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Louisville puppet collective looks at human nature through the laws of thermodynamics

Two purple bunny puppets stand on a blue box. Two people not fully pictured are operating them.
Breya Jones
Bunny puppets A and C are the older and younger version of not pictured puppet B.

“Time and Energy” from the Mary Shelley Electric Company explores the laws of thermodynamics by applying them to human nature.

Through puppets, the family-friendly show explains the ways scientific rules can be applied to our everyday lives and interactions with others.

“We're energy as well, which the laws are all about,” said Zach Bramel, playwright and puppet director. “So maybe those laws also apply to us, and specifically, how we treat each other, how we care for each other, and how we care for ourselves.”

The first law of thermodynamics boils down to this: Energy cannot be created or destroyed.

“That is a chapter that's about mutual aid and taking care of each other and sharing resources…transferring energy, transferring resources, reallocation of wealth and emotional wealth,” said designer and puppet-builder Deva North.

Bramel structured the play around each law.

“We've got four chapters, and each chapter is its own, kind of self-contained, but in a related story,” Bramel said.

Each story has its own cast of characters and color scheme.

A puppet with blue skin and dark long hair in a dress sits on a chair.
Breya Jones
Audiences will meet Molly on an island in one of the show's chapters.

Mary Shelley Electric Company received its second grant from the Jim Henson Foundation for this show. The first one came for the first production “CREATURE,” a retelling of “Frankenstein” through puppets.

The team got a family grant, which is reserved for works that are for “children, families, and teenagers”.

Bramel and North said that getting a Jim Henson grant is a rigorous, multi-step process. In fact, this was the second time they submitted “Time and Space” for consideration. After a first, unsuccessful attempt, they went back and worked on the show more.

“What the Jim Henson Foundation wants to support is, how do they put in innovative puppetry, people doing new and exciting work,” Bramel said.

Bramel and North said “Time and Energy” is an example of that.

“We definitely have a very stylized approach to storytelling,” North said. “I think that's something that stands out about how we go about doing our work and the ways in which we tell stories.”

Both “CREATURE” and “Time and Energy” have sparse dialogue and rely on the movement of the puppets and music to convey the story.

North said the Mary Shelley Electric Company staff came together to create something more than the sum of its parts.

“To be able to have access to so many, thoughtful, intelligent, talented human beings who are really good at feedback means that it helps pull that out,” North said

A puppet with a streak of grey hair, in a red shirt and yellow skirt stands on the floor.
Breya Jones
Marigold will help audience members learn about the rule of entropy.

Bramel said the company is truly collective in creating new productions.

“Everybody contributes more ideas, until really, the ideas of ownership and authorship are just obliterated. And so it really becomes an ensemble created piece,” Bramel.

The connection between the creators of the show and the time and energy put into a production translates to the audience.

Puppetry is collaborative by nature. Bramel said there’s something special about the way people are able to connect with puppets during shows.

“It gives people access to feelings in ways that they don't often let themselves in their everyday lives,” Bramel said. “I think that takes people by surprise, sometimes when they are seeing puppetry for the first time, we're seeing one of our shows, it acts as a license to explore different parts of yourself.”

Through exploration of self and puppetry people walk away with a deeper understanding of how they others and themselves.

“My hope is that people come away with a willingness to be kind to each other and be kind to themselves,” North said.

“Time and Energy” premiers May 13 with shows at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Great Meadows Foundation.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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