A Huge Effort for the Small Characters

The New England Marionette Opera covered a lot of ground in 1996. They opened with six performances at the International Festival for the Arts in Hamilton, Bermuda in January and then were the featured performers at the Nantucket Mozart Festival in February. They returned to Cape Cod in the summer with an appearance for Opera New England of Cape Cod in Hyannis and again journeyed to Nantucket and concluded the season for the Nantucket Musical Arts Society. In November they gave 10 performances for Opera Omaha at the 1200-seat Joslyn Performance Center before flying home to present Amahl and the Night Visitors in their home theatre.
When the New England Marionette Opera is on the road, one thing is always a constant. Virtually everyone who visits backstage remarks "It's a much larger setup than we ever imagined".
In order to understand the size and scale of the traveling unit, one first must understand our use of the word "bridge" which, in this case is "the structure from which the marionette manipulators perform."

Shortly after completion of construction, NEMO artistic director Roger duPen stands with the travelling bridges. Note, duPen stands 6 ft 3 in. tall.

The "bridges" (that's right, it's plural - there are two of them) which the New England Marionette Opera uses are believed to be the largest traveling bridges in the world. Each is 24 feet long, approximately 2 feet wide and 11 feet high. Each has a clear span of 14 feet which has no support underneath. And EACH must be able to support all 16 marionette manipulators AT ONCE. A production would never be staged where all manipulators were in one spot on one bridge, but by using that standard, the structures have been built to provide the maximum amount of safety for company members.
Every piece of aluminum used in the construction of the bridges has its own Certification Report attesting to the mechanical and chemical properties of the piece.

The Opera's road crew will usually arrive at the performing venue two days before the performance date. All of the apparatus is loaded into the hall and the structures are assembled. This process takes approximately eight hours. Concurrently, the lighting and sound cabling is being strung, and as soon as the framework for the bridges is up, lighting instruments and dimmer packs are installed.
Computers to control lighting and TransTitles® are set-up and finally all sets are unloaded and drapery is hung.
Last out of their special crates are the marionettes to be used in the production. Each was hand-made in the Opera Company's shops. The number of marionettes used in a production naturally depends on the production. For La Boheme, the company will use approximately 24 marionettes, for Porgy and Bess, close to fifty are used. Each marionette is eleven feet high from the control to the character's feet. The actual characters range from 19 - 26 in.
Because the control strings go right through the costume, a normally simple theatrical procedure like a "costume change" becomes a "marionette change" for the Marionette Opera as a completely new marionette must be utilized each time there is a need for a costume change. Hence there are three separate Madame Butterfly characters in the opera of the same name. La Boheme features several Mimis and two Musettas.

The Company can play to an audience of up to 600 people on one level, more if there is an overhang balcony. Seating can extend back approximately 30 rows. All sound and lights are supplied by the Marionette Opera inasmuch as most of the instruments used are considerably smaller than those used in normal theatrical productions. The instrument of choice for the Marionette Opera would be the 3" fresnel.
There is a large amount of work that precedes the appearance of these small characters on stage. But because of this, the audience will universally swear that the characters they see on the stage are life size.

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