The Cave Story script

As we know, there are three elements coming together script-wise, or at least we currently think so: the cave story, the modern-day story, and the narrator’s commentary. For the sake of not-going-insane putting it all together, we thought it would be clever to write the cave story script first, and then start to add the other elements.  Here, finally, is a run at the cave story, from start to finish.  Next we’ll add one of the other elements and see where that gets us.  Sometimes we think that the other elements will ruin everything, but then sometimes we don’t, so that’s another reason to write one part at a time, to see if other elements will ended making everything too crowded.  Here we go:

IGNORANCE cave story

ACT ONE: Inside the Cave


[The stage is dark.  We hear wind whistling, and dripping water.  We wait for awhile, and then hear a distant drum booming, approaching; soon we can make out a kind of moaning song and the occasional mournful groan of some tusk trumpet being played.  Three shaggy characters enter, wearing furs and ornamented with peculiar artifacts: fetishes made of bone and twigs.   One is burdened by an enormous drum, another by the horn, and the third bears a flickering torch that provides a dim light, by which we can make out their sloped brows and heavy shoulders.  They go about their business as the narrator speaks: they light a big fire in the middle of the stage, with great ceremony, for in their minds they are enacting the birth of the universe; they shuffle about assembling their puppets and saying preparatory prayers to their heathen gods.]

[The tribe is plagued by doubt, and the shamans have determined it is time for them to do enact the ritual that reassures them of their place in the universe. They are ready.  They stand before the audience.]

[They enact the creation of a prehistoric Adam:

one of them wears antlers and has goat-bladders strapped from his body so that he appears like a deranged deer-human mother creature: Big Mama.  The other two assist in the birth of a collection of puppet body parts; perhaps one acts as a kind of narrator of the events.  Once all has been extruded from Big Mama’s twiggy vulva, they gather the parts of the puppet, and use the great tusk to blow into its nostrils, bringing him to life.  They dance with joy at their success, and react to the creature as if it is a living thing, cooing at it like a baby.]


[The puppeteers bring forth ugly little bat puppets made from soot-blackened leather and teeth tied to branches, and make them flap about like it’s a Disney movie; Adam is delighted, and he coos at them.  The puppeteers bring forth some sightless grubs, and then some cave rats, which are puppets made from the skins of real cave rats worn as slippers; the puppeteers shuffle across the stage.  Adam finds a club and tries to bash one of them.  He keeps missing.]


[Adam whines mournfully.  Enter Eve, another puppet, snuffling and grubbing about.]


[They see each other, and are initially suspicious.  Soon, though, they approach each other.  Eve has a wad of cave-lichen, which they share in a touching scene of first love.]


[Big booming drumbeats and howling interrupt them.  They panic, and scamper to hide.  Enter King Gog, the alpha male of the tribe; he is huge and primitive, closer to ape than Adam and Eve.  It might be possible to use something that looks like a boulder for his head; he wears some kind of crown, hewn from branches and bones.  He is dragging the half-eaten carcass of a sightless cave-fish.  One puppeteer handles both Adam and Eve, while the other two work Gog and a crowd of other tribe members, played by rocks tied to sticks.]

[King Gog pounds his chest and bellows, for he has brought dinner for everybody.  The tribe gobbles at the carcass.  Gog dominates, deciding who eats what, feeding the tribe-rock-puppets himself, and batting them around occasionally.  Truth be told the carcass is a poor feast – it’s mostly rotten and already chewed by whatever killed it – the tribe is evidently starving, and these are miserable scraps.]


[Adam and Eve creep up to the carcass.  They attempt to have a bit for themselves.  Gog is surprised by their arrival, and refuses to let Adam eat.  He lets Eve have a munch, though, and then grabs her and humps her, to Adam’s horror.]

[Adam tries to stop him, but Gog gives a great roar, assisted by the sound system, that is utterly terrifying.  Adam is cowed.  Gog rewards his obedience with a scrap of fetid fish, which he takes reluctantly.]

 [Exit Gog, dragging Eve; but he is intercepted by Big Mama, who is jealous of Eve; she bats Eve away and exits with Gog.  Eve is sad and lonely.  She looks to Adam.]

[Adam longs for her, for a moment, but he is too fearful to take action.  The other young males of the tribe gather around him to distract him from the dangerous temptation, and soon they are full of teenage boy camaraderie – laughing and slapping each other on the back and bumfucking each other.]


[Adam and the rock-puppets settle into sleep.]


[Now that the boys are asleep, Eve approaches the snoring Adam, and touches his face longingly.  He awakes, and bats her away, grunting.  He goes back to sleep.]


[She goes to stare out at the world from the edge of the stage.  In the distance, she hears strange animal moans and screeches and roars, which are performed by one of the puppeteers using conch shells and rattles and such things – maybe from in the audience?]

[The puppeteer blows through a big windy tusk-trumpet (maybe there’s some way to make a prehistoric wind-machine – the spinning bone-on-a-string could work).  A wild gust blows in through the cave mouth.  The fire surges and then goes out.]

