So often (usually because they’re starting the work the night before it’s due), our students don’t do their best work, because we haven’t given them the opportunity to imagine their results turning out several different ways. This is a potential problem. Actually, no. IT IS A PROBLEM, because I don’t know of any project these days where the first draft of an idea is good enough. (Ok, maybe this blog, but that’s it). I could build the Kavad in wood that I built in paper, right now. It would be terrible and ugly, partly because I’m a bad carpenter, and partly because I don’t have a clear idea of what kind of story I want to tell, as Susanne Wind Gaskell did.
Why design a box to tell a story, when you don’t know what the story is, or what story is on your mind? Better to build the box a number of different ways, and then figure out which version of the story is best told using that design. You could talk to a wood-worker and build several complex and expensive versions of your design, while you figured out what sort of story you were trying to tell. But it would be expensive and difficult, and you would probably wind up going with your first model.
Or, you know… you could build some paper prototypes. Which is what I did.
I know a lot of things about the construction of boxes that I didn’t know before, as a result of building these two prototypes out of paper. The first is that paper is cheap, and consequently any mistake is inexpensive. Second, I learned that the design of such a box, is governed in large measure by the framework of the story. Third, I learned that Kavad stories must, in large measure, be governed by certain raw realities: more surface area must be given to characters, particularly recurring characters, than to whole scenes or particular tableaux in any story. Fourth, a kavad can be (indeed, should or perhaps must be) densely packed. Wood is heavy, and stories are weighty. If it’s worth carrying a kavad from place to place, then it’s worth making as much of the story available as possible, and as will fit on the painted interior (and exterior) surfaces of the box. Fifth, the kavad can serve as a visible palace of memory. The storyteller, and his/her future students, will know and recognize stories by the the placement of the relevant characters on the box, and learn the story by having it told in the relevant order. A well-designed box, in fact, could be used for multiple stories, such as a series of revelatory or mystery or sacramental experiences — this is why so many kavads in India are designed to open into a shrine or portable temple space dedicated to Rama or Shiva or other great Hindu deities; open the box one way, and tell one set of stories, and it’s the 0=0 Neophyte level of the Golden Dawn…. open it another way, and it’s the 6=5 ritual, or the Equinox rites.
In any case, these two little paper prototypes gave me a lot of good feedback about how to design one of these this summer… provided that I can decide what story I’m trying to tell. That, I think, is critical: without good storytelling skills, it’s impossible to prototype a kavad, because you don’t have a clear sense of how the story is intended to unfold. And a good unfolding is critical to a successful story.