Monday, December 21, 2009

Updated the site

I guess since the PIP is going strong, I can't help but think about the future of the PIP. One of the things this forward looking has driven me to do is add 2 categories to my site: "Past Shows" and "Workshops".  I've moved some of the past years content into those sections, and hope to keep adding. This coming NEW YEAR, I'm hoping to host both puppet building, puppet manipulation, and improv puppet performance workshops. There seems to be a constant interest in these topics, so I'm happy to share what I know. Cool thing is most of the work on my end has already been done. So that leaves mostly scheduling, and yet scheduling is a beast. Yet, I can't worry about that... yet. :-)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Crack! The Improvised Puppet Musical = Success

Dear Readers,

It's getting close to the end of my "one year of doing improv puppets."  I've learned a lot since my first show -- "Wild Wild Puppets," with Jessica Arjet's FTM show last spring.  Six (6) months later, we did "Crack!" on the SVT mainstage, and it was a hit. We had a nice sized audience and made $ over the rent of the theater. On the first of the two nights, the audience gave us a standing ovation. :-)

Lessons Learned
And on that note, here is a list of the stuff I've learned. Successful puppet-improv shows require:
  • Strong puppet training on top of strong improv skills
  • Strong ensemble; having everyone know how to work & perform in scenes with puppets
  • Right cast for the target audience
  • Performer with a stong skill base; you can't expect them to learn EVERYTHING in the rehearsal process; they need to come to the project with an existing knowledge base to build on
  • Imps who can handle the physical exertion of working with puppets
"Crack!" was a success because we cast imps skilled in narrative improv (some good singers) and taught them to:
  • improvise singing & dancing (some already had this)
  • puppet
  • work together as a group
What's next for the PIP?
Next year I hope to keep going with the PIP.  First off, we've been asked to do a run of "Crack!" in the summer. I hope to make the show stronger with improved puppets, more puppet tech, and a new cast (that fits the schedule).

I'd like to work towards having a core PIP ensemble cast that we pad with guest imps for specific shows.

I'd like to work up a puppet improv show to take "to the people" -- either at fairs, parks, or on the streets. With that in mind, I've built this last set of props to be portable.  I'll be working to modify my original PVC theater to make it sturdier for a street performance.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Crack! Special Guest Star, Jordan T. Maxwell !!!

We had our final rehearsal, & technical run through last night -- and we got to greet & play with our special guest star, JORDAN T. MAXWELL!!!  Jordan is a powerhouse musical improviser visiting from Los Angeles and he really makes this fun show awesome. I'm so excited for this show and can't wait until FRIDAY -- Wahoooo!!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Crack! -- Tickets on sale NOW!

This show, two nights only, is a first in Austin, TX. An improvised puppet musical! There will be two acts, with a short intermission. Act I will consist of games and scenes based on audience suggestions.  In turn, those scenes will inspire the themes in Act II -- a completely improvised puppet musical.

Locally produced and directed, this show stars an adorable cast of puppets and their Austin improvisers.

Grab your tickets now, while you still can!  Tickets can be purchased at the Event Brite Website -- Crack!

Crack! -- Final Rehearsal

... is tomorrow night! We will be doing a run-though of the show with a full cast -- including our special guest star, Jordan Maxwell! It will be great to finally be in the space and have all our puppets and props and stuff.

Crack! -- Puppet Building Whirlwind

It's been a busy 2 months. Though I didn't get to build ALL the puppets I designed for this show, we will be working with over 20 handmade puppets. I've also learned some carpentry skills on the fly and built a rolling "puppet play board" along with some puppet racks to display the puppets during the show.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Puppet Karaoke

Is awesome. You should try it.

And if you go, make sure you take a bunch of friends that also have puppets. And if you find a song you don't know, keep up with the rhythm, and improvise the words. And if you have a friend who can improvise, have them improvise the words for YOUR PUPPET while you move its mouth and sing your own words.  It's all good practice for IMPROV PUPPET MUSICALS.

Monday, November 2, 2009

"Crack!" rehearsals up and running and going strong

We had our first rehearsal yesterday and things went GREAT! I'm so happy with this cast and where we are headed.  We went over puppet technique, a bit of in-scene singing, and started to get comfy playing with each other.  I'm excited for this format, and I can see it starting to take shape into a HIT SHOW.

