Meet Christopher Mullens, an MFA candidate in the Puppet Arts Program at University of Connecticut. Christopher is hard at work creating an original piece that will be showcased during the MFA Puppet Festival week in March.
Presenting ECHO, a multi-media immersive spectacle combining puppets, digital projection, and original music in a re-invention of the classic Greek tale of a mountain nymph who finds the true meaning of voice. Echo, an air nymph, can only repeat what other people say to her. “In my story,” Christopher says, “that’s the reason Narcissus rejects Echo.” Heartbroken, she runs into the mountains and fades away, leaving only her voice. Christopher seeks to explore the missing parts of the story, though, and discover what Echo means to us today. “She’s still very much here today in the modern world,” he says. “We’re showing why she’s so important.”
Pictured above is the digital media and design crew setting up five large projectors that will be used during the show. Before setting things up, I got to speak with Christopher about the show and why he decided to create this piece for his MFA project.
THERESE M (TM): What inspired this story?
CHRIS MULLENS (CM): Every artist–and I believe every human–has their voice and is searching for that. What is your voice? What does voice look like to someone who feels like they don’t have one? So many people in the world today don’t have a voice. They have something to say but have no way to express it. I’ve loved mythology since I was a child. I think it’s fascinating, the stories we tell and have told. And thinking about this idea of voice, Echo came to mind. Because here was a character from mythology that could only repeat what people said to her. That got me thinking–What type of voice did Echo have? Not only voice like the sound you hear, but how does she communicate? How did she make that connection with humanity? Did she just become an amazing mime and be able to act things out? What happened if she needed to communicate something much deeper like, “I love you Narcissus”? That just kind of got the ball rolling and we went from there.
TM: What does the term “creative process” mean to you? How did you use it for this production?
CM: Well, I love starting with story–I think that’s horribly important–and how that story is relative and relevant to humanity. How does it connect to us and how does it affect us? So I start with one of those questions and from there, I kind of just let my imagination roll. And then the playful side of the art form comes. I love taking long walks and just blocking, and imagining, and seeing what can be created. Echo is an air nymph in my story. But you can’t show air on stage. You can show objects being affected by air, and that turned into large pieces of fabric. She’s moving through the air and we can show this through the flow of fabric. I use that playful domino effect.
TM: So would you say this is the process you use every time you create pieces?
CM: Different every time. That’s the way it happened with this show. But every project is different and has to be approached differently. The puppets that work for this project are not going to work for the next. You definitely have your style, but each process is a universe in itself.
TM: So far, what has been the biggest challenge?
CM: The biggest challenge for this I think has been gathering the team. Everyone in this department and the university is extraordinarily busy. A project like this is not an easy one. Now we’re in rehearsal seven days a week. Colby Herschel is my composer. We needed to find someone who can sing, someone who can act. If we’re bringing in someone who’s primarily an actor, we have to teach those people how to manipulate a puppet. It’s been a lot of finding quadruple threats and having those take out a large chunk of time.
TM: Who are some of the biggest contributors, the people you’ve found you can absolutely count on? The people who’ve helped you the most?
CM: Oh Colby Herschel. He’s been a partner on this since its conception, he’s given this piece music. He’s made it sing. He’s arranged the string quartet that’s going to be backing us up. He’s just an amazing collaborator to work with. I couldn’t be more grateful to have him.
If you’re thinking about creating an artistic project of any caliber, Christopher says, “Let your imagination go wild, know what you want, don’t be afraid to ask for it, and be ready to collaborate.” Christopher’s conception of the show was limitless at first, and as time progressed, he found an amazing way to work with the materials and space he had been given. It’s important to dream big, and then find a way to fit your ideas into the real world. Christopher says he experienced modifications of his ideas, “because what I want doesn’t always work, let’s say, into physics. Gravity is something we have to think about. For example, I want this person to fly right now, but wait, gravity. Hmm…But parameters give you freedom sometimes, and it’s fun to be able to learn to play within the bookends you’re given.”
ECHO will be presented at the Ballard Institute Theater at the following dates and times:
|March 24 7:30pm||March 31 7:30pm|
|March 25 8:00pm||April 1 8:00pm|
|March 26 2:00pm||April 2 2:00pm & 8:00pm|
|March 30 7:30pm||April 3 2:00pm|
Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students and Connecticut Repertory Theatre subscribers. Tickets will be sold in advance through the Connecticut Repertory Theatre Box Office, located in the lobby of the Nafe Katter Theatre at 820 Bolton Rd, Storrs CT 06269. Tickets may be purchased in person at the Box Office, by calling (860) 486-2113, or online at https://itkt.choicecrm.net/templates/UCRT/index.php?prod=bimp. A $3.00 surcharge will be added to any purchases made online or over the phone. Tickets may be purchased at the Ballard Institute on the day of performance. There will be a limited number of seats. This show is recommended for ages 12 and up.