Two actors. Twenty puppets. Shakespeare’s fiery text. Lear is the puppeteer of his own puppet show, the solo human in his motherless kingdom of power and commodity. Like Dante’s damned souls, caught in a perpetual hell particular to each, Lear obsessively plays out his loss of power, friendship, shelter, sanity, and at last even hope. The Fool is his withered soul, an acid clown who torments Lear, stage-manages his story, and finally disappears into Lear’s madness.
Written by William Shakespeare
Created and performed by Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller
Produced by The Independent Eye
Funded in part by a grant from Theatre Bay Area and Dancers Alliance
Premiered at the Eye Studio, Sebastopol, CA, on March 21-29, 2015, and at The Emerald Tablet, San Francisco, April 10-26, 2015
San Diego Puppetry Festival (San Diego CA)
Occidental Center for the Arts (Occidental CA)
Germinal Stage (Denver CO)
The Venue (Norfolk VA)
Towson University (Towson MD)
Studio X (Philadelphia PA)
Touchstone Theatre (Bethlehem PA)
Box of Light (Bloomsburg PA)
Franklin & Marshall College (Lancaster PA)
Irondale Center (Brooklyn NY)
Pontine Theatre (Portsmouth NH)
University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee (Milwaukee WI)
Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre (West Liberty IA)
From the Bay Area media:
Utterly convincing, often heartbreakingly so . . . dazzlingly inventive . . . a startlingly effective and haunting Lear – more so than most that have a full cast of living actors.
—Sam Hurwitt, KQED Arts
A work of passion and artistry . . . nothing short of genius.
—David Templeton, North Bay Bohemian
Two masters who have perfected their craft.
—Benjamin Wachs, SF Weekly
Quite frankly, I have never seen anything like it. Within the confines of a puppet stage, too cramped even to stand up, these two create a sweeping, theatrically satisfying version of King Lear that can hold its own with the work of any Shakespeare Festival in the United States. . . . I will never forget it. You won’t either.
—Charles Kruger, TheatreStorm
From colleagues & hosts:
Audiences are already familiar with the practice of placing Shakespeare’s work in different time periods but what Independent Eye’s Lear does is place the classic in a totally different part of the brain. The reconceptualization offers the audience a chance to understand the piece on a more visceral level as we encounter a fearful descent into a palpable and very human madness. The intimacy of the production drew the audience in to an empathy with the puppets and the bard’s words in a way rarely seen.
—James Jordan, Artistic Director, Touchstone Theatre, Bethlehem PA
Our season of Shakespeare could not have begun with a more exciting kick-off than Independent Eye’s King Lear. The expertise of the performances and the beautifully specific puppetry created a theatrical experience that swept over the audience. The play reached them viscerally, not just intellectually. Shakespeare novices as well as those more experienced with the canon were drawn so deeply into the play. It is like nothing else in our season.
—Terry Greiss, Irondale Center, Brooklyn NY
The Independent Eye’s Lear pulsates with strange and wondrous energy – one feels the entire history of the Western stage captured in every moment. So yes, it’s King Lear rendered in a very human way by a brilliant duo of theatrical experts— age feverishly battling against the passage of time— but it’s also a full-bore engagement with the entire idea of theatre. It is seminal, elemental, unmissable work. Every true student of theatre’s ancient lineage should see it. The rest of us too.
—Whit McLaughlin, Artistic Director, New Paradise Laboratories, Philadelphia PA
Conrad and Elizabeth never cease to inspire. After their performances a glow remains in the space where they performed and in the hearts of those who witnessed it. Our students were so taken with the puppets of King Lear they lingered long after the performance to talk with Elizabeth and Conrad about the process. And as always, their insights and generosity are felt by all.
—Temple Crocker, Towson University, Towson MD
There could not have been a better way to start our festival: Three performances of Lear, with standing ovations after every show; eager audiences staying for the talk backs, full of questions and commendations, not wanting to leave. It was an amazing, mesmerizing, totally magical, tour de force. We cannot thank you enough!
—Lynne Jennings, San Diego Puppetry Festival, San Diego CA
Within a tiny space an amazing collaboration of iconic faces, distinct voices, evocative music and lights that made shadows on the ceiling as the timeless tale unfolds. Snippets of fabric and fate all bound up in Shakespeare’s powerful prose— the audience is held spellbound by two master actors and their passion for their art.
—Andrea Van Dyke, Event Coordinator, Center for the Arts, Occidental CA
And from our first audiences:
The show is magical. It is moving. It made me cry.
What a spectacular tour de pocket force. ALL of Lear in a space the size of a walk-in closet.
The Edgar to Tom transformation— profound. And the Fool reaching up to Lear in his despair and madness, and putting a hand on his heart.
I am still trying to describe my experience of seeing Lear to my friends and family— difficult to capture in words.
Extraordinarily moving, and the last half of it more than extraordinarily.
An amazing not-to-be-missed show. I loved every minute of the dark places, the vulnerability and the madness. All hail to the tragedy which describes the depth of human emotion toward an awesome end.
This Lear adds up to the theatrical adventure of a lifetime, an opportunity to really experience what Lear is all about: a dissection of power wielded mindlessly by a megalomaniac not unlike those who still dominate the world today.
We breathe it, we bathe in it.