The Way of Art - puppetmakers at work!
Over its 30+ year history, Matrix Theatre Company in Detroit has conveyed powerful stories through theatre and puppetry. One of their keystone achievements are a number of giant puppets made out of papier-mâché. Matrix has produced puppets of key figures in the social justice movement, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez. But despite the theatre’s large collection of puppets, they had not saved much documentation about the process they used to make them.
In the summer of 2015, Matrix was commissioned by the Detroit Institute of Arts to build a 10-foot puppet of painter Diego Rivera, as part of the Institute’s Diego & Frida in Detroit exhibition. The founder and owner of Matrix Theatre, Dr. Shaun Nethercott, hired me to film the creative process and prepare a how-to video to capture the planning stages, construction, and display of the puppet at the DIA’s Rivera Court gallery.
I met with Shaun and her creative team and started by taking footage of their discussions and initial sketches. It was at these sessions that we determined which parts of the puppet-building process were essential to be featured in the video.
The team worked on the puppet onsite at the DIA for two weeks, during which I captured footage of the different pieces as they were made. Working as a solo crew, I alternated between filming the four different pieces – the sculpting of the head in clay, sculpting of the hands, building the skeleton structure, and tailoring the clothes.
After the puppet was completed and delivered, I interviewed all three of the artists who collaborated on it. Their dialogue and recollection was a key part to start shaping the video. I completed a first rough cut for Dr. Nethercott to review within three weeks. However, after meeting to review the first cut, Dr. Nethercott and I realized that we had a lot of unused, helpful footage that could be used to create much more than just a how-to-video. The creative process for the Diego puppet ended up encompassing a lot of the challenges that working artists face in the pursuit of their craft – long hours of hard work, unexpected problems, needing to adapt and improvise, and of course the satisfaction and delivering a finished product and the impact it has on audiences.
We agreed to record additional footage to talk in detail about some of the challenges that the team faced, and to include how they were able to solve them despite budget and time limitations. The end result was a 22-minute short documentary, which we named The Way of Art.
We are excited to share this piece to highlight community art programs and Metro Detroit artists. Look for it soon in upcoming Michigan film festivals!