Archive for the ‘Puppetry’ Category

Puppets! Video! A Fruitcake Carol

Put together by puppeteers in three different cities, including Chicago, we’ve got this holiday video for you. Now you get to play a guessing game about which puppet is mine.

So- What’s it like to audition for a Henson workshop?

This weekend was a good example of what it’s like to have more than one career simultaneously. I was at the Nebula Awards Weekend, which was fabulous, and left at 4:00 to go to the airport. This meant I missed the Nebula Awards Ceremony itself, but one has choices to make.

Because in order to have watched the ceremony, I would have had to take a red-eye to LA and then been exhausted for the audition. That kind of defeats the point of going. So. So I skipped the awards and then watched them later streaming, (OMG! You guys! Congratulations!) because I was going to audition for this.

Jim Henson Diversity Initiative

I know! Right? How awesome is that! It’s fantastic when a company self examines itself and says, “Hey! All of our puppeteers are white guys. Maybe we should get some other folks in.” So I dutifully sent in my resume and puppetry reel and crossed my fingers. Last week, I got word that I was invited to audition and dropped EVERYTHING.

The only thing I knew before arriving was that we were going to be having a basic puppetry workshop and then doing some improv.

I was nervous about being late, because LA and traffic, which wound up with me arriving an hour early. My plan was to go sit at a coffee shop until time, but the security guard waved me through to sit in the courtyard with the other folks. This is the first thing to tell you about auditioning for the Hensons: Everyone is nice. EVERYONE is nice. They went out of their way to make this a comfortable and encouraging environment.

Because I was so early, rather than making me wait until my group’s time, they let me go in with the 3:00 group. Super-nice, because it reduced the amount of time I had to fret. And I was nervous when I wasn’t distracted. Not about the puppetry, because that part I have down, but just about being there. It used to be Charlie Chaplain’s studio and I have a huge posthumous crush on him. Time travel? Oh yeah– I’d want to go back in time and… ahem.

So the Jim Henson Company is there now.

While we were waiting, Allan Trautman came out and gave us an overview of what was going to happen. He took a lot of pains to reassure the folks with no puppetry experience that they didn’t need to worry about it, just to have fun. And his attitude, which was very relaxed and engaged, helped with that. The audition was to be in two parts. Stage one was a group workshop. Stage Two was individual sessions.

Stage One – The workshop

Drew Massey and Donna Kimball, who are both amazing puppeteers, took us into the soundstage for a quick puppetry workshop. I say soundstage. That or the world’s largest blackbox theater. It was dark and cool and populated by ten chairs, four giant mirrors, a camera, and a table full of Muppets. They asked who had puppetry experience, most of the group raised their hands. Improv? Again, most of the hands went up. Television puppetry? Fewer of us, but still some. What sort?

The answers were varied: Took a workshop, weekly web series, and me, “Um… I was on Sesame Street two weeks ago.”

Drew winced. “I’m so sorry– We’ve got a reverse scan monitor to be easier on the new folks. Just tell them when you go in that you’re used to a standard monitor.”

What that bit of jargon means is this. Normally, video puppetry is done with a standard monitor, so the puppeteer is looking at a video screen that shows exactly what the camera sees. A reverse scan monitor is flipped, like a mirror. It’s easier on a new puppeteer because we’re all used to how a mirror works.

A video puppeteer, on the other hand, has trained their brain to work so that seeing the puppet move in apparently the opposite direction is normal. We do that because it allows us to see the same composition that the audience will see. In visual storytelling, the direction of travel is really important, but that’s a whole other post. Point being that I was about to have the same experience that a newbie puppeteer would have because my monitor would behave in the opposite way from the way I’d been trained. Hopefully that makes sense.

Again, though, this is an example of how gentle they were trying to be with the process. It made a much more level playing field for everyone.

They then had us go “puppet shopping” which means that we got to go over to that long table of Muppets and pick on up. And put it on. These are really lovely creations. And no, none of them are regular characters.

Put us in front of the mirrors, before introducing the monitor, and just had us count to twenty “to see what style lipsync everyone is doing.” Which is a nice way to say, “we want to see if you even know how to lipsync.”

This group did, so they moved straight on to walking. We just walked in a follow-the-leader circle, watching the mirror, so they could see if anyone needed coaching on how to walk a puppet. Again, this was a solid group.

