Take a children’s book author, add a contemporary composer, a team of inventive puppeteers, a film maker, a famous stage director, a visionary stage designer and a world class clown and what do you get? A brilliant artistic collaboration where the sum is even greater than the combined talent of the accomplished individuals.
Last Wednesday my husband David, our daughter Zoe, and I headed across the Bay to the Berkeley Rep Theater to see Lemony Snicket’s The Composer is Dead. Originally commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony as a collaboration between author Lemony Snicket, and composer Nathaniel Stookey, it was first presented at Davies Symphony Hall with Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) narrating, and then later published as a picture book with recorded music.
Not content to leave it at a live symphonic performance and then a book, Snicket and Stookey approached Phantom Limb, the extraordinarily innovative puppeteers, to design life-sized humanoid/instrumental characters to play the members of a symphonic orchestra, and then collaborated with Tony Taccone of Berkeley Rep to help stage an adaptation for theater that would include interactive film and the brilliant theatrical clowning of Geoff Hoyle.
The result was a hilarious and stunning theater experience with Hoyle interacting both with puppet characters in the film background and then with the actual puppets in a full sized orchestra pit against a lush and layered Victorian-style set. Hoyle twists his inspector’s mustache and constantly reminds the audience in a comic trill that they are experiencing “the magic of living, breathing theater.” Meant to be a joke on pretentiousness, the full comic effect is that it is also the undeniable truth. Gathering all of these talents and elements on one stage is truly magical and makes me hope to see many more artistic collaborations to come. It’s an exciting time to be an artist, whatever your medium might be, whether it’s words, notes, resin, paint, concepts or the human body. Perhaps we all should try a little collaboration this year and see what kinds of magic we can unleash.