What it Is

Welcome to the online development log for the The Puppeteers, an original comedy by the contemporary commedia dell'arte troupe Zuppa del Giorno. Here you will find lots of research, disjointed rambling and spit-balling, all of which has led to the creation of a show.
Want to book it?
The Puppeteers are available for mid-size venues, with sufficient time to remount! It's a show that can be customized to any area, any audience. Simply contact director Jeff Wills on email!

October 7, 2010

Simulacra & Pareidolia

sim·u·la·crum  (smy-lkrm, -lkrm)
n. pl. sim·u·la·cra (-lkr, -lkr)
1. An image or representation.
2. An unreal or vague semblance.

[Latin simulcrum (from simulre, to simulate; see simulate) + -crum, n. suff.]
Found here.
pareidolia  (ˌpæraɪˈdəʊlɪə) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]

the imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist, as in considering the moon to have human features
[C20: from para- 4  + eidolon ]
Found here.

One of the ideas I mentioned in our first discussion about themes for the show had to do with these two concepts - our tendency to "recognize" faces in objects, and our tendency to create objects with a "face" of some kind, even such objects as don't require one.  I think these are intrinsically related, and that both are pretty ancient aspects of human behavior.

First, simulacra.  I'm sort of assigning this word to the phenomenon of building faces into things (borrowing from the gnarly Skull-a-Day 'blog), when in fact now-a-days it actually refers more to poor imitations.  If someone can find a better word, please be awesome and share it.  I think we put faces on things for three basic reasons: subconscious patterning, a craving for identity, and finally a creation/recognition impulse:
  1. In terms of the patterns in which we think, some of our first acts of comprehension come from those faces thrust inquisitively into our cribs.  In other words, our earliest and best-framed visual interactions are with faces.  Those interactions are even coded, by facial expressions, and it's the first code we get to crack.  That becomes a recognizable pattern which we reinforce throughout our lives, trying to figure people out, so when we make something ourselves we tend to include a design that incorporates a similar pattern of some kind.
  2. Identity is very important to us, whether we contemplate it consciously or not.  Every time we make something, we want to sign it, put our stamp on it, say we were here.  One of the first drawings any of us learn is the circle, lines and dots of a face.
  3. When we make something, we're recreating an act of parents and gods.  It's a natural impulse that lives in all of us - to create - and along with it comes the idea of a piece of ourselves travelling out past our influence, having a life of its own.  It should share our features in some way, be made in our own form.  It should recognize us as its maker.
Many of the same instincts apply to our tendency toward seeing faces in things with whose creation we had little or nothing to do - pareidolia.  We see faces in woodgrain, water stains, toast.  You name it.  Of course we're inclined toward this for a variety of reasons, but what interests me about it are a few possibilities outside the realm of anything logical:
  • Maybe we're more inclined to pareidolia when we're lonely, or feel great need of some kind.
  • What if, instead of seeing faces because of a need, we're seeing them because we in some way recognize an object in front of us in some personal way?
  • What if pareidolia leads to a relationship, the way the supposed recognition involved in "love at first sight" can?
At any rate, these are ideas about human behavior that I find some relevance in when thinking in terms of puppetry, especially with puppets made from found objects.  Plus I've been wondering about how we could maybe extend the Zuppa trends of playing multiple characters and the in-joke of playing scenes with ourselves to include puppets or other inanimate objects.  That's often all a clown piece consists of.  In this scene from Benny & Joon (derived from Chaplin and Keaton) the hat, snot and handkerchief are all scene partners.  In fact, one of the classic Arlecchino lazzi has to do with eating an imaginary fly, who offers all the obstacle and emotional challenge a scene could need.

Some of these ideas of mine have come in the form of "lines" for some eccentric character or other who is keyed in to these concepts in a particular way.  Not dictating anything here!  Just sharing them as a furtehr possibility on how we could go from ideas to actions:
  • "You think you're funneling some life into a dead thing, no?  It's a common misconception.  That 'thing' has its own life, without you.  You're just invading it for a time."
  • "We see faces in everything.  Why should we be so surprised when one of them sees us right back?"

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