Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Brian Henson at the EMP/SFM

I'm going to this next (cut and paste from here):
Oral History Live! "The Future of Digital Puppetry" with Brian Henson
Join us for an evening with award-winning director, producer and puppeteer Brian Henson.

Brian Henson, Chairman of The Jim Henson Company, will present an overview of the history of puppetry at The Jim Henson Company. Henson will explore the different technical achievements that have become part of the Company’s legacy and have led to its groundbreaking development of the Henson Digital Puppetry Studio, a unique system that allows performers to voice and puppeteer computer-generated characters in real time. This unique and revolutionary way of creating animated characters has most recently been used in the Company’s newest production Sid the Science Kid, currently airing on PBS Kids®.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
7:00 pm
Ticket Info
Free to EMP|SFM members; $5 general public, 206.770.2702 or 1.877.EMP.SFM1. Tickets go on sale to EMP|SFM members July 20 and to the general public July 23.

Comp tickets must be claimed at least 15 minutes prior to show time or they will be released to the rush line.
JBL Theater
325 5th Avenue North
Seattle, WA 98109

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Friday Workshop

I just took one today. I went to the Instructional Center to learn about Italian Punch—Pulcinella…for a bit…until we all were informed that Georgia Tech had once again double booked the class room. Allow me to say that again emphasizing the key points: The Georgia Institute of TECHNOLOGY once again double booked a classroom. Now, that’s just sad, isn’t it? I mean…we do have the scheduling TECHNOLOGY to not do this…it does exist. But I digress.
The workshop was lead by Philip Farah and called “Pulcinella and Commedia dell’ Arte hands on techniques”. Pulcinella is a bit more stylized than its English counterpart. He also looks a great deal different. He wears all white clothes and a black plain (for Commedia dell’ Arte, that is) mask. His motions involve a lot more rhythmic hitting and slapping of the playboard—with not only his hands, but also his face and the back of his head. The characters he plays with are different as well. For example, there is no wife—only a beautiful fiancĂ© which he loves and wants to marry but never gets to. This is not stock, however, because sometimes Pulcinella is not male. In Italy, Pulcinella isn’t just ‘Every-man’; he’s also ‘Every-woman’ depending on the skit at the time. Odd…and difficult to wrap one’s mind about, but true.
He faces off against Death rather than the Devil, but that’s one war he can’t win…just put off for another day. His neighbor is a true villain…and like in England the story really has no non-villains—except possibly the fiancĂ© who isn’t a glove puppet like the rest. She is single stick rod puppet with very little controls and looks like a doll on a stick. Now there is an authority figure that sends Pulcinella off to the hangman, which is the same to a point. For the scene with the hangman is extremely bawdy in its use of the hole presented by the noose. Never thought of that before, I assure you.
There are no huge noses in a Pulcinella set…because there is a lot of beating of the heads against everything: the stick, the playboard, the heads of other characters, etc.
The Italian system of the passing of the torch involves Apprenticeships, which Philip described in great detail. The most striking task being the using of a huge swazzle to make one’s mouth bleed until one’s palette develops calluses. Ouch. I’m glad that I could make my swazzle for my mouth rather than adapt my mouth to a swazzle!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thursday Workshops

Kevin shows cap
My first workshop today was attended because Paper-mache is currently my favorite puppet building method to employ and I enjoy very much seeing how other people do it. It was “Lightweight Marionette Bodies using Paper Mache” by Kevin Menegus. He starts in a similar fashion to the Thistle Theatre method which I learned originally from Brian Kooser—with a Styrofoam base. He also employs only 3 layers of thick brown paper. He uses Wheat paste as well. Here’s the differences…he does not use wood glue in the mix. He soaks the paper in water overnight. He sands all lumps away after the first layer. He adds all string supports and wires in between the second and third layers and he does not use any piece of paper with ink printed on it…doesn’t like his paste to turn strange colors. It is a consideration that I handle with gesso after the fact. It was all very interesting indeed, plus good to know that some of the methods I use are universal.

My second workshop was excellent in the fact that it took me out of my comfort zone and into a world that I know very little about: Electrical Design. It was “Do-It-Yourself 600 Watt Stage Dimmer” by Fred E. Putz. I actually learned to make a stage dimmer. And guess what? I took a series of pictures to show you how it’s done. See:
00 - What you need
Now I too can dim!