[Weird moonlight fills the cave.  The two free puppeteers make shadows on the skins with their fingers and some props: the creatures of the night.  A bird, cawing.  A deer, shuffling around or something.  Trees waving in the wind.  And then – the shadow of a monster, entering the cave.  The puppeteers make it with all four hands, but then it becomes an animation – it’s a silhouette, but then its eyes begin to glow like fire, and it’s too complicated to make using their fingers.  It beckons to Eve – the other puppeteers, afraid, scamper from their shadow-making spot and cower with her.  The shadow of the Monster speaks weirdly, and the image becomes a beautiful image of the world outside – a true Eden in shadows.  A shadow-sun comes up, and the winter blows away, and fruit hangs from the tree to eat.  We see the shadow of Eve in that world; she eats the fruit and it’s delicious.  And then we see the shadow of Adam, and the two of them together and happy; she offers the fruit to him and he eats it and everything’s wonderful.]

[The shadows dissolve into the shape of the Monster, beckoning – or maybe we realize that the Monster is in the audience.  It disappears.]

[Eve is flabbergasted.  She’s just been the first human in the world to imagine something.]

[She goes to tug at the snoring Adam.  He wakes.]

[She sings weirdly to him, but he doesn’t understand a damn thing.  She finds a charred stick – or maybe she bites off the end of her finger, yikes, I don’t know.  Point is: she makes a way to make a mark on the wall.  She draws a stick figure of herself, and then one of him (they have happy-faces).  He doesn’t really get it.  She makes it so the two stick-figures are humping.  He still doesn’t get it.  She draws the crown on the figure of him, and he gets it.  They fall into lovemaking.]

[Suddenly, Gog awakes.  He rises behind them, and roars.  They scramble to hide, covering their genitals with the old leaves and twigs that are strewn about the cave-floor.]

[Gog is enraged, and attacks Adam.  He picks him up and hurls him about.  The puppeteers are shrieking like monkeys.  It’s an epic battle, but Adam is severely outmatched.  Gog grabs a club, and it’s evident that Adam is about to get killed.]

[Eve jumps out and pushes Gog into the fire.  The flames leap up, and he screams as he is burned.  The whole stage is filled with flames and smoke; the other tribe members run around shrieking as the cave is consumed (this would be using the projector, probably).

[Meanwhile, Adam and Eve escape the cave – by running off into the audience, maybe?]

[The flames burn down, and we see Gog’s charred remains fall over, dead.  And also: some of the ribs of the great mastodon proscenium skeleton fall down; the cave has collapsed and is replaced by a landscape of silhouetted rib-hills and protruding ribs that can be draped with crap to make them look like trees.]


ACT TWO: Outside the Cave


[The world outside: puppeteers are dressed as shrubbery, so that there is a primeval sense of vegetation that moves of its own accord.]

[A puppeteer clambers up an erect rib to make the sun, which is a rock painted yellow with weird stringy bits; birds and insects flutter about – it’s the first time they’ve seen the outside world, and it is beautiful.  They are filled with conflicting emotions – pride of victory, and an uneasy terror that they have done something irrevocable.]

[But they are desperately hungry.  Eve is disappointed to discover that there are no fruits handily hanging as was promised by the vision.  Adam manfully gets a pointy stick and makes a display of his intention to find something and kill it – of course, his experience of such things is limited to cave rats, so he is preparing to confront a little creature.]

[Rumbling from without – Adam readying himself.  Enter a Mastodon, which is enormous, not tiny.  Adam is terrified, and attempts to poke at it with his stick, to no avail.  The Mastodon trumpets and charges; it chases Adam out of view.  We now see a smaller version of both puppets, chasing along a rib-hilltop, and then maybe even smaller versions chasing along a more distant hilltop that leads to a cliff.  The Mastodon bowls Adam over but then can’t stop itself from plummeting over the cliff to its doom.]

[Enter Adam, full size, dragging a huge haunch, heroically.  Eve is delighted and impressed.  They feast – but as they feast, they hear a horrible howl in the distance.]

[They must escape the area.  They pack up some chunks of meat and exit.]

[Now we see them from above, trudging across a stretched skin, which we view now as forest turning to tundra.  This is accomplished either through projection or puppetry; maybe projection provides lengthening shadows as the sun goes down.]

[Night-time.  They huddle for warmth.  Their bellies rumble.  A puppeteer clambers up the rib to replace the sun with the moon (a pale rock), and then clouds (balls of hair) and then rain (water poured from a bladder) while another one makes rain sounds (pebbles in a wood bowl) and thunder (with his mouth or something).  Our heroes are miserable – and then the howl again.]

[Adam is angry that they left.  He sees visions of Gog moving in the fog (projector), and believes they are haunted by Gog’s ghost.  He barks and grumbles at Eve, and they begin to smack each other and growl – when suddenly they discover that she is pregnant.  Of course they don’t understand why this happens, but they recognize that something miraculous is occurring.]

[Eve sings a plaintive little song that conjures projected images of the paradise she drew in the cave.  They draw strength, and press on in hopes of finding it.]

