Journal

The Studmenn in concert

The rest of the afternoon went very fast, afterall. I was called in to help with a periscope and football shot. Were we where trying to make it look like a football bounced off a periscope. Not easy. I also played in the puppet shop some, trying to make the Mayor’s half-body legs walk.

After work everyone went to Magnus’s house for a party and then to a concert. The interesting thing about Iceland is that things go pretty late. The party started about 9:30, and the concert was at midnight. It was a band, Studmenn that was hugely popular at one time, and have been around for twenty years or so. One of the men in it has been voted sexiest man in Iceland for eight years running. They are a dance band, so the concert experience was not a music hall. It was a converted gymnasium, with a lot of open floor space for people to jump, gyrating, up and down. Don’t get me wrong, there was a real sound system and stage, but it’s not really my scene. I’m glad I went, but I’ll ask more carefully what someone means when they say ‘concert’ next time.

We left at the interval at two a.m.

Working today?

I feel a bit cheated. We’re working on Saturday because everyone got an extra day off the week before I got here. There’s something not fair about that. On the other hand I spent more time in front of the camera this morning than I have since I got here. I was on set almost continously before lunch.

The first bit was pushing Sarah in on a rolly-cart because the shot was too low for her to move herself without her knees showing. So, that was really puppeteer manipulation, rather than puppet manipulation. Still fun to be working.

The next shot I did live hands for Sarah as she worked Trixie. We had to come in carrying a cable, give a thumbs up, turn up the volume on a turntable, have a bit of dialogue and dance. Because of a turn that we had to do, there was a moment where I was blind (couldn’t see a tv monitor). It’s funny, because on stage that would have been no issue, but with television puppetry I’m not manipulating the puppet on my hand so much as I am moving the image on the screen. So, it doesn’t matter if my muscle memory tells me where something is; it can still look wrong on screen.

After lunch has been a different story. We’ve been doing our usual waiting routine.

Ah, the green room.

We started working as soon as we came in today. I did some right hands, but nothing terribly complicated. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this, but one of the reasons that I was hired is because the other puppeteers have fairly large hands and, in Jodi’s words, “they look freakish” when they do live hands for the puppets.

This is the green room, where we spend a lot of time. I wish I could take pictures on set, but I figure this way you’ll get to see all the backstage stuff; the show, you can watch on t.v. We’ve done a fair bit of work today, which is nice. The days when we’re here, just waiting, are excrutiatingly long.

Tea-time?

Interesting. We were called in around 4:00, but still haven’t done anything. We have half an hour left till the end of the day, so I can only assume that they brought us in for tea-time.

I used the time to start work on a new novel today, and am three chapters into it. It’s hard to concentrate here, but I think I’m making progress. As in, I think that I’ve done more than just put down a random collection of words.

On Call

Much to my surprise, they are letting us wait at home till they get close to doing puppet shots today. Which means I get to spend a little more time here.

Trying to tie shoes.

I spent some more time with David walking. We showed it to Jodi who thought that it looked good. Then we showed it to Magnus, but there’s no way for two puppeteers to be on the puppet without the second one showing. It is frustrating because the harness gear makes the puppet walk like a duck.

After lunch David was trying to make it look better, and fell off the platform. He was fine, but it scared us. I think it scared us more than it did him.

I also did stuff with hands for one shot. Oh, the most interesting thing was going to the prop shop to look at this shoe tying robot that I’ll be in one episode. Just for giggles, try tying a pair of shoes over your head, while wearing gloves and a blindfold. It’s fun! Trust me.

Learning to Walk

I actually wound up working quite a bit today. I was in a couple of shots as hands or feet, but my primary activity today was on a full body shot that they would like to do, but they’ve had little success with the full body puppets thus far. So we spent, what seemed like hours, walking the same fifteen foot stretch of floor with a puppet that is three-quarters life-size. For me, this means a lot of time crawling on the floor.

Tomorrow morning we’ll try the same thing but on a platform, which will be easier because I won’t have to crawl. Such fun.

After work I went to the pool with Jodi, Sam and Julie. The hot tubs are a really lovely way to unwind after a day spent hunched over.

Massage Day

Oh, Tuesdays are going to be glorious, I can tell that already. This is the day that Guna comes in to give all the puppeteers massages. I’ve just had a really lovely massage and all seems right with the world.

At some point today, we might actually work. Someone was making ominous comments about stretching into January, but I think they were kidding.

A day of nothing

Today all of the puppeteers were called in for work and none of us did anything. I take that back. We played scrabble.

A day of rest

Today technically started at 1 a.m. with a phone call from Jodi saying that he and Sam were locked out of their apartment. (I was still up writing, so they didn’t wake me.) Anyway, they came over and crashed in my living room, on the giant sectional sofa, which is clearly a refuge from the 80s.

