Wednesday, August 12, 2015

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.