Julian Ratz plays Jason, and by virtue of the role, also the puppet Tyrone, in the Williams Lake Studio Theatre’s production of Hand to God, a raunchy adult comedy the cast warns is not appropriate for children.
Jason, a shy teenager dealing with the recent death of his father, is a member of the church’s Christian puppet ministry, run by his mother, Margery. Jason’s hand puppet, Tyrone, begins to take on a life of his own, and, seemingly possessed by the devil, wreaks havoc on the church’s basement.
The Tribune’s Tara Sprickerhoff sat down with Ratz to talk about what it’s like to play a character, but also a possessed puppet, in the production.
Q: You don’t play one character in this play, you’re almost playing two. What’s that been like?
JR: It’s been a real challenge. one of the main things that I struggle with is learning lines without blocking, so usually it falls more into place a little bit closer to the run.
With two characters, it’s not just the lines but it is who says what line, routines, comedic timing, it leaves a lot to learn. It’s pushed me to get better at repetition, memorization but additionally it’s just been a real challenge, not to say it isn’t fun.
Q: How do you go about creating a character for a puppet?
JR: I don’t know if I fully judge it on appearance but reading some of the lines and seeing Tyrone, all I could imagine was a rude guy yelling on a bus at someone, and so I just tried to give a personality based on that.
It’s a little shallow but it is delved into a little more as you get used to the puppet, how he acts, adapted into his body language, without putting it into your own, especially facial expressions. That’s a really big challenge I would say.
Q: How did you physicalize your puppet?
JR: Small movements, things like breathing, how he carries himself, making sure that he never really has a moment of being alone.
Turning yourself away from him, can instantly make him feel like a piece of cloth so to avoid that you can implement gestures like scratching his head, yawning, or even just when you are on the sidelines to have both you and the character listening and paying attention to what is going on onstage, but you don’t want to upstage the other actors. It’s difficult to find that balance.
Q: What’s it like to create a character for Jason, who is played by you also, alongside the puppet?
JR: I actually did a little bit of puppet ministry when I was in church when I was young. I think my mother led our youth group, but it really helps essentially visualize two individual characters, not just one.
I’ve used puppets before, but not really in depth, and when I was little, but it makes it so it is a lot easier. It is making sure there is no blending of lines, there is no overlap of movement, facial expressions.
But the play hits home a little bit. We were a religious family, we did religious stuff like this, the difference being that my mother is fantastic. I was a very shy introverted kid who didn’t have a lot of confidence until high school, so it’s more trying to think back to what it was like and project that.
Q: What have been the challenges of working with Tyrone?
JR: Disobedient sometimes. He doesn’t listen. You could say he just flies off the hand sometimes (laughs).
It’s been difficult learning to move him essentially, especially not bringing him in (gestures to pulling the puppet closer to his body), because bringing him in melds us. The director doesn’t like that, so holding your arm out at 90 degrees at all times and I’m not a very physically fit kid and so holding a puppet out for an hour or two starts to get me.
Q: What’s been your favourite part of doing this production?
JR: I came out to this play as an audition not really excited. After reading at auditions I thought, ‘Oh this is really funny.’ The lines, if offensive, are equally so. It’s definitely been the comedy in the play and being able to laugh during rehearsal.