Torry Bend discusses her role behind the scenes of Duke theater, puppeteeringTorry Bend, assistant professor of the practice of theater studies, works behind the scenes for the mainstage production every year. Each semester, Bend thinks critically about what set is best for the theater department's main production of the year. The Chronicle's Danielle Muoio sat down with Bend to discuss her role in the theater department, as well as her pursuits as a puppeteer.
The Chronicle: Could you start out by briefly telling me a bit more about your role in the theater department?
Torry Bend: I teach set design, costume design and puppetry in the department. I also do the set design for the main stage productions that we do every semester. I’m on my fifth year… and have in that time done mainly work with the design faculty. I’ve also done a little bit of work with community-based art and theater, specifically theater dedicated toward social change.
TC: I know the main stage production is "Machinal." Have you thought at all about how you’ll be designing that set?
TB: We’re actually in the middle of that process right now. [Visiting lecturer and resident dramaturg] Jules Odendahl-James and I have been meeting and coming up with ideas and brainstorming different ways of approaching the physical stage for the story. It’s been a great and interesting process in that it’s a little different in the way we usually design. Usually the design process begins with a pretty clear idea of the space set up in terms of whether it'll be in a proscenium or a thrust. We’ve made some exciting discoveries as this process has gone along that actually really changed our opinion on how to do that.
So where we originally thought we’d want to do that in a round, we’ve shifted that to doing a thrust. That’s been really exciting, to boldly make decisions that really do change how that whole stage space is set up.
TC: For someone who is reading this and is not that familiar with what a round or thrust are, can you talk about how making that design change may change the experience you get from the play?
TB: If something is in a round, you really need to block it and consider how people see it from all sides because the audience is on all four sides of the performers. So all the blocking on the set has to deal with that. I can't put anything on stage that would… block performers. If I want to put a wall on a stage that is in a round, then half of the audience couldn’t see what is on the other side of that wall.
So if you do a thrust, you have an audience on three sides and you can put walls on set. It means the performers can have their backs to the wall for most of the performance and all the audience can see their face at any given time. It's quite a different way of approaching the set design and also approaching the blocking for the show.
TC: Are there any other projects you are working on?
TB: I’m doing a massive puppet show that opens in a week and a half. I can't believe it opens so soon, and that is at the Durham Arts Council. It’s part of Duke Performances for their season this year. It’s a collaboration with the local band Bombadil—an indie folk band.
TC: Can you tell more about the puppet show?
TB: It’s using live feed video and puppets. Often times, my work in puppetry both incorporates puppets and videos, syncing live feed video cameras to LCD screens and then performing puppets in front of those LCD screens. So you get a composite image of an LCD screen that has live feed video of the model of the room and you have puppets performing in front of that, and all of that has been projected on next to the band. So it becomes a live music video puppet show concert.
The show itself follows a lead character, of a rather mathematical sorts, who lives in a very gray world and ends up meeting a woman with a vivid imagination. He finds himself trying to get close to her, and he must enter her imagination to become a part of her life.
TC: Do you have others who assist you in the production of the show?
TB: For this show its mostly me. I’ve got a couple of really stellar buildings who join me and build the puppets. There are a lot of people helping make it happen, and I’m overseeing the whole concept. I’ve got a video designer who has done a huge amount of work to make sure all of the video is working correctly and looks good… This time around, I’ve also got an assistant director who has been absolutely invaluable.
TC: How did you get involved in puppeteering?
TB: I went to graduate school at the California Institute of the Arts and they have a puppetry program. I got so excited about puppetry from that I decided to do more work after.