Thursday, December 20, 2012

Looking Ahead to Puppet Mechs

As 2013 approaches, I'm looking ahead to a year of research into puppet mechanisms for our show "Fae". Here are some of the things I've been thinking about. StanWinston School -- "Your ability to problem solve and experiment is the only limiting factor in what you can do and get away with... I really don't think that there is any tool that you'd find in a professional special effects shop that is better than a well developed ability to solve problems. And that's the most fun anyway." ~Peter Weir Clarke Peter Weir Clarke is a maker of cool things. He is a congenital tinkerer and boot-strap engineer and is the builder and destroyer of his own home. He is an avid shaper and rider of his own experimental surfboards. He has made it his life's goal to be able to build just about anything and his creations are often accompanied by burns, shocks, flames, black smoke, bad smells, scabs, scars, bloody knuckles, fearful screams, enthusiastic shouts, maniacal laughter and fits of frustrated profanity. His work has been featured in blockbusters, b-movies, art galleries, museums and international expositions. He works as an animatronics and mechanical effects designer/fabricator and teaches drawing and sculpture at the Art Institute of California -- Hollywood.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

"Off The Reef" Surges Into Life

Our 2012 spectacular "Off the Reef" has had a great opening weekend. We are full-steam ahead for our second weekend and final two performances this Friday and Saturday night. We've had some friends come and capture the show on film, and I wanted to share a bit of that with you. Check out the "Off The Reef" album on Steve Roger's Photography on Faecbook to see some cool images of our show. -- Steve Rogers Photography -- It' is incredibly challenging to shoot in ultraviolet light, and these images turned out really well! Come see the show LIVE for the ultimate experience. Ticket sales are going on now at the link below. --

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Seeing Into The Future

The new PIP model is to produce 1 show a year that is a spectacular production. We can do this because we work on that one show show for a year. TRASH is our 2013 show, so this year we are exploring the technology, developing characters and experimenting with the type of show we'd like it to grow into. We did this with "Off The Reef" last year, experimenting with black light puppetry, building a black light puppet arsenal set in the ocean, and then rehearsing it for 3 months. "Trash" is in the early stages of development, but we are about to see the result of a years worth of work this November in "Off The Reef". It has made an extraordinary difference to focus our energy like this. I hope everyone will get to come see this show. Our 2014 show (working title "Fae") will be in the High Fantasy genre, and using lots of new (to us) mechanical rigs. I'm working on funding for that research this year with the hope of actually doing the R&D next year, so that we can produce another AMAZING show in 2014.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Catch And Release the Press Release!

Our show, "Off The Reef," is just one month away, and the marketing machine is picking up speed.  Today I sent out the Press Release for our upcoming show, Off The Reef. Here is a link to a copy of it on our site.
We've also got our printed posters in and they look great! They should be going up around Austin soon. Here is a sneak peek.
Rehearsals are going strong. We have one more month of rehearsals. The show is starting to take shape. We are super excited about the role our puppet techs play in the show. It is looking pretty sweet! We're filming next weeks rehearsal to give the cast a chance to SEE what they are creating. I'll post some images when we get them. In the meantime, we have a few puppets that didn't get built for the LAST version of this show that are coming together for this show. But I'll save that for the next blog post. :-)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Well Oiled Machine

This week I had my first meeting with our director, David Buckman, and it went great!

We're super lucky to have Dave directing the show as he has a history directing great shows. He directed, trained, managed, and wrote for 2 world renown improvisation companies, including 20+ actors who advanced to major films and television programs including Saturday Night Live, Mad TV. He currently lives in Austin, TX where he has produced and grown the 7-day comedy festival Out Of Bounds by 100% in 2 years. He has showcased 8 stages, 200 acts, 800 performers, and 7,500 attendees, overseeing all creative, business, and technical operations. He teaches at the Coldtowne Theater and performs with the critically-acclaimed troupe, The Frank Mills, selected Frontera Fest - Best of the Fest 2007, winner of the B. Iden Payne Award, Outstanding Improvisational Troupe 2006 & 2008, and winner of the Austin Improv Collective, Best Troupe 2006 & 2008.

Dave and I met over dinner to talk about the challenges of "Off The Reef." We agreed that it is a big endeavor. We are creating a show that has 16 improvisers, including improvisers doing puppeteering, story development, music and lighting... all in the dark under black-lights.  To help us make the show manageable, we are splitting the cast into two groups -- principle performers and puppet techs. We are going to rehearse with each group until they are independently a well oiled machine. Then we are going to bring the groups back together to rehearse the entire show (like the Wonder Twins, or the Power Rangers and their Megazord! -- I'm KIDDING! there are no aliens or robots in this show!! Jeeze.)

We are also building some internal structure into the show to guarantee that each night will be a well crafted, yet new and unique show. But more on that in the days to come!!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

First Rehearsal, Check!

We had our first rehearsal tonight and it went really well. We worked on group movement and some black-light puppetry basics.

We are excited for next week and our photo shoot with our favorite photographer, Annie Ray -- -- which we will use to promote the show.

