Beowulf told with puppets gets me thinking about performance

Thanks to a Google alert I have set up for “Beowulf poem” (leaving off “poem” would net me nothing but updates about a company with the same name), I came across a puppet version of Beowulf that’s currently in the works.

As you can read here, this version of the poem has been in the works for more than a year.

The Hawk Rock Theatre of Putnam County, NY is putting the show on, and judging from the pictures of the puppets and the props, it looks like everything in the show has been carefully crafted. In fact, even the script was adapted with care. Apparently local English scholar Kate Mackie did the adaptation. And it sounds like they couldn’t have had a better writer on the project, since Mackie first read Beowulf in Old English when she was 19. I don’t even think I knew what Old English was when I was 19 (aside from the common idea that what Shakespeare wrote is “ye Olde Englishe”).

In past entries I’ve noted that all of the adaptations of Beowulf that I’ve found out about stand as proof that this 1000+ year old poem still resonates with people. I think that performances of it are still happening really speaks to this. Especially when those performances do incredibly well, such as Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage.

But, as is the case with that musical take on the poem and this puppet performance, their reach is, sadly, severely limited.

Brewster, the town whose HamletHub news page reported on the upcoming puppet performance is a village in New York.

Nonetheless, these very local performances just remind me that even though people can and will record whatever their phones can hold only to later upload them somewhere online, being present for a live performance still matters. Performance can still be intimate and immediate.

It’s kind of strange, but thinking about Beowulf and this puppet show adaptation makes it seem to me that as access to content increases, there’s a lot more power and importance put back into smaller venues.

It’s been a while since I’ve been out to a concert, but I can’t help but think that going to a larger venue only to watch the show through a monitor that’s closer to you than the stage is kind of ridiculous. Sure, the sound is still crisp and energized and live, but the visuals are just an image on a screen. I think it’s much better if you can see the person you’ve come to see, and (glaring stage lights aside) they can see you.

Of course, packed stadiums can bring an artist way more income than a packed small town theatre. But there’s something lost when artistic energy is dispersed so far and wide through a monstrous crowd. Although truly gifted performers can still make everyone who’s come out for them feel like they were singled out. It’s an incredible property of going to see a live show, feeling as though, big venue or small, you’re a member of something bigger than you, of an entity called an audience that the performer can electrify with just a few notes.

And, though, I won’t be catching Hawk Rock Theatre’s Beowulf performance (unless it finds its way to Youtube after the fact), after more than a year of preparations, I’m sure it’ll be a show brimming with artistic energy and presence.

If you’re going to be in the Brewster/Southeast area of New York state between November 4 and November 6, you should definitely go and see how this take on Beowulf plays out.

When it comes to performances which do you prefer: A live show or something recorded? Why?

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