I was first approached with the idea for a puppet-based theatrical adaptation of the Lost Thing by Greg Lissaman, the director of the Canberra-based youth theatre company Jigsaw Theatre, who had come across my book and was on the lookout for material for a new project. His original idea was to develop a dramatic adaptation within an institutional space outside of a conventional theatre stage; particularly the National Gallery of Australia, which has quite monumental, somewhat Lost-Thing-like architecture, and appropriately located in a city filled with government bureaucrats (as this is a theme of the story). After much workshopping, creative development, construction, rehearsal and liaising with gallery staff, The Lost Thing opened at the NGA in October 2004, and has since played to critical acclaim at the Sydney Arts Festival, and continues to be performed at other venues. For more information, check out Jigsaw’s website, www.jigsawtheatre.com.au
My own contribution to the project is largely the book itself, as a point of departure for a creative team of designers, writers, puppeteers, makers and actors to create their own original interpretation. I was also involved early on as a consultant able to advise on style and story, and later assisted the show’s designer Richard Jeziorny (who I also worked with on The Red Tree) in the painting of sets, which encircle the audience in a jumble of signs and pseudo-industrial surfaces.
The process has been fascinating for me, as someone who is used to working in isolation with a silent, static medium; suddenly there are multiple aspects such as time, space, physical structure, movement, lighting, sound and music. The possible transitions between puppets, live actors, video design and aural environments is surprisingly complex and open to invention. There are also many constraints, as artists working in any medium can appreciate - limited budgets, limited space, limited ‘hands’ and limited time. The practical logistics of a work (such as staging it in a highly restrictive gallery space) and it’s creative intent are not separate but closely interlaced. Such limits present a mixture of hazard and opportunity - from a production point of view, it’s a very lively problem-solving exercise.
Of course, the opportunity to work with such an industrious and creative team was the most rewarding aspect of this project, and to see the introduction of new concepts that transform the original story into a quite different multi-media experience, incorporating puppets of all sizes, live action, sound and video design and an unusual use of space and lighting. As the author, I was able to be an audience member and appreciate how bizarre the story actually is!
The audience is given a behind the scenes look at how the puppets work by production manager Catherine Prosser.
Boy meets Lost Thing. Throughout the show there are various transitions between puppets of different sizes and live actors, sometimes present simultaneously, so there is a constantly shifting of relative scale. The lost thing itself makes strange, elephantine noises, explores with its tentacles and lights up when fed (Christmas decorations being the favourite snack).
Actors and puppeteers Paul O’Keefe, Matthew McCoy and Rachel Whitworth, appearing as ‘technicians’ who silently guide the audience to the theatre space with arrows.