Next week, award-winning puppeteer Joseph Cashore will be performing in Northwestern’s Christ Chapel. Cashore’s marionette show provides a unique way to experience the fine arts. He will perform at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 8.
Cashore will be performing “Life in Motion,” which features a series of short scenes inspired by everyday life, set to music by composers such as Beethoven, Copland, Strauss and Vivaldi. The themes he presents in his show are universal; audience members from all different walks of life can relate and connect with what’s happening on stage.
“I try to arrange the performance so it’s kind of like a roller coaster,” Cashore said. “It’s an emotional journey you go on; some of them are sensitive, and some of them are humorous,” Cashore said.
Cashore’s experience with marionettes began when he was young. A 10-year-old Cashore found himself enamored with a marionette hanging in a New Jersey gift shop. He asked an employee if he could try moving the puppet on his own, and she refused. Rejected but not defeated, Cashore returned home and made his first marionette himself.
“It wasn’t a very good marionette, but every once in a while, just by accident, it would move just right, and in that instant it would look like it was alive,” Cashore said.
The lifelike movements and emotive expression that he could achieve with the marionettes intrigued Cashore. After graduating from Notre Dame University with a degree in fine arts, he began to create more marionettes and perform shows with them. Cashore’s keen ability to bring his puppets to life would make Geppetto proud.
Cashore pours large amounts of time and effort into the creation of his puppets and their controls. The extensive detail he puts into both is undeniably brilliant.
He said his process for creating the puppets begins with conceptualizing a theme for who or what the character is, what it will represent and the different positions that the puppet has to be in to communicate the theme. He then creates scale drawings of the character; from those he develops pieces for the puppet. Cashore uses a variety of materials when constructing his puppets. He quickly realized that wood was too heavy to achieve the intricate movements he desired, so he moved on to other more lightweight materials such as boat foam and neoprene that could offer him more finesse with the puppets.
“I cut the individual pieces out … then judiciously place lead weights in certain areas to achieve realistic movements when performing,” Cashore said.
Cashore is an adept puppet creator who also engineers complex and efficient controls for his puppets. The traditional airplane design for controlling puppets proved too limited for the expectations Cashore had for his puppets. He decided to custom-engineer all of his controls for each puppet based on the movements he wanted it to perform.
“The design of the control is an organic process of problem solving, and the way it turns out is the way it turns out,” Cashore said. “If the movement is right, the audience can start believing in the life of the character on stage.”
He uses wire as a base for the framework of the controls because it is more pliable and offers more options than wood. When it comes to the strings his puppets are attached to, Cashore said that he tries to use as few as possible, but some of the puppets have more than 20 strings.
Despite the extensive amount of effort that he puts into his work, Cashore is dedicated to the bigger picture.
“It’s what the totality of the piece means,” Cashore said. “I hope people are totally unaware of what went into it and only feeling with the puppet and the movement. If it’s done right, they can ignore me and the controls at the top and only watch the action on the stage.”
Viewing the Cashore Marionettes perform is surreal in a hauntingly self-reflective way. The puppets move with a subtle realism that makes it possible to suspend one’s disbelief for a moment and see life in the inanimate. The experience humanizes the puppets; it creates a relatable connection for audience members to see a bit of themselves in the characters on stage.
Cashore gets the concepts for the themes of his performance from many places. The title of his performance, “Life In Motion,” alludes to the way he draws ideas from common situations and real-life stories, yet the classical music that provides the background for many of his scenes also offers inspiration. Several of the scenes he performs were generated in his mind while listening to songs that moved him emotionally.
This performance will be the second time that Cashore has visited Orange City. In 2011, Cashore came and performed in the Proscenium Theatre. Janine Calsbeek of the Orange City Arts Council said that the experience the first time was brilliant.
“It’s hard to believe (the performance) would be so touching since they are just marionettes, but it is,” Calsbeek said.
Cashore’s hard work and dedication are evident in the sincerity his performances communicate.
Tickets to the performance can be purchased from the Northwestern College theater and music departments. General admission is $10 for adults and $7 for students. For more information on Cashore and his marionettes, visit cashoremarionettes.com or orangecityarts.net.