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.