Cool thing is the marketing team at Gnap! Theater Projects has launched the publicity machine, and you can now purchase tickets online. With only two nights, if you want to see this one of a kind show, you should grab your tickets ASAP!

War Horse in London, plus a Backstage Tour before the show

Exactly what it says in the title. I'm really excited about this show!!!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

War Horse!

Get Up, the improv troupe I do improvised sound-tech for, is going to the week long international improv festival in Amsterdam this January.  Never having been to Europe, I'm bringing my mother with me the week before the festival and the two of us will tour London and Paris.  While there, we hope to get tickets to the National Theater's show, "War Horse"!

YouTube Trailer

NY Times Slideshow

01 - A scene from the London production of "War Horse," which uses life-size puppets to tell the story of a young British boy and his love for a horse.

02 - Tom Morris, far left, the show's co-director, rehearses with some of the puppeteers who bring the horses, named Joey and Topthorn, to life.

03 - Patrick Healy writes from London that the puppets "are as much living, breathing and emotionally aware beings as any award-winning actor here today."

04 - The basic construction material for the horses is cane, which was soaked to make it more moldable. Silk patches were then applied to gauze to suggest the animals' skin patterns and also partly to conceal the two puppeteers inside each adult horse.

05 - "The third puppeteer for each adult horse stands outside the wooden frame, near the head, and moves to and fro in unison with the other two and the horse itself. The effect is such that this puppeteer is all but forgotten by the audience, even though fully visible."

06 - "Beneath the skeletal structure of Joey and Topthorn, the puppeteers hold gears and triggers that, when pressed, move body parts of each horse in fluid motion."

07 - "The ears of the horses, for instance, are driven by bicycle brake cables and are capable of a 180-degree sweep. The tail is controlled by three cables acting as tendons, producing a movement based on the actual anatomy of a horse."

08 - "British and American producers plan to mount 'War Horse' in New York in 2011 and are now looking at Broadway theaters and other locations, like the Park Avenue Armory, that would be large enough to house the show, said one of the producers, Bob Boyett."

09 - "'This level of puppetry hasn't been seen on Broadway before, and this is what audiences are going to find riveting,' said Basil Jones, one of the creators of the puppets."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hansjürgen Fettig - German Puppet Master

OMG! This guy looks amazing! I wish I knew more about him. His books are out of print. :-(

Hansjurgen Fettig

Glove and Rod Puppets: A Handbook of Design and Technique
by Hansjürgen Fettig, John Wright, Susanne Forster
Hardcover, Harrap Publishers, Larousse, ISBN 0245518568 (0-245-51856-8)

Hand and Rod Puppets: A Handbook of Technique
by Hansjurgen Fettig
Hardcover, Plays, inc., ISBN 0823801403 (0-8238-0140-3)

Rod Puppets and Table-Top Puppets A Han
by Hansjurgen Fettig
Hardcover, Southgate Publishers, ISBN 0951360051 (0-9513600-5-1)

And this is pretty cool...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

La Petite Géante and Le Scaphandrier

Witness La Petite Géante and Le Scaphandrier, giant French marionettes from the street theater company Royal de Lux.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Coming Soon... An improvised puppet musical. Crazy you say? Yes AND! say we.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More Muppet Research

Looking at the "Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas" (1977) video out there and found this. Love the bloopers with the drum. Frank Oz on "Ma", Jerry Nelson on "Emmet." Wait for it... The comedy builds over the course of a bunch of (233!) takes. Around take 11 it starts getting really silly.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Muppet Building Research

Having returned from the WCPIT, I've been inspired to do a new show. In prepping for this show, I'm also researching Puppet Building. Here are some things I'm looking at...

I love the physicality of Ruth Buzzi & Sweetums in that one!! Hoping to put that in new show.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Henson Podcasts Give Punch to Lessons Learned on Tour

I subscribe to the podcasts, and in looking back over the past 3 years worth, found several centered around EXACTLY what I'm interested in these days...

Puppet Up! Uncensored - Backstage (06/15/09) -- Behind 4-5 years of magic? More magic!! And I saw these same performers in the August show! Allan Trautman (puppeteer-imp), Julianne Buescher (puppeteer-imp), Drew Massey (puppeteer-imp; friendly guy), Colleen Smith (improviser-pptr), Brian Clark (improviser-pptr) and Victor Yerrid (who taught Colleen & Brian puppetry -- met this nice guy, too)... Along with the show's Creative Director and Host Patrick Bristow and Music Director Willie Etra (GROUNDLINGS awesomeness!!!)

