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Interview with Sycorax Puppet Coach Bryan Mercer

Friday, March 22, 2019

classroom scene where five students run a puppet and make him walk

To say Bryan Mercer’s recent residency at KU was inspiring would be an understatement. His assistance with the production of Sycorax was life-changing for the company members–bold statement but also true.

Bryan, of the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Ga., worked as a puppet consultant and levels of consciousness coach in the early stages of rehearsal. Sycorax by Susan Gayle Todd is a prequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

“I’ve always loved The Tempest and have done it several times in different versions,” Bryan said, so he jumped at the opportunity to work on the relatively new play Sycorax, under the direction of Jane Barnette, a former collaborator and colleague from way back.

a group of students learn from visiting artist Bryan Mercer during rehearsal for SycoraxSycorax calls for several characters to be rendered with puppets, but the University Theatre production has adjusted that to give students more roles. Prospero, who opens the show, will be a puppet (pictured) and five students its master. There are shadow puppets, but we cannot spoil the surprise of how they are utilized. And expect other surprise puppet appearances in this story of loss, love and witches.

So why puppets? What do they provide the audience that a human cast member couldn’t?

“I think they still impress us because we are giving life to something that is inanimate, and therefore we have the crossover of puppetry becoming god-like. You are manifesting life. Whether it’s a marionette or a shaggy piece of rug, it goes to our psyche. Puppetry exists where our dreams exist. It’s always an unexpected recognition of power.

It’s exciting and as much as I love Henson – I have worked with them a lot – in America we go right to the Sesame Street while the rest of the world goes to much bigger, more powerful mythic versions. Puppets are not just for preschool education.”

He thanks the students involved with Sycorax for “embracing the unknown” and commended them on their maturity with the subject matter and on picking up puppetry so quickly. “The right person went to the right rod. After two days of workshops prepping them for it, with balance, presence and breadth, it was amazing. They took right too it,”

With 35 years of professional experience, Bryan is pretty well-rounded. Not only does he excel in puppetry, he conducts music and sound workshops, offers private lessons, and is a self-taught actor. A lot of his work is through the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, and he’s been a company member of the Hippodrome Theatre in Maryland for 12 years. He’s also worked with the University of Florida where he collaborated with Broadway star Malcolm Gets. Other noteworthy collaborations include RuPaul, Neil Patrick Harris, and Jon Ludwig of the Center for Puppetry Arts.

Sycorax plays March 29 through April 4 at KU Theatre.

Top two photos by Meg Kumin, KU Marketing & Communications.

Bottom photo is contributed by Bryan Mercer and shows him as "Bog Hound" body puppet for a show called "The Navigator." 

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