Wednesday, March 19, 2008

It Can Be Done...

Blog Backup: It can be done...

At the last Aki Matsuri team meeting, I was surprised that this blog of mine came up in the discussion. The president of the group sent it out to all the rest by email when he spotted my previous article on the Aki Matsuri. He also mentioned it at the meeting and specifically the first article…what do you think happened then? Yep, we both ended up trying to explain in front of the group my thoughts on the sex-implied or sex-free beginning of Momotaro.

We didn’t do so well…

I was trying to describe how I would keep it PC and do the transformation beginning. I found that this is something I cannot describe…at least not without a puppet on hand.

But since then I have been thinking about it.

Let us imagine our puppet play…now let us skip ahead to the part where the bite of peach has just transformed the old woman (W) into her younger self and the husband (H) has come home to find this wonder…

H: But how did this wonder come about?

W: I was down by the river washing clothes and thinking about how much I regret never having a child. I sent a pray up to the Great Kami and then I heard a strange sound up river. When I looked—there was this huge peach coming toward me. So I brought it home, saved half for you and ate my half. Then I became young again! Here is your half.

H: [two beat pause] Ittadakemasu! [H eats and transforms]

Oh no! He’s young, and she’s young…stall for time…

H: Well…I do feel a little different. Maybe it made me a little taller.

W: It is because you can now stand up straight.

H: So I can! But it can’t have worked right because the world has gone fuzzy.

W: It is because you don’t need your glasses. You must take them off and then you can see.

H: So I can! But it can’t have worked right because my head is hot and it aches.

W: That is because you have grown your hair back and your cap is too tight. You must remove it and then you will feel better.

H: So I do! Ah this is wonderful! The Great Kami has truly blessed us.

W: We’ve been given a chance to live a life we won’t regret.

Now we have to face the problem…we’ve told the audience in the previous scene that she wanted a child. We had her tell her husband again in this scene…think about it. If you were the old man and just got your youth and vigor back, standing before you is your wife in her prime and beauty, and she’s just told you this miracle came about because she asked the Great Kami for a child. What would you do at this point?

W: We’ve been given a chance to live a life we won’t regret.

H: Come, my wife, let us go inside. [Fade to black]

Narrator: And nine months later…

Whoa whoa whoa! That’s just too obvious, right? Now you are wondering how we puppeteers do it…how do we end such a scene in a PC manner? Here are a few methods we might use…

The Religious Method:

W: We’ve been given a chance to live a life we won’t regret.

H: Let us go now to the shrine and thank the Great Kami for this second chance and for our children to come.

W: Oh yes, let’s do that right now.


Narrator: So the couple thanked the great Kami and in honor of the peach, named their first child Momotaro which means ‘Peach Boy’. Let’s look in on them a few years later and meet Momotaro…

The Distraction Method:

W: We’ve been given a chance to live a life we won’t regret.

H: This time, if we do have a child, I think we should name it in honor of this peach!

W: Oh that is a wonderful idea…let’s see Momo means peach so if it is a girl we shall name it Momoko.

H: A fine name, indeed. But what if it is a boy?

W: Oh dear, what shall we do?

H: I have it! We shall call him Momosuke!

W: Hmm…something about that name doesn’t seem right.

H: How about Momohiro?

W: I don’t know…that one doesn’t seem to fit.

H: I have it! Ichimomo! [short pause]

W: What about Momotaro?

H: Well, that’s rather obvious don’t you think?

W: I know. Let us go into town and ask the good people of our little village of Shiattaru to help us pick!

H: That’s a good idea!


Narrator: Those are all good names aren’t they? What name do you think they picked?

Kids: Momotaro!

Narrator: Yes, Momotaro! So shall we look in on their lives a few years later and meet Momotaro?

The Shameless Plug Method:

W: We’ve been given a chance to live a life we won’t regret.

H: Come wife! Put on your festival kimono

W: My yukata? Oh, I haven’t worn that in years!

H: Yes, and I will put on mine for today is the Aki Matsuri where we can dance and celebrate our good fortune!

W: Oh I feel as excited as a young girl!

H: You are a young girl!