How hard is it for a puppeteer to get really good at improv? Allan feels his brain is divided into 2 parts - 50% for puppetry; 50% for improv. Thinks the improvisers have it harder. Probably bc some of the puppeteers have had equal years improv & puppet training.

Victor comments that for their KIDS shows, the kids aren't even slightly impressed that they were doing improv; really had to make a story, and make the characters fun... as you should do in all good improv.

Puppet challenges? You can do a lot with your puppet's body & arms, but need to boil it down... "Have to label stuff your puppet is grabbing, really telegraph things more, and be really specific with your movement -- be really simple and clear with your puppet movements."

AND, Puppet Up! on tour??? SOON, my friends, very soon!!!

Haunted Stories from the JHC Lot (09/29/08) -- Video!

Henson Digital Puppetry Studio (06/30/08) -- Misty Rosas and Drew Massey (saw this sweet puppeteer in Puppet Up when I was in LA) talking about how they create "Sid" from Henson's "Sid, the Science Kid" show.

Puppet Up! Uncensored (06/16/08) -- interesting to hear the show from a year ago

Jim Henson Company Lot Tour (02/26/08) -- Video! I so wanted to do this when in LA, but without the right connections, no go. Great to get a video tour. Could have watched this first and saved myself the sheepish pleading I did with the JHC security guard to let me in the gate.

Fun fact: the lot was built by Charlie Chaplin in 1917 and used for a lot of his films. It changed hands several times, and when Universal moved out in 1999, Brian Henson & Co. saw the potential, cleaned it up and moved in.

Puppet Up! Uncensored (01/29/07) -- Interesting to hear the show from 2 years ago and how it got started... Brian Henson wanted the art of IMPROV brought back into the company. Brought in Patrick Bristow (who was teaching at the Groundlings school) to teach a 1 day workshop... and they had such a blast they kept going at it!!! (Well, DUH!!!) Podcasts -- No iPod required!

And there is this interesting LOST VIDEO.

WCPIT - Sum up 9 days in 5 min? I don't think so!!

Tried a solo re-enactment of the WCPIT @ No Shame tonight - 9 days summed up in 5 min - but only made it to day 5 before I cracked myself up and my time ran out. There maybe something there worth keeping. Hm.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

WCPIT Finale

Well, it is the end of 9 days of traveling on the road talking to puppeteers & improvisers about puppet improv. I got a lot of great new info and inspiration.

The tour ended Saturday with the show "Puppet Up" put on by Henson Alternative.

The show is a mix of Henson puppeteers and Groundlings improvisers, under the direction of the very funny Patrick Bristow. They start with a Puppet Up theme song, play improv games and scenes, and end with a "naked" version of the theme song that was my favorite part!! (puppet faces made of hands). I only had an iPhone to take photos, but here's someone else's photos from the previous month's show.

The day before (on Friday) I got to tour the "Swazzle Workshop" in Glendale where I learned a few tricks about puppet building.

The guys were in the process of building a set of "Audrey II" puppets they're going to rent out to High Schools performing "Little Shop of Horrors".

The day before THAT (on Thursday), I'd arrived in LA just in time to see Swazzle co-founder, Sean Johnson, perform an amazing library show "Water Color" for the last time of the season. The show was a 1 man show, but it there were a lot of characters and it was easy to forget one guy was doing everything.

That night I went to see the Groundlings improv show -- "Cooking with Gas". It was really fun! A mix of games in Act I, then a narrative longform set in the style of Jane Austin after the intermission. Very fun! And they had a guest, Nichol Parker, who'd just finished a run on Broadway in the leading role of Elphaba -- which they had sing a lot. She'd also been on Mad TV and in the Groundlings Sunday show, so it was not surprising that she was not only a great singer, but a great improviser!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


OMG! Amy Gray, Rebecca Stockley, Mandy K, Pixar friends, Liebe Wetzel...

