Monday, August 17, 2015

National Puppetry Festival 2015 (University of Connecticut) -- Day 6 & 7 (Final)

If you have just come on board, this is the 5th post on my trip to the Puppeteers of America 2015 festival and conference. Following are links to all of the posts:

10am - Squirrel Stole My Underpants by: Bonnie Duncan

A lonely, awkward girl is sent out to the backyard to hang up the laundry and keep herself busy. The moment Sylvie’s back is turned, a mischievous squirrel appears, steals her favorite piece of clothing and runs off. When the girl gives chase, she finds herself lost in strange lands.  As the story unfolds, an entire world emerges from her laundry basket and Sylvie learns that she is a strong girl with magic within herself.  Live music by Brendan Burns and Tony Leva.
This piece gets my award for most charming show of the week. Very well put together and super fun for kids and families. The live music adds so much and we won't be able to manage it at the library (or the vast number of props), but I think it is a great example of what we could aim for in creative story telling. Not to suggest that we aren't already perfect ;)

The promo is only 1m10s and comes with groovy music from the show. You should I'll just go ahead and watch.

Squirrel Stole My Underpants Teaser from Bonnie Duncan on Vimeo.

11am - Puppet Parade

Over the first 4 days I had managed to construct a couple of puppets in my workshops and it seemed like it would be a shame to have come all this way and possibly miss my only chance ever to be in a puppet parade. I don't have numbers for you, but there were a lot of us. We marched perhaps 8 blocks into the heart of Stoors waving at a diffuse, but steady stream of children and families. Foam and his mask/puppet, Squiddy the heptopus, had a grand time watching for the arrival of netherworld demons.
I managed to make a few friends during the week and this was my last chance to enjoy a day of companionship with them.
The Canadian "Cat Woman"
Cat Woman's zany side kick, "Giraffe Girl" 
My travel buddy, "Zaney Lainie"
The Conference of the Animals - Loosely based on The Conference of the Birds, a storyteller with a mic. led a collection of 100 unrehearsed puppeteers on a journey discussing the perils of screen-time in modern society. Really, it was just a little guided improv work as an excuse to put on a puppet pageant for the parade watchers. Cool idea that was only a bit chaotic. For extra credit, feel free to look at the story in the original Persian with split screen English translation.

1-4pm - Fringe on the Street

Watched bits of several street performers/puppeteers and soaked up the artistic feeling. It was like a daytime puppet version of Nuit Blanche. There were 6-8 outdoor areas and venues where different shows rotated performing.

While wandering, I had a conversation with Heather Henson without knowing it was her. She had patch of an open square set up with a series of interactive environmental stations under the umbrella of her puppet company, IBEX Puppetry.

4pm - Threads by: Théâtre Incliné (Laval, QC)

“Listen, my love… Listen, my child… Listen to the river…” 
For this world is desperate for poetry.
And poetry is provided. Twisted, bleak and awesome. I guess I have something for French Canadian theatre. I loved Threads almost as much as I adored the Orphan Circus yesterday. While the atmosphere of both is dark, Orphan has many comic moments and leaves you feeling eerily curious. Threads is dark and leaves you feeling dark thoughts, despite a turn for the better at the end. Fortunately, I'm okay with dark. Again, what impressed me was a stunning set, intensity of performance, and skillful manipulation.

8pm - ¡VIVA PINOCHO! A Mexican Pinocchio! by: Teatro SEA (New York, NY)

A very political re-telling of the classic folktale, Pinocchio, from the perspective of a young Mexican immigrant, Pinocho. Audiences follow the puppet boy’s journey to understanding his sense of self while struggling to maintain his Latino heritage and find his home in a new land, the United States.
... To tell the story in new and visually exciting ways, the show has employed many techniques, including masks, black light, marionettes, shadow puppets and animation, direct manipulation puppets, and object puppetry.
I didn't particularly enjoy it, though it received accolades from the paying crowd. I found it lacked any subtlety with it's political message and had too many songs that felt the same. The technical elements of the set and puppets were very well done and the lone actor/puppeteer was both talented and likeable.

Sunday, August 16 2015

8am - Bradley International Airport in Hartford.