[The weather turns even worse – a puppeteer blows snow (cold ash from the fire) at them; they are growing weaker and weaker; they continue to sing their little song but slowly it runs out.  Finally they come to a desolate place.]

[Eve cannot continue.  She collapses in the snow.  Adam struggles to pull her along, grunting little bits of their song, but he too is exhausted.]

[And now from the shadows the Shadow Monster emerges, speaking weirdly like before in the cave.  It looms large above them, as shadow animations of paradise fading and dissolving play around it; the tree with the fruit of Eve’s dreams turns into a tree strewn with skulls.  We realize that the Monster has lured them out of the cave with the visions, so it can eat them.]

[Adam lunges at it with his pathetic little stick, attempting to block the Monster from seeing Eve, but it’s a hopeless case.  The Monster hisses and attacks, and Adam is caught in its jaws or claws or whatever; he drops the stick, but he keeps fighting desperately, calling to Eve to escape – but Eve circles behind it and spears it with the stick.  The Monster shrieks and thrashes and finally dies.]

[Adam is mangled beyond hope, though.  He is dying.  Eve cradles him.  Perhaps she tries to sing their little song, but Adam stops her.  He offers himself to be eaten, and then dies.]

[Eve forlornly eats him.]

[And then, suddenly, with the new nourishment, she has a contraction.  And then another.  And another.]

[She scrambles to get into position, and (as the puppeteers grunt and shriek in support) she gives birth to a Happy Face balloon that expands and expands until it is enormous.]

[The tribe is content.  The Happy Face balloon floats up into the grid while hopeful music plays.]

The End.

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The Narrator, version threee

As you sit here, we tell stories for serious English philosophical people. Your beautiful mother thought that the first humans lived in caves and had much smaller brains. Myth. Wrong. Really big brains, no milk, smaller cheese.

We are the first humans, and we come from a hundred years ago this time. By the time this show is over, fourteen of us will have jumped in and blown out of time caves to the dawn of history to battle every creature that has been alive for millions of years.

We back you for your job: a complicated, confused language of emotional stimuli for their miserable English brains. We love You, but You are alone. (flute). Everything is stories for their miserable English brains.


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Magic Realism

I just ran across your website today, so please indulge me while catch up. Neandertaler mused nearly a year ago about the possibility of the “inner caveman” of the person in the hotel room connecting with the “actual caveman” on the TV screen, who at that moment is having a “dream-time epiphany about what the future holds for mankind.” I instantly thought of two short stories by Argentine magic realist Julio Cortázar. For what it’s worth, I throw them into the mix. In “La Noche Boca Arriba” (The Night Face Up), a nameless man driving a motorbike is involved in an accident and ends up in the hospital. Wracked by a fever, he appears to dream that he is a fugitive trying to hide from the Incas on their annual hunt for someone to ritually sacrifice. In the end, with the hunters closing in, it is difficult to say for sure whether the modern man is dreaming the ancient fugitive or the reverse. In “Axolotl,” the narrator has been transformed into an axolotl, a species of salamander, after spending many hours watching them in an aquarium. As an axolotl, the man still sees the human he used to be and hopes the human will write a story about a man who becomes an axolotl.

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Mask Idea

Here is a doodle of some masks, made of mud for maleability…

a.) is Juliet, I imagine her adjusting her feathers to express anger, joy, sympathy, etc.

b.) is Romeo, his tribe all wear rhino horns on their foreheads to signal their status.

c.) is Romeo after he met Juliet. Ah, Love, he was moved to stick a lot of branches on his face.

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Weird puppet animation

I know that there has been talk of including some stop motion animation.  I came across this little music video,  seriously creepy puppets ride around in a field on a fish drawn carriage while others meld with stick man/burning man puppet.

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Biking monkeys…

Nostalgia 77 – Hush

Isn’t this little movie just beautiful? I think it might be the most beautiful thing I ever seen on the net. The original footage have been made in 1963 and is called One Got Fat. It was made to promote safety and security on bikes. Anyway, don’t know exactly why I’m posting this here. I thought you guys should all see that. Wouldn’t it be kind of awesome to be able to integrate such a powerful contrast in Ignorance show? Maybe the puppeteers should wear regular clothes, so when they turn into puppets, they become those weird half prehistorical / half contemporary men… I don’t know. Just a thought. I love the art and the beauty of this video though. It adds another layer to what you see, somehow.

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Another promo image

This one looks like the one we’re actually using.  In the absence of any puppets that are actually made yet, we made a clay sculpture and then photographed it.  Photo credit: Mercedes Bátiz-Benét.