My brain is overloaded with interesting ideas, including...
- puppets as masks
- Commedia dell'Arte
- puppeteers performing with imps
- puppet dictating character
- imp "finding" character within puppet
- crossed graphite rods
- chopsticks as rods
- Eye, breath, consonant bounce
- rolling playboards
- multi-level set
- 3 puppeteers with 3 imps
- 4 shows a year (march, may, august, holidays)
- marketing
- $20 tickets; heavily discounted
- balance between stylized movement, and realistic movement
- stylized movement based on "basic shapes" (circle, square, triangle)
- camera
- "Why is That So Funny?" by John Wright
- Street performance
- Focus (eye darts = inhabited thought), Breath (purposeful; automatic), and Weight (grounded; playing on a table/surface)
- Marcel Marceau & his teacher... Etienne De Croux
- William Kentridge (Classic Clown); Avner Eisenburg; Charles Viles Meziner; Animo w/ Improbable Theatre
- silent performance
- performance with music
- "Face it, we're all reptiles; drawn to (or distracted by) visual movement"
- sketchbooks
- sunburn
- time-space continuum

Must rest.
Then process.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Off to see some Wizards!

Tomorrow I'm off on a tour of the western coast to seek out wisdom from some improvisers, puppeteers, & puppet improvisers! Four cities in nine days. My tour begins in Portland, pops up to Seattle, then trips down to San Francisco and Los Angeles. I'm planning on connecting with a lot of great artists -- some new friends, some old. I can't wait!! When I get back, I'm hoping to host another Puppet Improv Workshop and share what I've learned. In the meantime, I'll try to post updates about the trip here.

On a side note, I auditioned for a group shooting a puppet show pilot for a show on Nutrition... and got in!! Hope to share more on this next month, as things develop.

Also of note is the fast approaching Out of Bounds Improv Comedy Festival, happening right here in my very own home town of Austin, TX on Labor Day weekend! Get Up will be performing on Sunday, September 6th. There should be a ton of improv and sketch from around the United States, including the headlining troupe from Austrailia! However, as far as I know, there will be NO puppet imps. Check out the schedule HERE...

That is all.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"Improv with Puppets" Workshop

... is happening this Saturday. The class is being offered through the MERLIN WORKS SCHOOL OF IMPROVISATION as part of their summer specialty series.

NEWS FLASH -- I'm making traditional "sock puppets" as a TAKE HOME bonus for those who sign up for the class. I'm also bringing my own hand & rod puppet arsenal -- which I've been working on this week. Hope to see you there!

official posting...

"Puppets mania is sweeping the nation and improvisers are catching the bug, too! In this 3 hour workshop we'll play with the basics of puppet manipulation (eye contact, breath, emotion, etc.), before we get into some improv games & scenes to explore how improvising with puppets can get you closer to PLAY and out of your head. A fun class to take, whether you're looking to expand your improv tool-belt with puppets, or just looking for a fun afternoon with puppets. $25"

register HERE.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Summer Marches On

Improv with Puppets! -- In case you didn't know, the puppet improv workshop that was scheduled to happen this weekend has been pushed back to Saturday July 11th, 12-3:00pm. Hope to see you there! You can sign up on the Merlin Works website.

NO SHAME -- [Friday, June 3rd] The PIP made an appearance at the last "No Shame" where I opened the puppet-arsenal to anyone who wanted to try improvising with puppets. I had forgotten the curtain part of my puppet theaters, so we just used the PVC skeleton... which was perfect for NO SHAME! We did two 5 min sets. PIP Part I included Patrick Knisley, Marci Spivey, Topping Haggerty, and I. PIP part II included Kerri Lendo, Howard Katz, Noah Voelker, and I. We started with puppets talking to puppets, and then "puppeteer" character imps talking to imps, then back into puppets (whole scene as one scene). It was like a workshop on its feet. I think it was very playful and that made it fun. Howard had a knack for puppet manipulation and I hope he joins us again next month.

Next "No Shame" [Friday, July 3rd] I would like to try...
-- creating something longer than five min
-- a puppet/actor scene
-- playing with the "bad" kids puppet show (people like naughty puppets), then flipping it show the actors
-- scripting something out, maybe a la "comedia del arte". I'm making a few more creature puppets... devil, leprechaun, monkey, monster. Mostly tricksters. Maybe I need a princess or lamb.

WEST COAST TOUR -- Plans are moving forward for my puppet and improv tour of the west coast. I have my tickets to LA, San Fran, Portland/Seattle. I'm going to drive from Portland to Seattle to see the shows there.