Reflecting on an amazing week. At 20 this event might have caused my life to be unrecognizable. At 43 the effect is bound to be more moderate. Instead of my life transforming to become this experience, I will have to absorb it, let it mingle with my DNA and try to allow it to expand inside me. Fill up any free space.  Right now, I think that the impact of this conference will be large, but it's so hard to know what will happen in the coming weeks and months.

Life really does have momentum. Eventually, I will find myself at the final destination and all the steering, diversion, planning, and change I can manage won't alter that. But, I'm leaving a trail behind me. A tiny orange thread wisping behind like spider silk. So small so small so small. Let it grab moisture from this pre-dawn sky and glisten with dew drops. Though we can never stop, let it slow my descent long enough for me to craft a most excellent web to share with you as we slide in and out of days--ever deeper into mystery.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

National Puppetry Festival 2015 (University of Connecticut) -- Day 5

August 14th, 2015

8am - Contemporary Shadow Puppetry

These days keep getting better and better. Today there was more of the technical stuff, but much more playing than yesterday.

We came in an hour early and were shown some basic shadow puppet craft. I didn't see any different technique from what Jim has shown me, but did get some ideas for different materials and methods for connecting rods.
Below you can see my septopus, "Lucky." He managed to slide his tentacles into almost every example that we worked on this morning. With the right set up in advance, this would be pretty cheap to do with large groups.
Next we spent some time using overhead projectors and slide projectors. I can see some possible applications for us, but they don't interest me as much as what we did at the very end of the session Actually, we stayed 45 minutes late, for which I will be eternally grateful.

Below is a wonderful light table set up that I WILL be using when I get back. We just need to build the table. Everything else we already have. Might need architectural vellum and a sheet of Lexan.

 We can do some stunning audience-side shadow puppetry or straight up live-feed puppetry. I've had some rudimentary ideas bouncing around in my head, but seeing these things done (and done really well) has thrown those ideas right into focus and it all seems so obvious. I think this could solve several problems in the library's Pooh Corner. Audience involvement/engagement being key. Also, no need to stumble around in the dark :)
 One thing we will have to be wary of is the ability to create a huge mess with all the objects available for scene/texture creation.

2:45 - The Orphan Circus by: Les Sages Fous (Trois-Rivières, QC)

The best puppet show I've seen... ever... so far ;) The design of the set, the acting and the manipulation were all expertly handled.
This excerpt from their website is even awesome just as text:
     The Orphan Circus is a haven for orphaned objects and puppets born strange.
     Among the debris of a scrap yard, between used oil cans, rusted sheet metal, and miscellaneous lost objects, Les Sages Fous invite you to a clandestine rendezvous. Two junk peddlers create a small circus of visual tableaux evoking the life of a cabaret troupe of derelicts and misfits. The dark alley becomes a outlet for dreams, a place where glitter and ash entwine, where magic and mystery is brewed in the trash cans. Underneath the dirt and the rust there are treasures to be found.

I hope you are aware that I don't take photos during the shows. Really bad etiquette at best, illegal at worst. So, while my workshop photos are mine, the photos and videos of these performances are (almost?) always ones that are available on a company website. I mention this because, Les Sages Fous displays their photos through a flash player that doesn't give you access to a URL. Normally this irritates me enough to not bother trying to promote their material. However, this is so good and not all the puppets are visible in the video. You may want to check out their pictures via their website.

Funny what people mess up. While their show is amazing and their video is well done, their photos are only so, so. They have good lighting, but I could definitely do better with the actual pictures. I'm not trying to find fault, it's just it was so good, I wish it was perfect.

reverse cascade
Not from the show :(

4pm - Reverse Cascade by: Red Ball Theatre

I was pretty tired when I saw this one. It felt long. I don't mean that a puppet show can't be full length, but if that is going to happen, you have to be sure that you provide the audience with exceptional variety AND a killer story. 

Also, if you are doing a show called reverse cascade and you feature juggling as a major theme in your show and your characters are little red juggling balls, you might consider using that particular juggling pattern in the show.

