Moving ‘Objects’ create new form of theater

By Jim Wittmann

A new variation of puppet shows are growing in popularity involving lamps flying around and mayhem hitting the stage.This was evident in a new show called the Objects in Motion Festival at the Building Stage, 1044 W. Kinzie St., which ran from March 14 to April 5.

The organization Plasticene is a group that put together shows holding or moving ordinary objects like lamps, chairs, tables and bicycles, presenting them with flashing lights and playing rhythmic noises or sometimes music in a theater atmosphere. The group is comprised of 13 members and has helped pave the way for these new forms of theater.

Plasticene formed to combat their boredom with traditional scripted plays and as an opportunity to do what they wanted with art and theater, said Brian Shaw, Plasticene member and faculty member in Columbia’s Theater Department.

The 13-member group performed at the Objects in Motion Festival and will perform again on April 16 for the Sketchbook Festival at the Building Stage with a new performance called “The Jift.”

The difference between puppet shows and Objects in Motion is that the puppets replace ordinary objects and the show does not always have dialogue. Shaw said this form of theater-shows originated in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

The group doesn’t like to create shows with the traditional narrative scripts trail of who, what, where and when type plays. Instead, they like to experiment with other means to get the emotions stirring in

their audience.

“How does the audience become conscious of what that object is and how they feel about it, and we absolutely play around with that idea,” Shaw said. “How do you introduce the object to an audience that is not rolled out like Marilyn Monroe in a birthday cake, and that is what we tackle.”

The group likes to play around with the different memories or thoughts that an item can provoke, Shaw said, which is what scripted plays with dialogue do, but in a slightly different way.

Shaw said it’s interesting how the members have figured a simplistic way of presenting the objects in a theatrical performance.

“The show is so simple, it’s almost insulting,” Shaw said. “We just add these things so simply little piece by little piece and then start to mess around with that, and you see that with puppet work.  In some ways we are doing puppet work.”

Blake Montgomery organized the Objects in Motion Festival, an event celebrating the art of objects and how they can be used in a scripted show. He said he likes the idea of creating a play that would feature objects instead of people or puppets.

“These are perhaps not the types of things you would see on a daily basis on a normal theater that you go to,” Montgomery said. “I think that it is important for us to continue to ask, other than your straightforward written play, what is theater, and how can the performance excite me?”

Montgomery said these shows need the audience to not only embrace them, but to actually show up. It is not big crowds that get him nervous, but the smaller ones.

“You get nervous when there are five people in the audience,” Montgomery said. “After 15 to 20 people it becomes an audience, and that’s the reason you do it, so the more people makes it much easier. The scary shows [are] when you can individually pick out 10 to five people in an audience, because it seems like they

remain individuals.”

Actor and puppeteer Joe Mazza, who participated in the Objects in Motion show, said he enjoyed the experience of the festival and noted a lot can be learned from these types of shows.

“The thing I liked about it was it brings together all these people that are doing relatively the same work, but approach things very very differently,” Mazza said. “It’s great to bring people together in a creative environment, it’s really priceless.”