I have lined up some places to stay with friends, and talked to some people about meeting to talk puppet improv. I had hoped to get to see the two Swazzle shows ("Otter Circus" & "Watercolors"), but they are happening the day before I get to LA and school prohibits me from getting there earlier. It may be possible to stay one more day in LA, then I might get to see at least one show on Monday before heading to San Fran. I will be getting to see "Puppet Up" while in LA, and hopefully meet with the puppeteers and Groundlings imps after the show. Then its off to San Fran, where I will be talking with Liebe Wetzel, the Artistic Director of Lunatique Fantastique. She's interested in getting into animation, so it will be fun to talk with her! In Portland, I'll be talking with Amy Gray of Comedy Sportz "Puppetz vs People" show -- which they do once a year. I'm still hoping to talk to the Unscripted guys, and some puppet imp from Jet City Improv and Unexpected Productions in Seattle.

This trip is shaping up nicely, and I'm starting to get excited!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Improv Puppets! @ No Shame, this Friday 6/5 10pm @ SVT

Lovers of the off-beat meet once a month at the SVT second stage to see "No Shame Theater", produced by Gnap! Theater Projects. For $3 you can watch or participate. Rules are your piece has to be under 5 min, and you can't hurt yourself or the stage.

This week, the PIP will make at least ONE appearance by opening up the puppet stage for whoever wants to join in. We will try to do some improv using several puppet performance techniques, as many as we can fit into 5 min! If we have a bunch of volunteers and need more time, we may commandeer a second 5 min slot. I've already lined up a couple of people who want to try this. If you want to join us, email me! or just show up before the show. SIGN-UPS are @ 9:30pm!!

If you can't make it out to No Shame, or performing in front of a crowd is too intimidating, then SIGN UP for the Puppet Improv workshop I'm facilitating through Merlin Works.

"Improv with Puppets!" (June 20th)
Presented by Merlin Works as part of a "Summer Speciality Series"
Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Road
Saturday, June 20th 2009

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Summer Workshop w/ Merlin Works

The Merlin Works School of Improvisation is offering a summer speciality series of workshops. Each week there will be a guest instructor, and I will be leading one focused on puppet improv. I'm looking forward to sharing what I've learned so far and playing with other improvisers who like puppets. Here are the workshop deets (taken from the Merlin Works website)...

"Improv with Puppets!" Saturday June 20th 12pm - 3pm

Puppet mania is sweeping the nation and improvisers are catching the bug, too! In this 3 hour workshop we'll play with the basics of puppet manipulation (eye contact, breath, emotion, etc.), before we get into some improv games & scenes to explore how improvising with puppets can get you closer to PLAY and out of your head. A fun class to take, whether you're looking to expand your improv tool-belt with puppets, or just looking for a fun afternoon with puppets. $25


Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Avenue Q"! & Sherwood Forest

Went to see "Avenue Q" with some friends this weekend, after the Wild Wild Puppets show (which was fun and getting funner!). The traveling Broadway show was also really fun! I had a bunch of questions for the performers, but didn't get a chance to chat with them. The show had 8 performers, 4 puppeteers (each doing 2 puppets) and 4 actors. Throughout the show the main 3 puppeteers would need to be interacting with their other puppet character and so the 4th puppeteer would take that puppet and move it around while they voiced it. It was great! Though I was very curious about the technical aspects, I still got wrapped up in the show and would forget to watch the puppeteers! They also had a GIANT puppet at the end of the 1st act. It made me wish I had a few GIANT (body or bigger) sized puppets.

Also on my mind... SHERWOOD FOREST! The Sherwood Forest Faire Acting Company is looking for "faire folk" to populate this new 100 acre faire for their 2010 season!! More on this later.

Monday, March 23, 2009

More Puppets!

The first 2 Wild Wild Puppet shows have gone great! We had a sold out crowd on opening weekend, which was a great way to kick off the run. Last week we had a repeat cast from the first week and were able to refine the show a bit. I also improved some of the props by gluing and color coding the puppet theater PVC skeleton. Unfortunately, it created a problem with the curtains being able to fit over them. Two steps forward, one step back.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"Wild Wild Puppets" Begins!

Hey everyone! Wild Wild Puppets," our first improv puppet show, launches this weekend. And for the show, Gramps got a new outfit!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Lost & Found Puppets

In researching puppets, I discovered Lunatique Fantastique... or rather, someone (several people, actually) heard what I was doing and told me about her. "Performance alchemist Liebe Wetzel and her ensemble release the sweet, sad, naive, and lustful beings inside "ordinary" objects." Check out their videos!

