From Junk to Giants: Berlin Hosts a Massive Puppet Show

Courcoult said that his company's stories are meant to help people dream. His guiding principle is the perfect illusion -- which obviously requires secrecy. During his press conference in the airport hanger, his team was hidden away one floor down, as if it were working on some top-secret project for Boeing or Airbus. Its members only emerged onto the runway when they were sure nobody could get a look at their half-built puppets. Only the official photographer was allowed to take pictures of the preparations, and each photo is carefully checked before being handed over to the media. Likewise, journalists are not allowed anywhere near the preparations -- apparently because too much information could rob the puppets of their magic.

The puppets-to-be are lying around in pieces on the dingy floor of Hanger 4. The head of the smaller one is covered with a black cloth and held upright in a rusty cage. A potato sack is wedged between its nose and the cage bars; its chin rests on a cushion. The head of the larger puppet sits on a builder's pallet. There is foam and cardboard between its teeth, and there's a hole behind its hairline, where the model airplane engine that will move the puppet's eyes by remote control will go.

Two workers drag the accordion-like neck of the larger puppet and screw it onto the giant's exposed innards, which consist of a control box as big as a cigarette machine slung with cables as thick as your arm. Another worker cleans the mold off the giant puppet's diving belt; it had built up over the months that the puppet was stored after the Nantes performances. And all around are plenty of wooden boxes that have yet to be unpacked. They have labels reading things like "Lunettes" (glasses), "Couette" (ponytail) and "Avant-Bras" (forearm).

When Puppets Come to Life

Out on the runway, other workers are welding absurdly old-fashioned vehicles that will give the marionettes -- which are mostly moved by human hands -- a little extra support. For the larger puppet, there's a rusty, 18-year-old dumptruck complete with a crane arm and lots of straps. For the smaller puppet, there's a forage harvester. What once moved corn from the stalk to a truck has been accessorized to fit the needs of modern giant puppetry.

It is hard to believe that this junk will be transformed into a spectacle, a theatrical dream. But this is the whole idea: making something special out of something mundane. The puppets that Royale De Luxe makes are famous for looking so true-to-life. They walk in a realistic way, their eyes swivel and their chests move when they breathe. "People will think they have seen the puppets laugh and cry, even though it is technically impossible for puppets to do so," puppet builder Matthieu Bony promises.

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