Kids understand it immediately

by Luka Dekleva Ukmar


Virtual puppet performance THUMBELINA

by H. C. Andersen / Darij Kreuh, Tadej Fius, Robert Waltl

Ljubljana, Cankarjev dom

Opening night: December 12, 2003

30 minutes


The first seconds - when the children ‘get it’ and they start shouting and establishing communication bonds with the characters on the big screen who, of course, always return the impulse, - represent the greatest award for the conceivers of this project. And it is a surplus for the authors of the project when the kids – at this age they already watch television, they play computer games, they know what cinema is, and they have already attended a classical puppet performance –immediately understand that Thumbelina is something in between or even more. This is especially the case when parents and adults, even after several minutes, cannot discern exactly how the story develops interactively, or what is actually true and what is fiction.

Hans Christian Andersen wrote a delicate story about Thumbelina, a tiny girl who experiences different fates due to her frailty and brittleness. In this Slovene version, the enterprise Navidez has managed to give this Andersen’s character a new dimension. The story has preserved its original characters, yet the development of the events is unbound. The direction, the fate of the main character, the dialogues and the rhythm of the story are directed by the spectators; the characters are modelled in 3D-programme computer technique; the medium is no more the book but the computer; sensors serve as a helping device, along with the support for a stereoscopic and multi-wall linking projection, and a bunch of electronic devices.

Explosive mixture

The first virtual puppet performance in the world differs from classical performances also in the fact that the story never appears twice with the same development or the same end. The conceivers of the project have actually transferred the active role of the director over to the audience and to the actor Robert Waltl. The latter is equipped with a playing console (to have control over the set), and a head sensor to follow the rotation and the bending of the fairytale character’s head on the screen. Waltl performs all this in the backstage, yet at the same time he communicates with the audience. The visualisation and interaction computer programme enables directing and defining the shape in real time (changing cameras, selection of characters, movement, calling for events), while the programme mediator enables fairytale characters to follow the narrator’s speaking.

The authors of the project wrote down that this fairytale represents a mixture of a computer game with a theatrical performance placed in a virtual computer environment, where fairytale heroes become alive on the screen through the animator, and in communication with the audience they save the main character when she gets in trouble. And they were not wrong. They were also not wrong in defining that the fairytale has been structured as a game with a strong emphasis on creative group work. It takes half an hour to perform this performance, which is exactly the right duration to preserve the tension of the story and the right concentration of the audience in their communication. Since the technology already offers the possibility of an optional development of the performance contents, and at the same all essential elements and primal issues of a classical theatre are preserved, this may well be defined as an explosive mixture. 

(DELO, Dec. 11, 2003)