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Photos of prehistoric people

Found these while meandering around the web… I think the fellow took real photographs and manipulated them on the computer, which makes for an unsettling effect on several levels… but also managing to bring some humanity to our picture of those folks.  Not sure how the original subjects of the photos would feel about it, but here’s the link:

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yes we can

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The Narrator, version two

So here’s a different approach, that is inspired, happily enough, by Neanderthaler’s Pygmy doc post.  This version hews much more closely to the action, so stage directions are included in square brackets.  W’ve only gotten as far as the first scene or two, but here’s where it’s at:

[The stage is dark.  We hear wind whistling, and dripping water.  We wait for awhile, and then hear a distant drum booming, approaching; soon we can make out a kind of moaning song and the occasional mournful groan of some tusk trumpet being played.  Three shaggy characters enter, wearing furs and ornamented with peculiar artifacts: fetishes made of bone and twigs.   One is burdened by an enormous drum, another by the horn, and the third bears a flickering torch which provides a dim light, by which we can make out their sloped brows and heavy shoulders.  They go about their business as the narrator speaks: they light  big fire in the middle of the stage, with great cermony, for in their minds they are enacting the birth of the universe; they shuffle about assembling their puppets and saying preparatory prayers to their heathen gods.]

[Documentary-style classical music begins to play.]


Since the dawn of history, human beings have gathered in dark places to tell each other stories about who we are, and where we come from – creation myths, about the first humans from which we all descended.  There are countless versions of this story, but they’re all trying to explain the same thing.  It’s really just one story, when you pare it down to its essentials: it’s the story of why we’re not happy.

It’s a story about how we ruined paradise, or were thrown out, or forgot where it was, which is a way of saying that there’s something wrong with us that we can’t quite put our finger on.  Somewhere along the way we traded in our happiness, and we’re not quite sure what we got in return.  But when did this happen?  Ten thousand years ago?  Twenty?  A hundred?  How long ago exactly was paradise?

Let’s take a journey back in time, and pay a visit to our prehistoric grandparents.

For them, the fall from paradise was no myth.  It was a recent event, still alive in their memory, a story populated by real people.  Let’s return to the womb of the cave once more, and imagine we’re part of an unruly tribe of savages, gathered to hear the tale of the birth of humanity, and the invention of misery.

[They are ready.  They stand before the audience.]


These rough-looking fellows are prehistoric story tellers.  The part of their brains that makes complicated sentences hasn’t developed yet, but that doesn’t mean they only grunt and shriek.  Before we had words, we used musical tones to make our meaning clear, like birds or wolves.  Shh – it looks like they’re trying to tell us something.

[They enact the creation of a prehistoric Adam: they gather the parts of the puppet, and use the great tusk to blow into its nostrils, bringing him to life.  They dance with joy at their success, and react to the creature as if it is a living thing, cooing at it like a baby.]


It’s the first man. Life for our little prehistoric Adam is simple but overwhelmingly beautiful.  There’s no word yet for each novel wonder that appears, and he sings to them with their new names.

[The puppeteers bring forth pretty bird puppets made from feathers tied to branches, and make them tweet and chirp, and Adam is delighted.  They bring forth strange insects, and then some cave rats, which are puppets made from the skins of real cave rats worn as slippers; the puppeteers shuffle across the stage.  Adam finds a club and bashes one of them.  The guy wearing the rat puppet shrieks, but Adam gets the carcass and scampers over to a safe spot to eat it.]


Look!  Our hero has caught a cave-rat.  While the idea of eating a cave rat might seem revolting to us, in fact his digestive system is perfectly designed for a diet of mostly raw meat and whatever nuts and berries he could find.  Our digestive systems have not evolved, not even slightly, even though we eat very differently.  The advent of agriculture lies between him and us.   If you see our history through the skeletons of our ancestors, you’ll see that the invention of farming led to widespread disease and premature death.  So he’s healthy – but is our simple friend happy?

[‘What is a youth’ by Nino Rota begins to play.]

[Adam whines mournfully.  Enter Eve, another puppet.]


Ah!  The oldest problem in the book: love.  Our little hero feels the pang of a first crush, little realizing, like we do, that it’s only a gland squirting in his brain, driven to squirt by evolutionary necessity.  The survival of the species is at stake – but for him, it feels like so much more.

[They see each other, and are initially suspicious.  Soon, though, they approach each other, and they have a touching scene of first love.]

[Big booming drum beats and howling interrupt them.  They panic, and scamper to hide.  Enter King Gog, the alpha male of the tribe; he is huge and primitive, closer to ape than Adam and Eve.  It might be possible to use something that looks like a boulder for his head.  He is dragging a half-eaten carcass.]

[One puppeteer handles both Adam and Eve, while the other two work Gog and a crowd of other tribe members, played by rocks tied to sticks.]


Uh oh.  Our heroes are not alone in this prehistoric Eden.  They’ve been born into a tribe of beasts, one step below them in the evolutionary chain.  Although this fellow is none-too-bright, he is large and strong, and that gives him the advantage.


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The Narrator, version one

So lately our focus has been largely on the story, but we’re still sticking to this idea that we’re doing a documentary — that is, there’s a narrator that speaks over the action of the play now and then, providing a context for the action or meandering off on flights of thematic pondering.  In an attempt to nail down what the narrator might be saying, we took a stab at writing a series of speeches, which would find their proper places over top of the action on stage as that develops.  In this theory, it’s okay — in fact it’s desirable –for the narrator’s commentary to only obliquely reference what’s going on, so that there is ample room for the audience to draw their own connections.  At the same time, it’s important for it all to be leading somewhere, somehow or other.  Here’s a sample of the half-finished and direly-in-need-of-editing narrator’s speeches.