8pm - Late Night with Eugene O’Neill 

A variety show that is based on a late night talk show format and hosted by Eugene O’Neill himself (in puppet form) and co-hosted by Sonia Manzano (Maria on Sesame Street).

All the performers including the band are alumni or currently studying at the O'neill. A lot of inside jokes that I wasn't inside for.

10pm - Salmagundi Cabaret

I've been staying up late blogging, but I haven't actually taken in any of the late night shorts. There are events with names like Fringe, Potpourri, or the Salmagundi Cabaret... that are generally students or alumni getting a chance to show off some current or edgy piece of work--usually 5 minutes or less. Against Wendy's better judgement, I decided to stay up late at least one more time. Really glad I went because I got to see (for a third time) Sarah Nolen, an "almost" graduated puppet arts student. She appears to be some sort of puppet genius, really hard working, or perhaps both. Here is one of her bits manipulating a shower curtain and some shadows...

Thursday, August 13, 2015

National Puppetry Festival 2015 (University of Connecticut) -- Day 4

Thursday, August 13th

Faye, bends reflective plexiglass which projects a stunning animated white "shadow"

Contemporary Shadow Puppetry

Here is the description of the course:
Instructor: Faye Dupras
This workshop is a hands-on exploration of materials and methods used in contemporary shadow puppetry.  Participants will be given an opportunity to explore how the choice of lighting source and screen affects the visual vocabulary and storytelling possibilities of the form.
I was nervous when I approached the classroom where I will spend the next 2 mornings. We received a stack of paper in a folder and were asked to staple 10 different swatches of fabric to various sheets of note paper. I thought, "Yikes! Perhaps a little more academic than I am prepared for." Not so.
Our facilitator, Faye, is incredibly knowledgeable, generous and quite down to earth. When it seemed that several of use would be interested, she even arranged for the class to begin an hour earlier tomorrow morning to allow us to learn some construction techniques.

Also, I hadn't been sitting more than 5 minutes when I got to climb into this thing below. When inflated with a fan and lit from inside (by a gelled DeWalt flexible work light) it made a magical undersea shadow stage.
Bubble Kingdom -- Dyed Ripstop Nylon (parachute material)
As it turns out, I also really enjoyed looking at the many screen fabrics that she prepared, different light options behind each and analyzing the properties of each for unique benefits and hazards to puppetry. be continued...

2pm - The Crane Wife by: Margarita Blush

Based on the Japanese folk tale. The show is intended for all ages and features hand-crafted, bunraku-style puppets, masks, shadow imagery, and live music.

Very compelling. When animated, the human version of the crane (oops! spoiler) has one of the most striking faces I have ever seen on a puppet. There was a lot of subtlety in the puppetry. Great focus from the cast.

4pm - Mulan by: Chinese Theatre Works

Lots of different styles of puppetry in this one including some great fabric folding. Sadly, the clever creation of the fabric puppets is not shown in this video. 

6pm - BBQ and Tour of Puppetry Arts Complex

It was easy to believe that the watermelon was delicious. It was hard to believe the crazy workshop that they have for creating puppets.
Dept. Head's Office
There are 5 or 6 different workshops. Metal work, fabric and dying, painting, wood work... as well as practice space with floor to ceiling mirrors and "office" space which is clearly where all your project you are detailing reside.
One of my favourites

8pm - Icarus by: Liars and Believers

A full on musical from a devised theatre company. I quite enjoyed the modern take on the Icarus myth. Sometimes the puppets were integrated well and sometimes it felt as though they felt like adding another puppet sequence because, apparently puppets are "hot" right now.

The photo journal continues to grow...

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

National Puppetry Festival 2015 (University of Connecticut) -- Day 3

Wednesday, August 12

How I'm Feeling Here

Tired, yet elated! With so much to see and do, my neurons are on overload. I wish the whole Children's Department could be here.

I'm going to try very hard to have the blog almost finished before my last performance so I can get a full night's sleep

9am-12pm - Simple But Elegant Rod Puppets

I worked with Bill Lorenzen and my table mates for another 3 hours. We lost a few people who were displeased with how yesterday went and gained a few participants and a couple of spectators. For my part, I loved Bill, but I can see what bothered people. He gets off topic, can be impatient and aggressive, but he is well into his 70's and still shares with me the wonder of a small child. He isn't in a second childhood. He just never left. It's a trait that seems to be VERY common amongst puppeteers and I am beginning to feel a real sense of community.