[They laugh and exit]

Narrator: They went to an Aki Matsuri just like this one, didn’t they? I bet they had fun just like you are, right? So the great Kami granted their wish and they were able to have a child and in honor of the peach, named their first child Momotaro which means ‘Peach Boy’. Let’s look in on them a few years later and meet Momotaro…

Hmm…well, that’s enough examples for now. You get the idea, right? I hope I’ve redeemed myself in your eyes if you came to the meeting.

By the way, nothing above is the actual script. It just all came out of my head specifically for this blog entry. Whether or not I do this opening still hinges on whether or not I have time to make more puppets when I get the essential ones done. But it’s still fun to think about…and it certainly has put me in script writing mode!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Lexicon of Manipulation

Glove Piggy (1)

The question I just got is: Is there a lexicon for puppet manipulation?

Let's see...

"Focus" or "Eye-focus" is a term you hear a lot. Where a puppet looks is really important.

"Transfer of Energy" is another thing we talk about. If the puppet bounces a ball...seems simple enough...until you put that ball on a stick and have to simulate the transfer of energy from the puppet's hand to the ball to the playboard and make it look like it's really happening.

"Playboard mark" (Playboard is what we call the board that simulates a stage floor for bottom controlled puppets...Glove or Rod) a playboard mark is the the place on your arm that represents the height of the puppet. You've got to "hit the puppet's playboard mark" to keep the puppet's height consistent.

"Meaningful Movement" I've heard a time or two when a puppeteer is complaining about an amateur wiggling the puppet around for no reason.

We use the word "Manipulation" a great deal more than the word "Animation" or "Acting"

We talk about "mimicking" humans.

We often talk about ourselves as puppet "Operators" especially when distinguishing ourselves from other roles like puppet voicers. We may even go so far as to refer to ourselves as "Actor-Manipulators" -- jazzy, huh?

We talk about avoiding letting our puppets "Die" on stage. This happens when you stick that rod puppet in a stand or hang a marionette on a hook which is why most people don't like to do that. In a stand or on a hook, naturally, a puppet will cease movement. A living breathing thing never stops moving completely. So to keep the audience believing that the contraption is alive it must never "die". Sometimes the puppeteer gets distracted and let's a puppet just stop even though they are still holding it. This is the worst type of puppet "death", and we beat ourselves up for doing it.

Um...there is "timing" and "pace" which means the same on the puppet stage as the live stage.

"Destroying the illusion" is to be avoided at all don't let a body part of yours show!

Directors may tell you to stop moving the puppet so "mechanically" or "robotically".

We talk about "synchronization" with speech--excessive "bobbing" of the head is to be avoided. If it's a mouth puppet, it shouldn't open and shut for every syllable.

I'm going to end my list with my favorite: the "Marionette Swing" which is the dipping and rolling of the controller to get the legs swinging under the torso of the marionette. You see, the strings pull forward and up--but there is no string for the follow through of the walk--lifting the weight of the body off the trailing leg by raising the heel. We must rely on the Marionette Swing to get that.

What? That's all? Well...I don't doubt that I've forgotten quite a few, but this is a start. Care to add? Leave a comment.

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Wealth of Volunteers

After 1st build

We puppeteers don't need much to content fact, I had a little slice of heaven this Saturday. Three people came over to build puppets with me.

"Why is that heavenly?" you ask.

Well you the shadowy depths of my well cluttered craft room I am often lost. I build my own friends there but strangely, talking to them feels like I'm talking to myself. Go figure.

But this Saturday the tables came out and the clutter some how vanished. Then there was much cathartic tearing of shopping bags. Balloons were blown up. Toilet paper rolls were cut up. Paper clay was squished and mooshed. Heads and hands began to take one time during the day there were eight hands covered with wallpaper paste (that's forty fingers, in case you were wondering).

I ask you: Does that not sound like a heavenly Saturday?

Ah! You know it does! So, come back often, for faces are next. Who knows what face you may catch a glimpse of.

Speaking of faces...I seem to find myself trapped in the marionette mode. Jean Enticknap and Brian Kooser would despair of me. Even though I know that glove puppets are supposed to have huge heads and funny faces...I've made the heads in proportion. Eyes half way between the top of the head and the bottom. Noses between the eyes and the chin. Mouthes between the nose and the bottom of the face! Mouths that have corners which line up with the center of the eyes!

Whatever shall I do?