Since the dawn of history, human beings have gathered in dark places to tell each other stories about who we are, and where we come from – creation myths about the first humans from which we are all descended.  There are a million different versions of this story, but they’re all trying to explain the same thing.  It’s really just one story, when you pare it down to its essentials: it’s the story of why we’re not happy.

It’s a story about how we ruined paradise, or were thrown out, or forgot where it was, or can’t return quite yet, which is a way of saying that there’s something wrong with us that we can’t quite put our finger on – somewhere along the way we traded in our happiness, and we’re not sure what we got in return.  But when exactly did this happen?  Ten thousand years ago?  Twenty?  A hundred?  How long ago exactly was paradise?

It turns out that no matter how far back you go in human history, even back to when we lived in caves and had much smaller brains, we’re still telling the same story.  But animals don’t seem to tell each other stories about their fall from grace, at least as far as we can tell, in large part because they don’t seem to tell each other stories at all – and that might be the difference between us and them.  Maybe the paradise we’re always talking about is the paradise of life before we grew these great big brains to tell depressing stories with.  Maybe that’s why we say ignorance is bliss – because at root we suspect that it’s our own brains that make us miserable.  But how can this be the case?  Why would we evolve to be unhappy?

Happiness is supposed to be the whole point.  If, as a species, we really think we’ve blown our chance at it, this would be a serious philosophical emergency, and we really should have our best minds working on it.  We’ve had thousands of years to get this sorted out, but a surprising number of us are still miserable.  In fact, by the time this show is over, fourteen people will have jumped off bridges in North America alone, and twice that number in Finland, where they don’t even have that many bridges.

What is happiness, anyway?  The word has the same root in English as ‘perhaps’ and ‘happenstance,’ which means that the people who made up the words for english people to use thought of happiness as being something that happened to you, more or less equivalent to good luck, that is, being in the right place at the right time.  That’s what the Big Story’s trying to tell us: we’re not in the right place at the right time, not anymore.


Did you know that in your body there are about ten times as many bacteria as there are human cells? The bacteria talk to each other in a complicated chemical language, and have different jobs, and work really well together, and they’re a huge system of interdependent beings so intricate that we might as well call them one big bacteria creature, which in other words basically means that they’re not parasites on us – we’re parasites on them.  That’s not all — bacteria don’t have mothers and fathers; they just divide in two, which means that really every bacterium that exists is the same bacterium, and that same bacterium has been alive for millions of years.  Everything would be great for the Great Bacterium except for the Great Fungus, its arch-nemesis.  We get antibiotics from fungus, because bacteria and fungus hate each other and try to kill each other, and in fact our bodies are really a huge battle between the two, and if one of them is winning then our bodies stop working properly, at least as far as we’re concerned.  For instance, an overgrowth of fungus can cause your asshole to be itchy, but can also cause you to feel anxious or depressed or angry, which you will mistakenly blame on your job or your boyfriend, but it actually has nothing to do with him or his annoying habit of slurping his cereal milk, it has to do with microscopic politics as turbulent as a world war going on inside of you as you sit here.  That’s frightening and depressing –  or is it?  Is it actually very beautiful?  Whether you think the former or the latter depends on whether you ate too much blue cheese yesterday, which means, please, try cutting blue cheese out of your diet for a few days before jumping off any bridges.

Bacteria and Fungi alike view the world more or less the same way.  They like some things, and dislike others.  The things they like are good for them, and the things they don’t like are bad for them.  They evolved that way, so that they would survive and prosper – they feel good when they’re doing something good for the species.  That’s the way it is with every creature.  A lizard will feel bad when it’s hungry, and good when it’s full.  They don’t care what they eat – the biggest danger to a baby alligator is its own mother.  But mammals developed a more complicated survival strategy based on taking care of each other, which enabled them to huddle together for warmth when the comet caused a winter thousands of years long which wiped out the dinosaurs; as a result mammals feel bad when they’re alone and good when they’re together, which is an advantageous system of emotional stimuli that we call love.

We have both lizard and mammal brains inside our heads, which means that we’re often confused about whether to kill someone or to have sex with them.  But there’s a third part of our brain that only humans have, that evolved around the same time we learned to tell stories about how we’re not happy anymore.  What does it take to make that part of our brain happy?  What does it want?

Well, what does it do?  It tells stories.


Having an idea is a pretty commonplace experience for us modern humans.  But it wasn’t always so ordinary – our brains developed this capacity gradually, and early humans were overwhelmed by the power of it.  A vision would appear inside their head, and somehow dimly they could perceive something existing in some way that did not exist in concrete form before them,  something that had never existed before: a possibility.  And the invention of possibility changed absolutely everything.

With the invention of possibility we were able to imagine a future different from the past – what might happen if we banged a stick against a bone, or rolled a round rock, or invaded France, or made a law against jaywalking – we modern humans swim in a sea of possibilities that animals have never imagined, and yet, at first, possibilities appeared to us as terrifying and wondrous apparitions, religious experiences, surrounded by ritual and mystery, the kind of thing that happens once in a lifetime to a lucky or sacred person, like being spoken to by an angel or by a demon.