We completed the puppets for the purpose of the workshop, did some simple manipulation and then discussed a variety of materials from virtually free to prohibitively expensive. I was hoping to get a sense of multiple ways these creatures can be constructed. With some hands on experience and all the examples I am getting to see, I'd say it's been a resounding success.

1:30pm - Paper Hat Game by: Torry Bend

This showing was cancelled due to a last minute issue with their projector. They hope to reschedule. Before those of us in line found out, I did manage to investigate some interesting puppets in the lobby.

2pm - Toy Theater of Terror As Usual, Episode 13: Whistles and Leaks by: Great Small Works

Part of the toy theatre mini-festival, it was a political commentary (occasionally satirical) looking at the concept of freedom of information as it pertains to Gulf War veteran PFC Bradley Manning. It had all of the 4 performers visible and surrounding a 4' wide proscenium stage. It was surprisingly low tech. 

4pm - The Swan by: Le Theatre de Deux Mains (Based in Montreal)

Story-wise, a very simple take on The Ugly Duckling. The implementation is anything but simple. It was a basic marionette performance with a number of special lighting and set effects. Much of it hinges on a beautiful lighting design and the use of a computer monitor as an animated pond.

In this YouTube promo, you get the idea, but the lighting is much more enchanting live. Particularly the pond, as it flickers in the video due to the interaction between the monitor's refresh rate and the frame rate of the filming process (you didn't really care, did you? Okay).

5pm - Finding Home by: Eulenspiegel Puppets

A charming puppeteer delivers the history of her parent's survival of Nazi Germany and their emigration to America (in Rural Texas). Very conversational and disarming, it is performed with stick and shadow puppets (lit with candles) and materials recovered from the puppeteer's childhood, including drawings of the whole family made by her deceased mother... you know... before she was deceased, that is.

The sight lines in the performance space for this Toy Theatre were terrible. Raised seating was called for. I stood the entire performance.

8pm - White Like Me: A Honky Dory Puppet Show by: Paul Zaloom

A meta-puppetry exploration of hypocrisy and reverse, reverse, reverse racism... I guess. Paul is very talented and quite frenetic. If you combined Rodney Dangerfield, Andrew Dice Clay and a young, coked out Robin Williams, you'd have it about right. Too long by half.

Later On...

I have decided to avoid the late night shows in favour of sleep tonight.

National Puppetry Festival 2015 (University of Connecticut) -- Days 1 and 2

A note before we begin. This blog is jam packed with information and links. On Tuesday, I ran from event to event. You know me. I literally ran... in the rain. I carried my laptop so I could use every spare moment to journal this experience and even so, I may not be asleep until after 3am. Pace yourself. Be selective about the links you follow or you will be exhausted. Okay...

Monday, August 10


Flights were all on time(ish) which I consider to be a minor miracle. I was not selected for "random screening." Also, a miracle. The plane which flew me on the leg from Toronto to Hartford has the distinction of being the smallest (though not the sketchiest) aircraft I have been on. It was capable of seating 14 plus a pilot AND copilot. Really loud and shaky. Not a northern puddle-jumper. So, at least, I still have something to look forward to.

I had to wait 2 1/2 hours at the airport for my scheduled shuttle. An hour of that was waiting for several other festival participants due to flight delays. I really don't care about the waiting. I'm easily distracted, but I did miss my last chance at a festival orientation session. Guess I'll have to wing it.

6pm - Check-in

Typical stuff. Brochures, room keys, meal card, etc.... Let us just say, my accommodations, while air conditioned are somewhat spartan. It's a dormitory room. Shared bath. No television. No time anyway. I had to put on my own sheets, which were not fitted. Yikes!
I thought I had all the basic life skills... WRONG!

