Over the years, the creative minds behind Ethos have created many ambitious shows at the Vortex. They've filled that theater with performers, musicians, and dancers, creating large-scale shows on a relatively small stage.
For their latest show Atlantis, the ambition and scale has grown large enough that the performers themselves had to shrink. It's an epic-scale opera that reimagines the ancient tale of the lost city. To make room for fifty characters (including a larger-than-life kraken), Atlantis was created not with human actors in mind, but with three-foot-tall puppets.
"The Atlantians are... attacked by the Great Kraken. We can do this with puppets," explains writer Chad Salvata. "We couldn't really do it if we didn't have puppets."
Salvata created Atlantis knowing he'd be using puppets, so he was unafraid to create large set pieces and dozens of characters. "I had no idea he was going to write a cast of over fifty puppets," says director Bonnie Collum, "but that's what we've got, is this gigantic cast of puppets telling this epic story of Atlantis." Luckily, Collum loves a challenge, so the creation of this show has been, while not exactly easy, gratifying. "It's really super hard and it's also really satisfying," she says. "It's the kind of complex challenge that I really love."
Salvata jokes that his original thought about creating an epic puppet opera was "how hard can it be?" and his second thought was "help!"
Salvata and the Ethos crew sought out help and advice from some of Austin's veteran puppet creators, Connor Hopkins of Trouble Puppet Theater and Caroline Reck of Glass Half Full Productions. "They have so much more experience than we do with puppets, so it was really helpful," says Collum.
Ethos member Melissa Vogt has been working overtime on Atlantis, onstage and off. As a performer, she's tasked with simultaneously puppeteering and singing. "You're basically thinking about ten things at the same time, while singing," she says. Offstage, she's been working on constructing the puppets themselves. "Learning how to make these puppets and figuring out how to translate that into something that works on stage," she says, "has been so much work and so much fun."