Sidebar -- We will wear all black during our show, but one of the things we learned last time is that some detergents make your clothes look a bit fluorescent in black-light.
Some of the whiteners in detergent work by making your clothing a bit fluorescent. Even though clothing is rinsed after washing, residues on white clothing cause it to glow bluish-white under a black light. Blueing agents and softening agents often contain fluorescent dyes, too. The presence of these molecules sometimes causes white clothing to appear blue in photographs.\
In honor of that, here is a link to OTHER things that fluoresce under black-light. ;-)

Friday, August 3, 2012

"Off The Reef" Cast Announced

The Puppet Improv Project is very lucky to have such a great cast for our upcoming show, Off The Reef. In addition to our five company members, we are joined by the incomparable Amy Smith, Eric Heiberg, and Shana Merlin. Also gracing the stage with us will be Alyse Deller, Jenna Howard, Nancy Lyon, Ellen Pittsford, Jessica Salinas, and Gino Sandoval as our puppet techs.

 A seemingly insignificant problem escalates into one of epic proportions and sends our hero off on the adventure of a lifetime. "Off The Reef" is an improvised, black-light puppet spectacular that literally glows with an ocean full of colorful characters.

Dave Buckman

Sara Farr
Topping Haggerty
Eric Heiberg
Amy McKenna Smith
Shana Merlin
Patrick Knisley
Jesse Overright
Chadwick Smith

Alyse Deller
Jenna Howard
Nancy Lyon
Ellen Pittsford
Jessica Salinas
Gino Sandoval

Thank you to all who showed an interest in helping out with the show. If you still want to get involved with the PIP, remember we have some UT Informal classes coming up this fall. Check out our Workshops page for more info.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Looking for "puppet techs"... is this you?

The Puppet Improv Project is looking for "puppet techs" for the fall show, "Off The Reef".  Could this be you? Are you interested in the magic of black light puppetry? Do you want to be involved with one of the most spectacular improvised shows of 2012? Are you free on Tuesday nights to join in the fun?

If you answered "YES!" to any of these questions, then you are a good candidate for our show! The roll of the puppet tech is to support the show by filling it with background characters and environment. In our show, "Off The Reef", we are looking for beginning to advanced level improvisers who understand the basics of improvisation and want to learn more about puppetry and movement.

Our puppet techs will play with giant fans, flags, ribbons, streamers, props, etc. to create the form and space of the reef, as well as the more abstract creatures on the reef. They will also help the cast bring our giant Chinese dragon styled "Eel" puppet to life.

The show is directed by David Buckman, and includes a cast of 8 veteran improvisers and puppeteers. Our rehearsals are on Tuesday nights, and start in August, and go through October, with mandatory rehearsals on 10/23, 10/30 (Tech) and 11/01 (Dress). Show dates are Friday & Saturday @ 8pm on 11/2, 11/3, 11/9, and 11/10.

If you are interested, please email:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Puppet Improv Festival?

Talked on the phone yesterday with Elizabeth Westermann! our puppet improv friend in Seattle, WA. Elizabeth runs "Puppet Crush", and the two of us talked about the problems of doing the same stuff, but living so far apart. When she asked me, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could find a way for all the puppet improvisers in the United States of America to come together and play in one place?!" -- my answer was a resounding, "YES!" So we sketched out some rough notes, and then parted to let the ideas stew and cook for a bit, with a promise to talk again soon. So I think it's safe to say, we have taken the first step towards getting the ball rolling on what may just be the best idea yet -- a Puppet Improv Festival!!!

So! If you are reading this and YOU do puppet improv in your city, somewhere here in the USA, please let one of us know. We haven't started anything official yet.  We of course will need to start small, perhaps latching onto an existing improv, puppet or comedy festival. BUT! Our goal is to KEEP THE FUZZY BALL OF PUPPET IMPROV rolling!

Producing Shows

Had a great meeting with Shana Merlin of Merlin Works to talk about producing shows and got some good tips on how I can work to take PIP to the next level. We have a lot of great shows planned for the next few years -- bigger and better and more spectacular! But it all takes planning, and a producer's job is never done.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Group Build Weekend for "Off The Reef"

Several people have asked me "When are you going to offer another [b]Puppet Building[/b] workshop" and the inevitable answer always is, "When we finish working on the stuff for our own show".

The PIP is in production for our fall show, Off The Reef. This weekend (Fri-Sun) we are doing a GROUP BUILD.  If you want to lend a hand (or two) and get some sewing tips and puppet building tricks, this is a GREAT way to learn some puppet building techniques.

FYI, this is not a workshop, but a production day. You are welcome to bring your own projects and get some advice -- as long as that doesn't distract us too much from our work.

Wanna help? Email

Monday, April 2, 2012

Live TV presents: "Angel - Ep. Smile Time "

Hey puppet fans! Tomorrow (Tuesday) the PIP and the Institution Theater launch their new show in the "Live TV" series -- "Angel, Ep. Smile Time". The show is a live production of the TV series/episode of the same name. It's the one where Angel gets turned into a puppet. Come out and see our heroic attempt to recreate the magical puppet tricks that the original show did so well. If you are a fan of Angel, Joss Wedon, or puppets, this show is for you!! And it's only $5 in one of Austin's most entertaining hot spots, The Highball.

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Company Member

The Puppet Improv Project is excited to introduce our newest company member, Jesse Overright. Jesse has performed with the PIP in "Crack!" the improvised puppet musical, and most recently as the character "Skittles" in "Elf Employment".

Swazzle Muppet Xmas

I'm in LA visiting friends.  I was checking out SWAZZLE's website & demo reel and saw they did the Simpson's Puppet Christmas Special. Here it is!