What a great idea! I mean, why be limited to "character" looking objects. Why not let an inanimate object be animated into life? Disney's "The Illusion of Life" book talks about how we as humans WANT to anthropomorphize everything. Some cultures believe EVERYTHING has a spirit... Animism. Which is why its interesting that this group is exploring how to bring life to "ordinary" objects.

I had hoped to go to No Shame this past Friday night and do some puppets, but I forgot my box of puppets. With no puppets, I thought BRIEFLY of doing something like this found-object puppetry. Then it reminded me of Shannon McCormick's "Ghost Hat, the Hat Ghost" and the "Tom Waits Borrowed CD" from earlier No Shame Theater shows. But then I felt like I needed something intelligent to say, and chickened out. However, I would love to do something with found-object puppetry in the future. It's funny, but Gnap Theater Projects is preparing a new show, "Lost & Found". Perhaps I can talk to Shannon about doing some kind of "preshow" puppet thing using found objects. Hm.

Instead, for No Shame, I went to Toy Joy and purchase a couple of "characters" that I had intended to have "dialogue" about evolution versus creationism (which was inspired by watching my friend, Dano, doing a similar thing at a party). Anyway, I arrived late and the show was already over. Timing is EVERYTHING. Good news is now I get to work on it a bit (1 month) before presenting it.

Now that No Shame is over (for 1 month), I'm really focusing on the Wild Wild Puppets show... which starts a week from tomorrow!!!

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Illusion of Life

The PIP had a good puppet tech rehearsal on Sunday. We met with Connor Hopkins at the Trouble Puppet Theater space at SVT and talked about how to bring life to our puppet object. Highlights include:

A) Be conscious of puppets movement
- Be efficient with the puppet's movement... Talking is mostly small movement(thumb); use big moves (wrist-elbow-shoulder) for emphasis
- Let puppet look around and "see" environment
- Stand/hold puppet where you get the biggest range of motion
- Start movement with a "breath" (anticipation); accelerate into movement; stop with a POP
- Show, don’t tell -- nod for "yes", shake head for "no", head tilt for "whatever"
- Have the puppet look out at the audience often

- A to B: "Hey Doofus, I wanna to ask you a question"
- A to audience: "Can you tell me where the herd is?"
- A to B: "Hm?"
- B to A: "Oh, well."
- B to audience: "That's a good question, Sheriff. Now let me see. 'Do I know where the herd is?'
- A nods
- B to audience: Uh... (looks around)... hm... (shakes head)...Nope."
- B to A: "I give up. Where is it?" (looks around)
- A slow look to audience

B) Keep eyes & eye-line still... drop jaw with thumb

D) Everything you do, do it through the puppet

C) PUPPETRY is a physical art form and you will get tired!
- FIGHT the tendency to let the puppet go flat/dead
- Look at your puppet; helps keep the energy in your puppet; helps pull audience focus to puppet
- Strengthen your thumb muscles: When someone's talking to you, rest your hand on your hip, thumb out, then "puppet" your thumb to whatever that person is saying

E) Practice in a mirror
- You can use a video camera, but mirror is faster
- Have your puppet lip-sync to a song you know

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Puppet Improv... Puppets & Improv

Puppets... Tonight I went to the Wednesday Puppet Workshop, hosted by Trouble Puppet Theater, and worked on puppet building. I thought I'd finish off one I'd started, but I had forgotten that I'd left it with my Dad, who I've recruited to help me build puppets. Instead, I started a new one. It was great getting to work in a room of people thinking about puppets, even if we weren't working on the same thing.

After the crowd thinned out, Connor and I talked about hand puppet construction and I got some good ideas for getting a better "grip" on building puppets. Literally. Connor had been to a puppet workshop with Marty Robinson ("Telly" from Sesame Street) and he showed them how to build a rigid grip on the mouth plate so you can let your thumb do the talking -- I.E. drop the thumb so the chin drops when the mouth opens and the eye-line stays put. He also told them that a big part of it is working that thumb muscle until it's strong enough to last through a show (or a taping of a show).

