Finding deeper meaning in a season of long shadows

Eric Bass performs his signature piece, ‘Autumn Portraits,’ at Sandglass on Nov. 30

PUTNEY — Puppeteer Eric Bass has performed his award-winning “Autumn Portraits” many times over the years. On Saturday, Nov. 30, at 7:30 p.m., he offers a special presentation of his beloved fall classic at the Sandglass Theater on Kimball Hill.

A signature piece for Bass, Sandglass' artistic director, “Autumn Portraits” has been performed for 30 years to great acclaim in theaters and festivals throughout Australia, Europe, Israel, and the United States.

As Sandglass notes on its website, Bass is sole performer in this evening-long puppet-and-mask performance: “He uses autumn as a metaphor for that time of life when one's thoughts turn inward, when we feel the loss of summer warmth.”

The site continues: “Each of these puppet “portraits” presents a moment in one character's existence. Bass says that each of the rod puppets acts out his story in precise and evocative gestures as they meet their pasts, their selves, even their puppet deaths.”

For most of his performance, Bass manipulates the characters in full view of the audience, combining his own craft with traditional Japanese bunraku (dating to 1684) methods of puppetry.

“Some are funny, some touching, some bizarre, and all speak to the human experience as only puppets can,” promises

In each of a series of five interlocking vignettes, one puppet character interacts with its manipulator, who might appear as a masked figure or simply a voice from the sky.

While the performance may be enjoyed by older children, “Autumn Portraits” is intended for adult audiences.

“Autumn Portraits” was one of Bass's first shows. He's worked for 30 years as a director, playwright, performer, and mask and puppet maker. In 1982, he founded Sandglass Theater in Munich with his wife, and fellow Sandglass artistic director, Ines Zeller Bass.

The organization later moved to Putney.

Sandglass Theater is associated with the Sandglass Center for Puppetry and Theater Research, a not-for-profit organization. Sandglass Theater is a member of the Network of Ensemble Theaters and the National Performance Network.

As a director, Eric Bass has worked in Australia, Finland, Poland, and the United States. His awards include the Citation of Excellence from Pecs, Hungary; and the First Prize Critics Award for Best Production at the International Festival of Puppetry in Adelaide, Australia.

He says he is always finding more in “Autumn Portraits.”

“There are subtle things one discovers. People who have seen it before sometimes come up to me and say that they liked a certain bit that I hadn't done in it before. I have to tell them that it had been there before, but they hadn't noticed it.

“I recently brought it back to the town in Germany where it had one its very first performances many years ago. I had not performed it there since 1982. For some people it had been 30 years since they had seen it last, for others, they had only heard about the work, and for still others, it was a completely new experience. It was a great time.”

Bass believes that the show is so small and focused that, paradoxically, there is a lot to see.

“I would characterize 'Autumn Portraits' as more a collection of poems than a narrative story. There is not a lot of plot. Instead, there are moments of puppets' experience and coming to live in the world.”

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