8pm - Captain Boycott by: Bread and Puppet Theater

Here is the breakdown of the show:
Captain Boycott is a show in 3 chapters:
1)    A Thing Done In A Seeing Place – a modern re-telling of Antigone
2)    The Horizontalists – the anti historic philosophy of horizontalisim, which casts light on historic events
3)    Captain Boycott – the story of the boycot’s victory over the Captain who bears that name: Captain Charles Boycott, who in 1880 was pulled off his high horse by his own peasants and had his name removed from his self and repossessed and fitted to thousands of rebellions and protests. The issue is the endless re-occurrences of captainly oppression, whether military or economical. The title of the backdrop of this chapter, Men And Women With Sticks, refers to the 15th and 16th century precedents to captain Boycott: the peasant revolts in the Black Forest and The Upper Rhine Valleys.
The show will be performed in collaboration with Bread and Puppeteers and a large group of local volunteers.

Meh... Don't get me wrong. There were some really terrific bits of puppetry and lots of good spectacle. I found it both too long and preachy, yet the message being preached was at times confusing. I guess it felt experimental and raw. If that is your thing. You might love it. Often I do. Just not

 I did like the introduction by Director Peter Schumann. Accompanying himself on the violin, whilst giving scathing oratory on the benefits and hazards of puppetry on society, he was both an imposing and preposterous character. As Jim would say... "Hilarious."

Some bits from a 2014 performance on YouTube.

Tuesday, August 11th

9am - Simple But Elegant Rod Puppetry

Rod Puppet Materials 
It's a puppet body... "you're soaking in it"
The class is being taught by Bill Lorenzen, a retired professor of puppetry and design and his lovely wife and art teacher, Suzanne. Bill is a very witty man who is a little hard of hearing. The course alternates between a slow, anecdote laced conversation and "why haven't you done this thing I forgot to show you yet?" His technique is very simple and well practiced and he has prepared packages of "found" materials for us to use in the creation of our puppet prototypes.

A Palmolive bottle serves as the upper torso. Knotted string runs through the sides and becomes arms with the addition of straws, toilet paper tubes, PVC pipe, etc...

Torso sans head
And, of course, the head is a styrofoam ball on a stick and covered in papier-mâché.
Or is it a giant match stick?

2pm - Once There Were Six Seasons by: Glass Half Full Theatre

I was completely blown away by this show. The puppets, the music, the message and the performance were all fantastic.

But, I should have got to the performance space sooner. many of the puppets were very small. From half-way back in the theatre, my excellent vision had to fill in a lot of gaps.

I thought of lots of applications for this type of puppetry at the library. We would obviously need to adapt for fewer (or one) performers :(

I envisioned going on a bear hunt and Tap the Magic Tree as good pieces to do in this style. Obviously, the possibilities are almost as limitless as the time required to build the shows. Lots of time.

Here is a great promo video for the show:

4pm - The Pirate The Princess and The Pea by: Crabgrass Theatre

This promo video geared towards educators and kids and doesn't really get across the technical challenges of this show.

I was impressed with this show. When I realized that it was one person and saw some of the behind the scenes stuff, I was amazed. Jamie Keithline was kind enough to do a slow strike of his stage while answering questions from the audience. He was swamped by UConn students currently finishing their puppetry degrees!
With the scrim/shadow stage removed, all is revealed

5:30pm - Reel Puppetry Film Festival

I arrived a few minutes late to this instalment of the film festival and missed the first short. Too bad. All of the others were terrific little gems.
  • Les Mutts: Teamwork 
  • Heartfelt 
  • I Do 
  • This is Ben 
  • Captain Ahab – Little Hands
  • End of a Summer Storm 
  • Table Manners 
  • The Wind Up Boy 
  • Fade to Grey 
  • What’s For Dinner 
  • Josephine & The Roach 

One of the great videos

8pm - Sheryl Henson

A lovely presentation about her late father, the Henson Foundation, and some current projects--including a personal favourite of mine, The Dark Crystal.

8:30pm - Caroll and Debbie Spinney

We watched a screening of I am Big Bird which was followed by a the two of them (and Oscar the Grouch) doing a Q&A with the audience. I watched Sesame Street every week day before I went to school and the muppets every chance cable allowed. I was repeatedly moved and so was the audience.

10pm - Puppet Museum 

10:30 - National Puppet Slam

6 groups performed adult themed shorts. Rowdy and fun. Milo the Magnificent was particularly good.

