On the night of Feb. 22, the line at New Paltz’s McKenna theatre was out the door for a performance of “Liquid States,” a shadow play about “water, life & stuff,” created by the artistic performance group Cave Dogs. “Liquid States” explored the physiological and cultural importance of all water on Earth, and the ways in which our relationship with water is changing.
The way that Cave Dogs put on a show is fascinating: they have small-scale props, full-sized actors and small lights behind a screen that follow the subjects; if you’ve ever made a shadow puppet with your hand, their methods work like that, but with props and miming movements 100 times more complex. By playing with proportions and shadows, the performers that comprise the Cave Dogs artists group were able to make each 2D shadow scene feel as real and dramatic as 3D actors on a Broadway stage with floor-to-ceiling sets.
“Liquid States” detailed the impact that water has in our lives, depicting everything from tiny drops in a watering can to huge waves in the ocean. From flushing toilets to melting ice caps, Cave Dogs invited the audience to go with the flow. The audience was treated to scenes of corporate fishing boats, humans polluting a river and men climbing up stilt houses to avoid rising tides.
A child took to the stage during the production, wringing out a cloth with her mother by a river. With this, we were reminded of how important water is to children; that it is used for drinking, cooking, washing and nurturing. With the use of projected video, the artists blended vividly illustrated realities with moving shadows to make their world seem serene, though tinged with danger and sadness.
Throughout the production, a theme became clear: we as a species are being careless with our resources. The piece emphasized that all of the water on Earth has been here since long before humanity came around. To depict this, a woman rows through rivers, swamps and oceans, but in due time, she finds herself in a cracked and arid desert.
With only 1% of Earth’s fresh water readily available to mankind, the production reminded us that we have to save and preserve our freshwater supply while we can. With New Paltz’s recent water pollution crisis in the back of our minds, the play was especially relevant.
“[The water crisis] affected us for about a week or so. But for 780 million people daily, 24/7, 365, that’s their state. They have water issues all the time,” Cave Dogs member Jim Fossett said. “Clean water isn’t just about life or death, it’s about opportunity,” said the production’s narrator.
Perhaps the recent water crisis was the reason the show sold out, but the real draw of the program was the compelling artistry that Cave Dogs was able to achieve from behind the white screen, using only minimalistic props and cutouts.
Suzanne Stokes, a seafaring actress behind the screen, used nothing but a small rolling platform in order to “row” across the stage with a boat’s shadow. “The boat’s [downstage,] lit really big, and I’m up there, following the boat, because the boat leads,” Stokes said.
The actors’ movements and interactions with the set took a great deal of coordination. Backstage, the flat 2D objects used to make the larger-than-life scenes were tiny in their true form. The public was invited to view the props and speak with the cast after the production, and the true nature of the props was shocking to audience members. “I can’t believe how small the boat is!” and, “Look at how detailed these flowers are!” were common remarks.
This February’s performance of “Liquid States” was created in partnership with New Paltz’s Unison Arts Center, and an opening performance from Kingston High School students.