The demons show us things that we don’t want: they show us things to fear.  The angels show us things we do want, things that would make us feel good.  Those spirits still speak to us, even though we don’t name them, and when you think about it you realize that they rule us more fiercely than the real ground under our real feet.  Because now we can imagine being happy.  And we can wonder why we’re not.


We like to think that we can think whatever we like.  But the truth is that our thoughts are actually physical things: they’re a network of pathways in our brains.  To call them pathways is useful, because, like pathways, they get worn in, like the way footprints in a forest become a trail with more and more trodding.  As we get older, it gets easier and easier to have the same thoughts over and over again, because our brains actually ignore information that contradicts those thoughts, and even changes things so they fit better.  Maybe theoretically it’s possible to have a different thought, but it’s just so much easier to stay on the trail than it is to hack our way through the thorny bushes out there with the wolves that having a new thought requires an act of almost absurd determination.  Before long, the path is graven like a canyon, and we can’t see over the walls on either side.  If you live long enough, you’ll end up sitting in a room with your brain on endless repeat, incapable of incorporating any new information at all, and you won’t even understand it’s happening.  I’m not kidding about this.

We’re addicted to our thoughts.  If you’ve ever tried to quit smoking, or watch less television, or stop thinking you’re fat, you know that it’s not easy to get out of a rut.  Your own brain betrays you, by convincing you that you shouldn’t go astray. This is true, even if the path leads over a cliff.

It wasn’t always like this.  When we were children, we didn’t already know the easy way through the forest.  There were monsters, and there were marvels, there were signs and there were wonders, and we could still roam wherever our whim took us.  Thousands of years ago we were like that, too.  We didn’t know what was on the other side of that mountain.  We couldn’t find our way back to the same cave when winter came again.  We weren’t even totally sure that winter would come again.  Anything was possible.  Anything could be true.

But winter does seem to come every year, and there’s a trail back to the cave where it’s warm, and if we stay on it all the way we won’t get lost, and now we’re right there in the middle of a story we can’t escape.


What really freaks me out is that this story is useful.  In fact, it’s crucial to the survival of the species.  It’s the whole point of our big brains: to tell us we’re not happy, not yet, although we could be, if only, if only, if only.

If our brains weren’t sculpted around that story, we’d still be living in trees, eating mangos and masturbating whenever we felt like it.  We’d like our coffee, even if it wasn’t a double tall lo-fat mocha like we ordered.  We’d be happy in our home town, even if it wasn’t Paris.  We’d tell each other that we love each other when we should.

But we’re not designed that way.  We’re puppets of a larger strategy for the success of our species.  To be part of a successful species doesn’t mean you yourself are all that successful – ask a mosquito baby how it feels to have a one in a thousand chance of being the one that lives.  I’ll tell you he’s not that happy about it.  But he can’t just throw his mosquito arms in the air and give up.  He’s got to do his best, despite the brutality of evolution’s plan.

So mosquito mothers keep having a thousand babies at a time, and we keep feeling miserable.  In fact, this ingenious misery strategy we’ve got going is so important to the survival of our species that we can afford to lose an absurd number of our team along the way – for every tortured genius we get, we lose ten thousand people to alcoholism, insomnia, crystal meth, rage, suicide, anorexia, depression and despondency.  And what killed every single one of those people was the story in their brains that says that something’s wrong with life as it is.  And they honestly could have been eating mangos and masturbating instead, if their own brains hadn’t murdered them.


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2 Things

Heinrich Q Wikepedistein delineates two separate Cavemen theatre set cultures, the Freiwandern and the Hohleblieb. Hohleblieb was based on the cave as a sacred location. The show was developed to fit the specific constraints of the cave. Fire and lamplight were used used from a variety of different angles, and the shapeshifting of shadows cast by stalactites was a major attraction at many caves … If you went to a play at Lé Creux ès Fées, you knew you were going to see a dude turn into a tiger at some point in the show.

In a museum setting, these performers would find a way to reflect or deflect light from any source. The projector would be the very best light, and only the Alpha Caveman got to reflect or deflect the projector light (according to Wikepedistein, the Alpha Caveman was usually a woman). If they found cleaning products containing fluorescent dyes, those would definitely be used for set painting.

Freiwandern was the roadshow. As the theatre of the caveless it is replete with underdog trickster themes. Setpieces were lightweight and collapsible for a nomadic lifestyle, a lot of stick and sinew tensegrity structures and umbrella-like handhelds. For a complex show a performer may carry a quiver of umbrellas. Use of local materials served as a crowd-pleasing shout-out to the audience: in this case the performer has used the museum’s supply of powdered wigs to rig some extravagant pants…

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some puppet ideas

For the sake of clarity, I’ve pictured the puppeteers without all their gear on.  The mastodon, courtesy of Mercedes Bátiz-Benét.


