The Yak sat down with Maria Tri Sulistyani (Ria) Founder and Co-Artistic Director of Papermoon Puppet Theatre to discuss the art of puppetry . . . and what it takes to bring puppets to life on stage.
Ria, what inspired you to start making puppets and performing with them?
The idea of creating puppets came about organically. In 2006, we established Papermoon as an art studio for children. We wanted to provide them with another way to experience visual and performing arts, and puppetry offered the perfect combination of these two art forms. As we continued to grow, we began to explore puppetry in more depth.
How do you convey such a range of emotions through your puppets, making the audience forget that they are being operated live on stage?
In 2009, I realised why it is easier for audiences to feel moved by movies than it is for them to experience the same emotions in theatre. This realisation became my calling, and we strive to explore this element in our performances. We aim to create emotional experiences that resonate with our audiences by telling stories that connect with them. Puppetry is not magic; we never conceal our puppeteers because it is through their energy and breath that the puppets come alive. The audience invests their belief in the puppet’s life as soon as our puppeteers share their energy and breath with them.
What do you consider to be the secret to great puppetry?
Great puppetry encompasses many elements. What I love most about puppetry is how it emerged as an art form in different cultures, using a variety of materials to tell unique stories. There is never one reason why one puppetry style is superior to another.
Did you make up stories with dolls when you were young, and did this inspire you to become a puppeteer?
I played with paper dolls until I was thirteen years old, building their homes using old cassettes belonging to my brothers.
Who creates the puppets, and how are the characters developed?
There are seven members of Papermoon Puppet Theatre. First, I discuss the concept with my co-artistic director, Iwan Effendi. Then, I write the story and share it with the others. Some sketches and ideas will emerge, and our technical engineer, Anton Fajri, and Iwan will create the puppet structures. The characters are developed during rehearsals.
When you handle your puppets offstage and put them to bed at night, do you show them the same respect that you would your children? It’s a curious relationship.
Our puppets are just puppets, but I choose their names as I would my children’s names. It takes time, and I often consult Sanskrit dictionaries to find meaningful names.
Could you describe your relationship with your puppets?
Our relationship with our puppets is crucial to our performances. Without them, there would be no puppet theatre. Each puppet is born for a specific story and has the ability to speak, whisper, and even shout. Puppets have allowed us to meet many people, visit many places, and explore many possibilities. They celebrate people’s lives and the stories that exist in this universe.
What draws audiences to the magic of a puppet show, and what makes Papermoon different?
Puppets never pretend; the stage is their life. In our silent puppet performances, we allow the audience to invest their imagination and stories on stage, creating a unique experience. This approach has brought Papermoon to a different level in terms of audience engagement.
Is there a God of puppets, and what do you consider the magic of puppetry?
I’m not sure what you mean by the God of puppets. For us, there is no magic in what we do. It’s the result of passion, hard work, stubbornness, and love that creates a small but meaningful place to share stories through puppetry.