stay anchored to the floor; it's a lot harder than it looks. But when done right, as the talented troupe of Trouble Puppeteers does it, the effects are nothing short of magical.
Since Hopkins started the company in 2004, Trouble Puppet has gradually built up a following of ardent allies. Relying on mostly volunteer labor and community support, the company is a paradigm of Austin's collective theatrical spirit. The Trouble Puppet workshop, in the back corner of the Salvage Vanguard warehouse, is saturated with an infectious spirit of generosity and play. And Hopkins wants to extend the spirit beyond those walls.
He's been awarded scholarships to attend the prestigious National Puppetry Conference for several years and he's invited puppeteers from all over the country to descend on Austin next spring for a ‘Puppet Pandemic' fundraising event. When he's not in the middle of a production, Hopkins hosts weekly workshops on puppet construction. Sticks, wires, masking tape and papier-mâché feature prominently in the process.
Like the ambitious doctor in ‘Frankenstein,' Hopkins devotes himself to bringing the inanimate to life — with much less dire results. And though his ‘Frankenstein' puppets are elegant and graceful, as Hopkins pointed out, ‘you can do a puppet show with a rag and a stick and still make people cry.'
‘Frankenstein: The Trouble Puppet Show'
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays through Oct. 3
Where: Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Road
The show is created for adults. No one under 12 years old will be admitted.