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this is disturbing

Continue reading

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A set design notion

So we had a meeting with ol’ Jamie Nesbitt the other day; he’s the guy designing the video projections for the show.  We were talking about where to put the video projector, which is a complicated although important subject, perhaps not worth going through in great detail here.  But sometimes a technical problem can push the artistic decisions in a new direction — in fact, I would say that this sort of dynamic, between the technical and the artistic, is at the very root of the art of making puppet shows.

At any rate: this is the idea that came up: we were thinking that maybe the set should be like a diorama in some musty old museum of natural history.  I can imagine just such a place still exists in the Pyrenées, in some strange old town populated by trolls, such as we visited earlier this year. There’d be a big frame, made of worn-looking wood, with a dull brass plaque indicating the contents — “une scène de la vie préhistorique” or something (don’t speak French so well, not sure if that means what I think it does), and behind the frame would be a cave-scene, such as we originally imagined, with strewn bones, some great mastodon rib-cage, a fire.  The backdrop would be a projection surface which wouldn’t be pretending to be anything other than a projection surface, because in this museum they project the backdrops in their dioramas using stuttering old film projectors.

This allows for a certain cheesiness in our decor — we could have fake rocks and such, if we wanted.  It might cry out to have the performers standing there in a tableau as the audience enters, poor bastards, but then they would spring to life when the show started, as if the audience was visiting the imaginary museum when they were really high.  It might make the show a little more tongue-in-cheek, or it might allow us to go further with our manias because we’ve got a bit of a distancing tactic in place.  Ultimately, that’s what it would do: it would distance the audience a little bit, like all frames, which can be good and can be not-so-good.

And it also give us a place to put the video projector that would be easy to set up quickly: behind the brass plaque.

Option 1 has the frame as I described it.  Option 2 has the frame with the lower edge high enough to hide behind — this would be good if we wanted a more traditional puppet show kind of thing, since it would hide the puppeteers.  Option 3 would be just the brass plaque part, with no frame, although I think I remember now that the best thing is to figure out how to get the projector above the action rather than on the floor.

Here’s another possibility:

In this version, the action takes place inside a gigantic skeleton (of some semi-imaginary prehistoric beast).  The ribs cross above, providing a place to put the projector.

I should say, for the sake of clarity, what we’re trying to solve: it’s hard with a touring show to find a spot in the grid to put your projector that puts it the exact same distance and angle from your screen every time without spending a lot of time messing around with it.  Option one is to put it on the floor, as part of your set, but that makes shadows if you walk in front of it; option two is to build your set in such a way that you can put the projector into it but above the heads of the performers.

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A puppet drawing

Here’s a notion of what some of the puppets might look like — the idea being that they’re made by cave-people, so they’re not super high tech.  The head might be made of wood, we think, unlike that frickin’ amazing neanderthal puppet head that Neanderthaler posted… rock would be mighty heavy for us weak-but-clever modern humans.

Bone would be cool though.  The idea is that the heads are kind of like maraca-style rattles, so they make a maraca-style-rattle sound when you move them about, and they can double as maraca-style rattles if need be.  Their mouths don’t move, we think.  Or maybe they do.  Maybe they’d be better if their mouths moved.  Less primitive, but more expressive.

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Thing 1 and Thing 2

Of the twins, the oldest has es mommas visions and has drunk deeply of her method and talent, and this has carried er to premium economic and social rewards in the Main Cave. But e acts like e doesn’t recognize us!

The other is a capable hunter and gatherer and makes sure momma eats and sleeps every day. E can tell the difference between a completed work of art, a work in progress, miscellaneous draft to be discarded, and the regular daily waste stream, and e keeps the cave clean so Momma’s process can continue. But e has no visions of es own, and doesn’t seem to care.

The twins are engaged to twins, for Caveman Wedding Mixup Kyogen.

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Yet another whole new theory

Okay, so there are several parts to the play at this point: the prehistoric story, the modern story, and the documentary-style commentary going on over top of it.  The prehistoric story seemed for the longest time to be the most solid bit we have worked out, but it’s also been bothering me and I’m not totally sure why.  I think it has to do with the kind of forced business of our main character envisioning some abstract possible world, and then believing that it’s out there, so leaving the cave, et cetera et cetera… wasn’t really landing emotionally.  Philosophically, maybe, but that’s not really enough.

So here’s a kind of ridiculous idea, or maybe not so ridiculous, can’t tell at the moment.   I referred in an earlier post to the prehistoric story as being a kind of cave-Genesis story, and just now finally thought about what that could actually mean — an attempt to tell the ur-story that is the primal source for Genesis… almost in the way that Quest for Fire, God love it, tells a kind of ur-hero’s journey thing.  Somewhere or other the marvellous Sir Frazer says (I can’t find the dang quote) something to this effect — the story changes, whereas the ritual remains the same; the ritual is vital, but whether the characters have Roman names or Christian ones or names that are long forgotten, the fundamental features must remain the same because they tell the deep truth, whether we understand it or not… that was a wild paraphrasing of something I might have imagined him to say, but, it being said, what if the prehistoric plot was like this:

The cave-puppeteers enter, and blow on the fire so that the cave begins to light up. They reveal a crude puppet of a caveman.  They breathe into his nostrils to make him come to life.  He is all overjoyed to be alive, and maybe names things around him with moans and grunts.  But then enter a cavewoman: she’s wonderful, and they’re in love.

