Posted by lemonjelly on:
Growing up in the era of the Muppet Show, a few of their guests made a strong impression on me. One of them was the performance troupe Mummenschanz. I specifically recall the figures adorned with rolls of toilet paper on their heads, one roll each to represent their eyes, ears, mouth and nose and they silently conversed and displayed emotions through the paper scrolling out of their heads. At the time, I didn't know the name of the troupe.
Later, when they appeared in an episode of that quirky tv show, Northern Exposure, I finally learned they were Mummenschanz.
On 19 November, over 30 years later, they put on a show at the Granada and you can bet your stars I was there to relive the memories. And what a treat it was!
This troupe has been together for over 40 years, the same four people, building on their routines with new props and new ideas, but replaying the traditional ones exactly. The whole audience was enthralled. The children gasped innocently and the adults seemed so incredulously fascinated I wondered a few times if there had been a group smoke out just prior to the show that I missed out on.
I felt there were two kinds of spectators at the show. The first was the group that lets the imagination go wild, forgetting there were real people behind the objects rolling and floating about on the stage and allowing the objects to come to life. The other group would analyze each vignette, trying to break down the engineering and manipulation of the creatures on the stage to either replicate the object for a future costume or simply because of natural inquisitiveness. Either way, it was a lovely and satisfying show that ended all too quickly.
As luck would have it, we stuck around to catch up with friends who were also at the show and this resulted in the opportunity to go backstage and meet some of the troupe! Not only that, but we got to see some of their props. Happy day!
The item I played with was a pliable rubber mask, as seen in the skit below from a 1976 Muppet Show.
During the vignette, the mask weighs up to 5 kilos (about 12 pounds) of piled on clay. Imagine that much weight hanging off the front of your face...for 40 years. Earlier I said the troupe has remained the same since they formed. The clay we played with on the mask was also the same clay as they used for all those 40 years! Talk about long-stanging memories embedded in objects. We were playing with history.