At SFIT, I was lucky enough to get to work with some guys who'd been doing puppet improv for a while. It was good for me to hear the thing's they focused on -- things that I'd heard before from Josh & Tamra's puppet improv workshop -- but it was good to be reminded:
- speak from back of hand
- pop open on vowels
- check in with your scene partner AND your puppet
- keep the eye line focused on where you want your puppet to look
- keep energy in puppet
- keep puppet's head out to audience; avoid profile
- keep hand pointed slightly down so audience can see eyes

AND Improv... Also, at SFIT I noticed that improv puppets works best with both good puppeteering AND good improv. Both are necessary to do good puppet improv. And yet, with my just focusing on puppets, I feel like I've been neglecting my improv training. So, I've determined I can't just give up improv for a whole year to work exclusively with puppets. Soon, I hope to pick up another improv class and get back into strengthening my improv muscles.

Another thing that clicked at SFIT, was the idea of what KIND of puppet works best in puppet improv. When we had a cast mixed with people and puppets, it was clear that the human puppets could just as easily have been played by real people. Only the "devil" character seemed worthy being a puppet. In an improv world, where improvisers can play any character they want -- man/woman, astronaut/alien, donut/teapot -- it makes sense to cast puppets in the rolls that are more fantastic. Therefore, I'm going to focus on creating puppets that are animals, monsters, inanimate objects, or other "creatures" -- no humans. We already have a bunch of those.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Puppet Mash-Up! -- After School Special!

OMG! Tonight was really cool! Not only did Get Up have a fun show, I got to do improv puppets between the following show's sets!!

The Seattle Festival of Improv Theater has a series of improv mixers called the "All-star Mash Up" -- 15 minute sets between each show's scheduled acts. It's a way to jam with the other festival attendees, but in smaller groups. I was just going to watch, but when Shana found out her group had chosen to do IMPROV PUPPETS, she brought me up to play with them! Yay!! The group included a couple of Jet City puppet improvisers -- Jeremy Brown & Ryan Miller.

Gabriella Cook (Seattle), Jeremy Brown (Seattle)

For our 15 min set, Ryan suggested we do After School Special, and when he took our the suggestion for our problem, we got "Redheads". Ryan had brought a bin of about 6 puppets and of the 7 of us, three (Jeremy, Ryan, and I) played with puppets. Shana (as a person) played a bad kid who convinced the heroine, Maggie (a person), to dye her hair red and go wild. In the end, she played a teacher who was shocked at with the fallen-redhair's "show & tell" (sex). At the start of the set, I picked up a girl puppet with really bouncy (brown) hair. It turned out my puppet character had dyed her red hair brunette, and then lost her oomph. There was also a devil puppet that kept encouraging the redhead and a grandfatherly puppet to be wild.

Ryan Miller (Seattle), Sara Farr (Austin)

Anyway... it was a SUPER fun surprise to get to jump in and do that. I had fun and learned a bit (about puppets, not redheads). I only wish we'd had more time to get to play with those guys.

P.S. "Wing It Productions" & "Jet City Improv" has produced some improv puppet stuff in the past (including "Over and Through" - a la "Labyrinth"). Check it! I encouraged them to bring their show to OOB. :-)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Puppet Break - Puppet Workshop

No puppets this weekend. Instead I'm here in Seattle, WA at the SFIT - Seattle Festival of Improv Theater. I'm here with Get Up, doing tech -- improvised scoring -- for their 2 shows, this Friday & Saturday night. I had hoped the Oregon Comedy Sportz puppet guys would be in attendance. Oregon is really not that far from here. Oh well. Maybe I'll have to make a trip back up here as part of a "West Coast Puppet Improv (& Surfing Tour)"*

However, next week I'll be back working with puppets. The Trouble Puppet Theater is hosting a Weekly Wednesday Workshop. I hope to use the time as a way to keep on track for getting all the puppets made for the FTM show in March.

Until then, I'll be catching some improv-festival-fun out here in "Jet City".

Happy trails!

*Pending finances and travel time.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Wild Wild Puppets" postcards

Here is the "Wild Wild Puppet" flyer. The show will play at the Hideout, Sunday's @ 2pm.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Puppet Debut

The performance at Gnap Theater's "No Shame" on Friday went much better than I had hoped. I was nervous waiting for the show to start, but because there was room in the line-up, I took the plunge and signed up for two 5 min slots. I had a loose idea of what I wanted to do in each slot, but I mostly just wanted to get up and try something.

The first set I used Gene's awesome IKEA puppets to lip sync to a song from "Wicked The Musical". One of the puppets was a grouch and swore a bunch. I can't do that in the Kid's show next month!!! I'll have to think of kid-friendly ways for grouchy puppets to talk through their pain.

