To say that The Dragon and the Wanderer is a low-budget production is an understatement. Aaron and I live in a tiny South Philly apartment—the third floor of a row home—and our administrative office is our puppet-building workshop is our rehearsal studio is our living room. We pick our way around fabric and foam and hot glue guns and pliers and fishing line in order to reach our couch. The carpet is rolled up in a corner (fun fact: do NOT try and vacuum up the dust that results from carving PVC pipe on a daily basis, unless you enjoy banging your head against a wall). The surface of our desk is no longer a desk, but the shadow puppets’ bedroom.
Honestly, this set-up can be stressful. There is no such thing as a “break” from the project. But that’s a blog post for another day. Today, I am grateful for the way we make our circumstances into something kind of magical. We are breathing new life into our living room with this story that’s taking shape there, and building lives—our shared life together, of course, but also the lives of our little puppets—out of some pretty surprising materials.
Our show is funded in HUGE part by the generosity of our loved ones, who donated to The Dragon and the Wanderer as a wedding gift to Aaron and me (it was literally our only “registry” item). And some of that money has gone to items that most people don’t have just lying around the house. In addition to painful amounts of PVC pipe and connectors, there’s stuff like the D-rings and the eye bolts and the nylon straps (there’s only so much nylon strapping you can steal from an old backpack) and the grommets and the spray adhesive and the floral wire and countless other things that I’m forgetting.
But we’ve also been using some pretty creative methods to keep The Dragon and the Wanderer budget-friendly, and it still gets me kind of excited to tell people about the many—dare I say, infinite?—alternative uses you can find for these household items.
You want shadow puppets? Grab some kitchen shears and cut some shapes out of an old flexible cutting board.
You want rods to puppeteer those babies? Unbend some old wire hangers. Aaron came up with this awesome system where he stuck some magnets to our puppets, attached the wire hangers to an old gardening glove (á la Edward Scissorhands), and voila—rods that can control multiple puppets.
But how to make shadow puppets without a screen? No worries, just take down that white shower curtain liner and cut it into a rectangle. AND, if you want to un-wrinkle it, just aim a space heater at it from half a foot away. I’m telling you. Magic.
To bounce the light inside our shadow box so it all goes toward the screen, we lined our black fabric covering with cheap reflective windshield covers. Who knew flimsy could end up being a desirable quality in a windshield cover? Now we’re planning to use them on the outside of the set as well, for the scales and teeth when it becomes a dragon.
The harness for when we puppeteer the giant dragon is basically a combination of a tool belt, and two extra straps from an old backpack. (And carabiners. We love carabiners.)
Our hand puppets are, thus far, part oven mitt, and part egg-crate foam (we were overdue for a new egg-crate on our mattress anyway).
And of course, for the endless uses of the paper clip, I am eternally grateful. If you are the inventor of the paper clip, I wish you all of the riches and the longest, most joyous life.
Appropriating these things and bringing them into the pre-historic world of The Dragon and the Wanderer really does feel like a practical kind of magic. It gets those creative juices flowing; and it also trains our minds to start thinking about things a little differently. To “not judge a book by its cover”, if you will. To not limit the potential I see in something (or someone) based on what I’ve seen it do every day, based on what I think it’s “for”, based on what label gets slapped on it when it’s stuck on a shelf. This has been a useful lesson in entering married life, as well as puppetry life. Don’t get complacent and think you know everything there is to know about something, or somebody. And also, don’t worry, because the surprises are often quite pleasant.