An album of my photos is here and will continue to grow throughout the week.

Monday, August 10, 2015

City Walk 2015

Crew 4:30
I set an alarm for 4am and people began arriving at my place by 4:15. at 4:35, I began along with James, Bri, David, and for the first time, Leora.

When we picked an initial day to circumnavigate the city, it had been very hot. I was expecting 30 degrees C, which would have been pretty unbearable. It always excites me when there is an added bit of adversity. I don't do this trip repeatedly because it's easy. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I want it to be hard and I expect sometimes to fail. When it rained so hard earlier this week, I knew that it was going to make the trip tough. The nature of this walk means that we spend a lot of time in the new construction areas of the city. That means clay and mud. Lots of mud. Mud became the defining characteristic that I will remember about this year.
Oh Lolli Lolli Lolli...
It seemed dry as we began to walk towards the south of the city. In 15 minutes we were at the rail lines and it was apparent that we were going to be in for a wet day. The grass was saturated with a heavy dew, augmented by rain during the night. For a couple of hours we could feel the mist around us like a prickling of the skin. My hair acted like a net scooping moisture from the air.

I am still very energetic in the morning and it was a beautiful pre-dawn. My best photos happen now. I lag behind or off to the side, through waist high weeds, then ahead of the group in the name of getting the most interesting angle. In another 10 hours, I’ll begin wishing I could reclaim that energy.
Shoes easily become 3 or 4 times their former weight. Should have stopped to build a cob oven.
We made good time, playing and joking about the mud so that we didn’t simply hate it. By the time Wendy brought us a pick-me-up coffee at the far end of 8th St., James was ready to head home. Perhaps, before departure, he forgot to leave an offering to Mayedinchina, the god of electronics and repetitive stress injuries.

Bri was next to go. She had made it past 50km last year and knew what kind of condition she would need to be in to go all the way. She got some blisters early on and wasn’t able to continue past our river crossing--despite an absolutely wonderful job of taping her tiny girl toes.
Bri tries to reinvent Five Fingers shoes with only medical tape and moleskin
We did a river crossing again this year. I think it worth pointing out to all the safety hounds out there, that not only do we always wear wet shoes and lifejackets, but this year the water was so low that I was able to touch the bottom the entire way across.

As is our custom, we had a wonderful picnic on the riverbank. Present for our repast were Gary, Liz, Eric, Anthony, Jodi, James, Leora, Anwyn and Wendy. Wendy is an essential element of our team. Zooming across town on barely a moments notice, she keeps us supplied with fresh clothing (especially socks) and wonderful treats (like coffee, peanut butter M&Ms and the picnic lunch) helping keep me in a good mental space to continue the journey. I’d say something about a metaphor for life here, but I’m overtired and my metaphor brain hurts.

We continued up along Whiteswan Drive and past the Silverwood golf course. Finally, succumbing to a nagging hamstring injury acquired while running last week, David said good bye at 71st street. Congratulations on a new personal best!

That left only Leora and I. Leo began limping noticeably and must have needed a distraction badly. She actually asked me to tell her a story from my library repertoire. She packed it in just shy of the Airport. I didn't have the heart to ask if it was the blisters or my story. Whichever, it was an excellent first outing at 51km.
It's just no good any more since you went away-ey-a-e-ay-ee
That left me alone for what is likely the most boring part of the journey. The walk around the airport. As shadows began to lengthen, I decided to try and run for as much of the remainder of the journey as possible. Tired as I was, I could only manage 2 or 3 km at a stretch with about the same walking between times. I was pleased to manage any running at all at that point and very pleased indeed to stumble into a waiting bubble bath at 11:46pm for a total time of 19h 16m. I didn't quite make my personal goal of 100,000 steps, but I guess that will give me something to shoot for next time.
I want you to know that I really appreciate everyone who came along, helped out or took an interest via social media. A shout out to Carmel P. who kept me diverted via Facebook during that last struggling hours. Much earlier in the day, Dave Aschim texted the team an inspirational quote attributed to Tim Cahill:
"A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles."
Thanks for coming on my journey.