In the morning, we all trotted over to their place to meet their landlord. Jodi and Sam made breakfast. Waffles, eggs, blueberries and skyr. Skyr is this amazing local yogurt that is so rich and creamy but somehow has no fat. I can already tell that I will miss it when I come home.

Culture Day

Culture day is one of the biggest celebrations in Iceland. 100,000 people come to Reykjavik to celebrate culture; it seems like there was music on every street corner. Jodi, Sam and I started the day downtown going to galleries.

We visited a large church on a hill. You can see it from most places in town.

Inside, a man was playing the organ,but he stopped right after we sat down. The space is really stunning.

Then we wandered some more before taking a break while we waited for the fireworks.

At the end of the night everyone gathered in large open area to watch fireworks. Initially I was skeptical because a band was playing on the mainstage and it was waaaaay too loud. But I have to say that the segue was very nice. I think that the area must be a parking lot normally, because there were street lamps everywhere. When eleven o’clock rolled around, the singer spoke enthusiastically to the crowd in Icelandic. I assume he was saying something like, “Are you ready to see some Fireworks! Count with me! One, two, three!” and on three all of the street lights went out and rockets shot into the air. It was pretty spectacular.

A night at the movies

I went out with Jodi, Sam and Sarah to the Luxes, which is a luxury movie theater. It has leather recliners and serves beer and wine. The weird thing, and this is apparently standard in Iceland, is that every movie has an intermission. I don’t mean the Icelandic ones–we were there to see Hellboy for crying out loud–but halfway in, they stopped the film so that everyone could go to the restroom and visit the concession stand. Strange.

Whew. Friday.

Today I was pulled in to do assist Sarah on the rods of Trixie. In the first shot, my only job was to put Trixie’s right hand on her hip. No problem, except for one tiny thing. We’re on these flat rolling carts, kinda like mechanics use under cars, so that we can stay below the camera sightlines. Anyway, mine tips over during the shot, leaving me on the floor with three puppeteers about to roll over me.

The puppet wrangler, Adam, holds out his hand to me and drags me across the floor so I can get out of their way. It was very funny. But we saved the shot, so that’s okay.

I also worked a pair of legs during a football tackle and did some more rod work. There was this one crazy shot where I was doing rods on two different puppets at once. Don’t ask, it’s almost impossible to explain why it made sense to do it that way.

For those of you who aren’t in the puppet business, here’s an analogy. Remember the hardest game of Twister you’ve ever played. Now, to puppeteer in television you have to hold that position, stick one hand up in the air and put a five pound weight in it. BUT, and here’s the hard part, you have to stay below knee level on an average person, because if someone can see that you have to start over. While doing that, you need to sing and dance and act, all at the same time.

Hmm. Now, why do I think this is fun?

I got my pass today, so I can move around the building without needing to borrow someone elses. It was a remarkably freeing sensation.

Trial Over

I just got the word that they are going to keep me. Whew. It was pretty informal. Raymond, the producer, came in and asked Jodi if they liked me, and then asked me if I liked them. Then he asked Jodi to step into the hall and apparently said “She seems nice.” He told Jodi that he’d work on my paperwork. So I guess I’m here for five months.

Which is good, since I’m finally adjusted to the time zone. I went to bed at 10:30 last night and woke up at six this morning. I usually need seven and half hours of sleep when I’m rested, so this felt pretty good.

I also, finally, got to puppeteer today. I was the live arms for Sarah while she was manipulating Trixie. I also did live hands for Jodi. I’ll be the default for three of the kid puppets because my hands are smaller than Raymond’s. Raymond is the other assistant puppeteer.

The Studio – Day Two

I went to bed at nine o’clock last night and just passed out. Then I woke up shortly after midnight–very annoying–and I could not get back to sleep. I finally got out of bed and had a snack, then tried to sleep again. The last time I looked at the clock it was three a.m., but the alarm startled me when it went off, so I must have been fully asleep.

Despite that, I feel much, much better today. We got to the studio about 8:30; Jodi and Sam picked me up. So far I haven’t done any puppetry except to play around in the puppet shop. The rest of my time is spent helping get the puppeteers pillows for their shots. There will be more involved shots later when they will use all of us but right now I’m very contented to ease into things. I worked for a bit with Julie, who I’ll be seconding at times. That was fun.


I can’t take pictures of the set, so here’s something I can take a photo of. They feed us in a really great lunchroom. It has a view of the lava fields that surround us. The landscape here is like nothing I’ve seen; it is like a moonscape and at the same time lush with life.

The mosses and grasses, the small flowers and shrubs blanket the rocks and soften their edges. Everything feels new.