Wednesday’s Performances

Yesterday had a great line up of performances. However, we did not have a great scheduling of them. Who ever thought putting a show with lullaby in the name right after lunch was a good idea was…wrong. It was a lovely SHADDOW show with SOFT music, SMOOTH transitions and GENTLE colors…and as a lullaby—it sure worked on me. It was a good show too and I really wish I remembered more of it. Other people with more fortitude have told me about super cool parts I missed. Alas!
The second performance for us Blue Badges (the upper crust of puppeteers, don’t you know) was Luman Coad’s delightful Puppet Box. I just adored the monster in the box scene where the little boy was trying to go to sleep…fear of the unknown. His manipulation is so amazing! The whole show is made that much better by his willingness to open up the stage at the end and show how everything is done. He also told us about a sound cue device for the iPod which finally interested me in that device of the masses. Perhaps I will final let myself be assimilated!
Luman Coad
That evening we enjoyed two shows that were, sad to say, unfortunately scheduled. They lead off with Paul Mesner’s version of “The True Story of The Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf”. We saw that in Seattle at least once, because I’ve seen it before. I think I saw it at the Northwest Puppetry Center, in fact. It was even better this time because he’s polished on it for years since I last saw it. Wow!
The show after that was a large production done by second generation puppeteers which everyone was so proud of. Like most shows from my generation, it had a huge environmental message and was a message of warning to all. It was anti-Earth ruining…a subject near and dear to most of us. But it should never have followed Paul Mesner—he is beyond a tough act to follow (to say the least). Plus I don’t think you should ever end a show on a down note. It was very down too…death of beautiful creatures and so forth. The imagery and visual was so fabulous. They had gentle beautiful kite-like puppets that sailed over the head of the audience. The music was moving. The message was well thought out and clearly displayed. If only it didn’t have to follow Paul!
Now, perhaps some of you are eager to hear my opinion of the first potpourri. I hate to disappoint, but I didn’t attend. I have a horror of them. It’s always a mean spiteful drunk display of down-right evilness to new and eager puppeteers. I hate that. Of course I can’t resist asking about it the next morning to see if perhaps I actually missed one that was not the usual roast. I was informed that this one was even worse than I feared. I understand (second-hand) that the MC was a dreadful fellow who made sexist jokes, swore like a sailor, and thought it was funny to insult and belittle a mentally challenged young puppeteer. I’ll never attend another potpourri as long as I keep hearing that sort of thing about them. Who ever came up with the whole concept of them…please try to explain to me why? Why is it a good idea for a group of puppetry lovers and practitioners to ridicule newbies? Why?? What good does it serve?
That being said, keep in mind that my report above was second hand information and I do hope it was not actually as bad as the above makes it sound. I do hope.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wednesday Workshops

Q&A with Video Service Consultant
My first workshop was with Lee Armstrong: Video 101 for Puppeteers. It was a Q&A session for how to put together a demo reel or a puppet shoot. There were many questions and many answers, but my goal was satisfied without me saying a word. I wanted to know what software people use and recommend. Lee uses Adobe Primer Pro, and others had good things to say about the slimmer version: Adobe Primer Express. Many used and liked a software called "Final Cut". Others mentioned liking iMovie(the older version not the current one) and Vegas Video. One puppeteer spoke out strongly against Moviemaker...sorry Microsoft.
Adapting Books to Puppet Shows
My second workshop was with Paul Mesner: Adapting Contemporary Children's Literature for the stage. He went through stories of seeking permission for about a dozen books. He talked about the hurdles he went through and his interactions with the author/artists of the books. He also answered a long standing question in my mind...why no Dr. Suess or Shel Silverstien puppet shows? The estates are too tight fisted, which is a real shame.

The Opening Night of the Natl Puppetry Convention

I'm so excited! Here I am in the sweltering heat of Atlanta, GA, and I don't care in the least. Why? Because I'm at the National Puppetry Convention. Wahoo!
As most opening days go, it was a lot of get here, get checked in, drag your stuff to a not-so-nearby dorm and such...finding it all easily on multiple maps of this huge campus.
The Exhibit and Store are both being set up, so there's not much to look at. The occasional young puppeteer is about with a usually glove-rod Muppet-style puppet on their hand/arm which always have extremely cute high-pitch squeaky voices. But other than that, you pretty much gotta wait until the Opening Ceremonies.
This year it was lead off by an open letter to Obama reading...the same one published in the Playboard which I understand was created by a committee of thousands on an online Puppet Boards called 'PupCrit' (SP?).
Followed immediately by the first performance by Mallory Lewis who had also performed at our Regional in Tacoma. Everyone seemed to forget that and kept saying that this was her first Festival--um--no--National, yes--Festival, no. It was good, but I was too far away from the stage to enjoy the puppetry. Ventriloquists play better in smaller settings or with the help of a monitor. Alas!
The second show had great music, stunning visuals, inspiring ideas, and people snoring in the audience. I, myself, stayed awake--mostly because I was desperately trying to understand the plot. I have a great fear of these types of shows--that everyone is just going to rave at them and I'm not gonna get it. I was terrible at poetry interpretation in High School, you see. I shouldn't experience was the consensus. But, everyone said, it did have potential.
That show was immediately followed by the opening reception where I got to see and chat with many friends and acquaintances. Here are some pictures:

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Puppet Box

The Puppeteers of Puget Sound have a brand new forum created by our new President, Tony.

It's called The Puppet Box
The link is :

The purpose, as I understand it, is to facilitate the planning of the 2010 Regional Festival which we are going to host.