But then: enter the King Caveman, the alpha male, still mostly ape.  He’s dragging in a lump of old meat he’s found out in the wastes; everybody feasts, he beats his chest victoriously, and takes our cavewoman as his woman.

Our caveman is distraught.

The cavewoman has a vision in the night, a wild and powerful event, with slithering spirits and animated shadows and who-knows-what-else — the first time in history that someone imagines something — the first vision of a better possibility — she imagines being with our hero caveman, a world where the might of the cave King wouldn’t impede their love.

She tries to describe it to our caveman, but he’s a bit too dim to get it.  She paints a picture on the wall of them together.  He sort of gets it: he paints himself as King. They make-a-the-love.

But enter cave King!  They’re ashamed, and try to cover their offending genitals with leaves… or something?  The King beats his chest and thrashes them both soundly, but they manage to escape, maybe by setting things on fire, the furs in the cave, so that they escape but the cave itself is full of fire and smoke and so the King has died in there probably.

Off they run into the wastes.  They are soon starving, and eating dust.  They travel and travel across vast landscapes.  The caveman gets angry at the cavewoman, because he feels like they never should have messed with the King.  They fight, even.  And the cavewoman is more and more pregnant.

In the night, they see the ghost of the King appear to haunt them.  But it turns out it’s a crazed hallucination: it’s actually some huge predator, who attacks!  And the caveman throws himself in front of the predator, to save the cavewoman; he is mortally wounded, but manages to distract the beast long enough for the cavewoman to kill it.

Now she’s all alone, and everything seems lost and miserable.

But then she has her baby!

Or something.  Not sure how to end it exactly.

Is this a terrible idea?

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Whole New Theory

Okay, so we’ve got this whole story being told by prehistoric shamans to tell their own creation myth, a kind of caveman’s Genesis, that involves a first human that has the first vision of a possible world, which strikes him like a religious revelation, that leads the tribe to leave the cave in search of the vision, and to wander the world forevermore.  But that’s a bit relentless stylistically, and plus we think it would be nice to visit the modern world as well, to encourage speculation about how things have changed since prehistory.  So now we’re thinking we’ve got two stories, interwoven, that will culminate together at the end.  One: the cave-Genesis.  And the other, set in the modern world, that follows a balloon with a happy-face on it through the various emotional breakdowns it inflicts: the single Dad, trying to earn his kid’s love with the balloon, the kid, uninterested, lets it go; the balloon floating away into the sky; a guy, getting ready to jump from his window-ledge, sees the balloon floating by, and is heartened, but reaches for it, and slips, and falls; a balloon seller dressed as a clown trying to parallel park his car full of balloons and losing his temper hysterically, when suddenly the guy from the window ledge lands on his hood, providing abrupt perspective.  The balloon drifts up to the moon, where the Moonlings worship it is as a divine visitation, and then shrivels up and falls to earth to be discovered by an old person wistfully remembering their youth.  That kind of thing.  We alternate between cave-story and balloon story, with occasional documentary-style narrations about the evolution of the brain and the purpose of happiness and so on.  The cave-story resolves with the tribe lost in the wastes, starving, deciding to eat the guy who lead them away from their home, and then the woman he’s impregnated going into labour – and here’s where we really go off the deep end – she gives birth to an enormous happy-face balloon, like, seven feet across, grinning at the audience, which pulls our two narratives together at the end in a satisfyingly ambiguous and funny way.  Because when all is said and done, happiness is really just not taking it all too seriously, we think.

Or something like that.

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Cannot figure out how to end this thing

Okay, so we started this whole thing with the idea that we would make a documentary about prehistoric humanity, and that somehow or other this would tie into the idea of happiness.  I think we’re only just now starting to figure out what we actually mean by that:

One: after much fussing, I think we can say that, roughly speaking, the idea is to make a documentary about the evolution of happiness. There’s heaps to ponder under that heading: what’s the purpose of happiness, from the perspective of the survival of the species?  In other words, are we built to be happy?  Under what conditions?  Given that we evolved to function in a paleolithic environment, not a post-modern one, do the conditions for happiness still exist?  Did they ever?  Are we well-designed?  And so on.  Lots of interesting and entertaining material in there, I think.

Two: what it means to be making a puppet documentary, as opposed to a puppet play, is this: we’re replacing plot with ideas.  There has to be the same arc as a story — the thing has to be moving, and exciting, but it has to be doing that by revealing bit-by-bit, not what happens to a character, but what we think is true.  See what I mean?  That’s an exciting documentary — you discover at the end something you had never known or thought before.

Put another way: a documentary begins by asking a question that we want to know the answer to, and then answering it.  The question we seem to be asking is: how can we be happy?  That’s a good question, and one that anybody would be anxious to have answered.  But, dang it, who knows the answer?  Not me.  I mean, sometimes, even generally speaking, I’m happy, but I couldn’t really tell you how or why in any profound sense.

So… is there another way to structure the documentary?  Another question, maybe? Or a way of getting out of having an answer?

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