The second set I took out my granddad-golfer puppet and chatted with him. That was fun and it felt a lot like chatting with different facets of all my grandparents, living and deceased. <3

I noticed it was hard to keep my energy up for 5 min, but I didn't blank out or feel like I needed to rush off stage. I'd like to get better at the puppeteering and keeping the energy up and in the puppets. The music helped in the sync. It was harder with the chatting. Still, I think there is some potentially good stuff here, which is exciting.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Behind the Curtain

I finished working on 1 of 2 make-shift curtained puppet theaters for use with the smaller, hand puppets. The whole thing is made of pre-fab, sheer curtains and PVC piping, and I'm taking it to No Shame Theater tonight, Friday 2/6, 10pm @ SVT. The puppets are still works in progress so I'm not sure what to do about that. Maybe Gene would be okay with me using his little IKEA puppets. Hm. It's good to have these deadlines to work towards. I'm definitely seeing that unless I give a day focus on puppets, not much gets done. I'm going to perform (something) with improv puppets in No Shame this Friday 2/6, as well as the first Friday in March, 3/6. Hopefully it will help train me to keep the puppet motion limited, but big.

I've had some good advice about what to do from Asaf Ronen, Topping Haggerty, Craig Kotfas, and Shana Merlin. I am going to try to play with:
- starting with a strong, philosophical statement
- going slow
- treating the puppets as actors
- status
- dubbing
- showing different emotions
- being "charming"
- involving the audience
- being on stage with the puppet
- being behind the puppet theater curtain

We'll see. I only have 5 minutes, so I may only get a chance to do a few of those things this month. If it goes well, maybe I could do a couple of 5 min scenes. Hm.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Wild Wild Puppets"

Had a bit of a stall out this past couple of weeks as I had to focus on the start of school. But the momentum is building again. We've settled on a calendar, and I've gotten the green light from some guest directors to come preview the show and give us some feedback. The show will launch on Sunday, March 15th and run for 8 weeks, skipping Easter weekend.

We've also named the FTM run, "Wild Wild Puppets" and I will be working on a graphic for the posters this week. Today I finished off my first puppet -- "Prairie Chicken" -- and am working on building a few more puppets. Also, I'm working on creating a portable curtain kit that we can grow or shrink, depending on the size of the space.

Also! My friend, Dano, told me about The Henson Foundation and encouraged me to apply for a grant. More on THAT later.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Building the "Monster"

Sunday was the first official gathering of the first phase of the Puppet Improv Project. Several like-minded imps and I got together to talk about improvising with puppets. It was exciting to see the puppets people brought. Not everyone made theirs, but we have a good start on our puppet arsenal. We played with the puppets we brought and took a look at what might work for the run with FTM (Flying Theater Machine) that starts in March.

Those of us that tried to make our puppets (Amy, Gene, David & I) didn't quite finished in time. I learned the hard way that improvising the building of the puppet is NOT a good idea. A better policy is to A) browse for reference, B) brainstorm ideas, C) make a plan (a sketch), so that then you can "Measure Twice, Cut/Sew Once".

I'm building a "Prairie Chicken" to go with our Western/Tall Tales theme for the show. My puppet was still in pieces when the group started arriving. I had most of the pieces, but lacked a glue gun to put them together. Amy brought hers and helped me work out some funky deets. Here are some photos of the puppet as a WIP (Work In Progress).

It's interesting to me to see how much the puppet personality changes with the size, color, and position of the eyes.

It Begins...

What is the Puppet Improv Project (PIP)? Here's the scoop...

I'm going to try to focus on puppet improv for a whole year... and see how it plays out. I hope to squeeze several projects into 2009, including a kids show, a family show, a long-form show, and whatever else comes along. I may possibly push to do an improvised-puppet-musical, too, because that seems both really cool and really scary.

The PIP begins with my doing a joint-run with Jessica Arjet & the Flying Theater Machine that will last 8 weeks, and run March-May, Sundays 2pm at the Hideout Theater. I met with some like-minded improvisers to talk about what kind of show we could put on that would work for the FTM. We settled on a show that would be theme-based. This way we could have a genre around which to start building up a puppet arsenal. Our goal is to have a couple of puppet-improvisers in each show, joined by additional imps from the regular FTM cast. Jessica is vested in making the FTM shows profitable, and I am happy to be involved with a group focused on building equity.