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Paper Pilgrimage, from Page to Stage-the McCune Canterbury Paper Puppet Project



Your Tax Deductible Donations to the McCune Collection Will Help Support the Upcoming Canterbury: The Reeve's Tale! DONATE NOW.


Canterbury Tale Number 1: The Miller's Tale

The Kelmscott Chaucer is considered to be a masterpiece of publishing. The Kelmscott press was the creation of renowned Arts and Crafts designer William Morris and the Chaucer publication was lavishly illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones. And now we are taking the artwork into a whole new dimension!

In The Miller's Tale, the Reeve insists the Miller is too drunk to recount any tale but the Miller goes ahead, spinning a bawdy yarn about sex, love, infidelity, trickery and midnight shenanigans. Our play proceeds on several levels, with the actors/musicans taking the roles played by both Chaucer and the Innkeeper who encourage the tales, the hand puppets playing the roles of the story tellers, and the beautiful paper scenes and figures telling the tales themselves (when the hand puppets or actors let them!) The Miller's Tale opens our journey at about 50 minutes long (with an option for some musical fun) and is small enough to fit in a house concert setting, or large enough for a 100 seat theater. This is funny, naughty theatre for mature audiences.

Canterbury Tale Number 2: The Nun's Priest's Tale "Chanticleer the Rooster"

This tale is suitable for family audiences! Chanticleer the rooster has a dream that forewarns him to watch out for the fox, but he lets flattery overcome his caution and gets caught. His many farmyard friends rush to his aid but it is ultimately his cleverness that allow his escape. We were very pleased to find a medieval tune very similar to our modern "Old MacDonald Had A Farm" and this and other live music played on Medievalesque instruments add to the fun.

Canterbury Tale Number 3: The Reeve's Tale

Companion to the Miller's Tale, the Reeve (a kind of estate administrator) is insulted by the Miller's Tale of a cuckolded carpenter (after all, the Reeve was previously a carpenter) and tells a tale of a crooked miller who gets his comeuppance. Two students from Cambridge College try to get the college grain ground without losing any of it but the miller sends them on a wild goose (or, in this case, horse) chase), stealing their grain while they are gone. They end up having to stay the night with the miller, his wife and their grown daughter, all sleeping in the same room. Sexual hijinks abound in this bedroom farce, and the miller gets it in the end.

The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, Kelmscott Press. 1896.

The Kelmscott Chaucer was published in 1896 by William Morris. It took four years to prepare. It contains 87 wood cut illustrations by Edward Burne-Jones. In addition, there are many large border decorations, frame decorations, large initial word decorations, and ornamental initial letter decorations designed by William Morris. His goal was to make a artistic book that was unified in all aspects of craftsmanship – fine paper, fine ink, fine binding, and fine printing. The Kelmscott Chaucer has been called one of the most beautiful books of the nineteenth century and of all times. Burne-Jones referred to the work as a “pocket cathedral.” Even though the book was sold out before it was even published, it was not a financial success. William Morris had to subsidize its production from the income of his other earlier works. (Paraphrased from McCune Collection Website)

THE PROJECT: The McCune Collection of Rare Books in Vallejo and puppet artist Michael Nelson are currently undertaking a collaboration to create a work of miniature theatre based on the classic writings of Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales) and using the Kelmscott Chaucer, especially the woodcuts of Edward Burne-Jones, as design inspiration.

Initially the project will create a work of live theatre with performances open to the public. Ultimately it is planned that this production can then be realized in video format to be shared worldwide.

Images from the Miller's Tale by Steven Jacobson

What is Toy Theatre or Paper Theatre? Toy theatre is a Victorian parlor theatre where the stage, sets, characters are all printed on paper. It can be thought of as the theatre of paper dolls. Michael and Valerie Nelson have been creating original toy theatre productions for over a decade and their miniature shows have headlined at festivals in Europe and coast to coast in the U.S. Their "Natalie" and "The Widow" have won the puppetry equivalent of the Oscar, the UNIMA Citation of Excellence in Puppetry, founded by Muppet Creator Jim Henson.

McCune Canterbury Paper Puppet Project is fiscally sponsored by the McCune Foundation.


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