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On the Theater of the Marionettes

The operating table where Mr K, the protagonist will gradually become a soulless puppet.

Kleist's essay "On the Theater of the Marionettes" is both a warning of what happens to us, humans, if we lose connection to our own souls in a society that increasingly dehumanizes us, and an offer of hope of how to solve this predicament.


Chapter One: The Garden of Eden.

Chapter Two: My performing body

Chapter Three: The Gliedermann

Chapter Four: The Ideal Actor

Chapter Five: The Last Fall

Chapter Six: Paradise Regained


Direction, Design, Performance: Patricia O'Donovan

Text: Patricia O'Donovan with some quotes from Kleist

Stage and Prop Construction: Mario Keizman

Assistant Dramaturgist: Yael Citron

Music: Ittay Binnun

Production: AMBULO Theater with the assistance of the Pays Lottery Agency for Arts and Culture

Performance history

First public show: Guest of Pandora Collective.Train Theater of Jerusalem, November 2016

Opening: Jerusalem Festival of the Arts. March 2017


Note: the following writing is still unfinished.

1- The Warning:

For Kleist the soul is a force, a vix motrix, a force that drives us into action. If we let ourselves be driven by external forces in order to fit, please and conform, we can become marionettes...soulless beings that move without thinking in the realm of mechanical forces. All that a marionette needs to get up on its feet against the pull of gravity is a force that pulls it from its center of gravity. Then it can dance its non human dance... full of grace, so natural,light, antigravity....ideal. Yet soulless. The marionette represents the stage when we have lost all human trace: The Last Chapter of the History of the World.

Humanity began in the Garden of Eden, says Kleist, that was the First Chapter, where we were created in a state of unity with nature. Like a bear, like all animals and children,the bear lives in an eternal edenic state, its soul sits on the center of gravity, and moves all the body into action as a unit...Everything the bear does, says , thinks, feels is the results of a harmonious unity of soul and body.

Humans have a problem since we the expulsion from Eden....Our souls shift easily away from the centers of gravity...and the forces that move us into action are not our inner beliefs so much as the external, social forces of conformity, acceptance, interest. We have lost unity and harmony, balance.

But , Kleist says we can regain them by creating a new, personal sense of unity of connection with our own inner natures. We can be true to ourselves when our souls are in our centers of gravity.

And this he expresses through a metaphor: a puppeteer moving the center of gravity of the marionette.

Why the marionette?

Because Kleist finds in the marionette the perfect object he is looking for to express the conflict between actions and intentions in our lives. A marionette represents the body that can act, move... and the puppeteer represents the moving force,the intentions that come before the actions.

The marionette is made from parts to which strings can be attached to pull the puppet upwards against the pull of gravity. But there is one point in the body where only one string is enough to keep the body in a normal, balanced motion and that is the center of gravity.

Why the center of gravity?

The center of gravity is in itself a metaphor. It represents all the body.

Kleist studied physics and mathematics at the University of Frankfurt and he knew what the center of gravity means. It is a point that behaves as if all the body were concentrated there. All the weight of the body in one point...and it takes only one force acting there to lift it up and move it without falling.

In the marionette pulled up from the center of gravity, the limbs are free to move as pendulums and they follow the a unit, a whole body response to just one pull. One force can activate the whole body.

He wrote in German and the term Kleist used in his essay for marionette was Gliedermann, that in German means a unit made from separate parts that move together, a term King Frederik II of Prussia called his soldiers. A big marionette, made from separate parts moved by the force of the King's soul....

So we have a human like figure, made from separate parts that can all move together as a harmonious unit when activated from the center of gravity, dangling easily in space, limbs following the torso as integral parts of the body. This is the "ideal actor" the one that moves as per request....without thinking....

Futhermore the marionette can be separated from its "soul" or moving force....Whenever the puppeteer leaves the puppet , it collapses, a dead object pulled down by the force of gravity.

2- The offer of hope

His metaphor of the soul of the puppeteer in the center of gravity of the marionette is also a formula for the unity of the artist and his art. For the reconnection between soul and body.

For me and based on my own life, on my own blending with objects as parts of my own body since I was 3 years old, the marionette Kleist speaks about can be any body that is made from fragments put together. We can pick up the fragments we want/need/chose/like/prefer and define our selves as we wish. In my my case the puppet that I manipulate since I was a child and that helps me think as I speak, is a part of my body. Like a prosthetic, a puppet in my hand merges as a part of my body and since the age of 3 my sense of self integrated it into my " me". The boundaries are lose, fluid. It is a body in performance that I need.

So if the marionette and me the puppeteer, make up this bigger Marionette we are a hybrid body part flesh, part wood with one soul, mine....with one center of gravity that-as in many objects- can be in the space between us. Doing puppet theater, in the act of doing puppet theater, the hybrid comes to life....a fragmented body that feels complete, harmonious, balanced....just as it was once in Eden.

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