Next came camera introduction. The instructions were simple:

  1. Walk to the center of the monitor.
  2. Stop.
  3. Turn to face the camera.
  4. Look left.
  5. Look right.
  6. Exit the way you came in.

They were planning to go straight down the line, but the first woman in the line said, “I’d really rather not go first.” She’d been one of the ones who had not had any puppetry experience. Rather than forcing her to be an example, they reassured her that this was fine, and moved to the next person in line. Me.

So I lift my puppet — a little boy scout or the world’s youngest sheriff — and enter the frame and immediately pull the puppet back. “Whoa– That’s weird.”

Donna laughed. “I know. Give it a minute, you’ll readjust.”

Because the monitor was acting like a mirror, the puppet appeared on the opposite side of where I expected to see it. What I found fascinating was that when I was looking in an actual mirror, I had no problems. But something about looking down at a screen made my brain refuse to treat it like a mirror. But, I did readjust quickly, as promised. I had a little trouble overshooting the marks, because when I tried to correct for what I saw on the screen I would correct the opposite way. That’s what happens to newbies with a standard monitor, so at least I knew what was happening.

(If you want to experience this, by the way, you can go into G+ hangouts and flip the image so it’s not a mirror image.)

As they went down the line, they helped people adjust and learn how to situate themselves in frame. Once we’d all done that, we started into a session of Round Robin improv.

So puppeteer A would go to the middle of the frame and establish a one shot (single figure in frame). Then puppeteer B would enter and A would counter to  create a two-shot. And here I learned something new! Which is always exciting.  They referred to the monitor in terms of zones.

Here! I’ve made you a diagram.

Monitor zones

So we entered, went to Zone 3, then countered to Zone 4 when the new puppet entered and stopped in Zone 2. Two-shots still work exactly the way it works anywhere else, but having the zones numbered makes it way easier to teach. Totally using that from now on.

The round robins were a load of fun. Each time we finished, we’d swap out for a different puppet and were asked to use as many voices/characters as we could. The entire time, they were encouraging us to be bold in our choices. A bold failure is better than a dull success. By the end of the session, I had acclimated to the reverse-scan monitor, as promised, and was just having fun.

They took us back out to the courtyard to await Stage 2.

Stage 2

Here they took time to orient us on what was going to happen next. We’d be taken, one at a time, into the screening room where we’d have a private audition with the casting team. And then began the long wait as the first woman went in. The second woman waited, “on deck” on the porch of the screening room aaaalll the way across the courtyard from us. We could see them, but couldn’t really hear.

The rest of us sat in the shade in the courtyard and shot the breeze, trying to make each other comfortable and calm. I know I needed the distraction. It was an amazing group of women. One of them had the best story.

When she was in elementary school, she was obsessed with puppets and a puppet troupe came to her school. They were going to be using volunteers in the show and train them. She was picked. And the day before they arrived, she broke her arm and didn’t get to do it.

Now she was here. She was just beside herself with joy at just being there. Which is exactly the way to go into an audition like this.

Another woman had been bitten in the face by a dog on Thursday. She’d had surgery. This was her first public outing and by God, she was not going to miss the chance. Everyone was brave, strong, and just happy to be there. It was a great group to wait with. Everytime someone came out of the screening room, they’d come back over to the courtyard and we’d cheer that they got in.

See… They got “hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds” of applications. They picked 100 of us. Just being there at all was huge.

One woman, a puppeteer of colour, actually teared up a little when she was told how many people applied. “I didn’t know there were that many of us. I always felt like I was the only one.”

So. We waited. I was second to last and headed over to the screening room porch to wait. This was the only time that the nerves really came out. That ten minute wait. I paced. I stuck my hand in the air and practiced lipsync. I sang a little. Ran through character voices that show my range. Anything, really, to distract myself from the fact that I was about to audition for Brian Henson.

Who I’ve met. Who is lovely. But still.

In I go. They stopped me on the threshold, “Give yourself a minute for your eyes to adjust. It’s really dark in here.” See what I mean about kindness? Just the little considerations like that.

The audition is deceptively simple. I get to pick a puppet from a table and then I’m to do an improv scene with Allan Trautman based on a prompt provided by Peter Bristow (the host of PuppetUp! and an improv god). Switch puppets and do a second. That’s it.

In front of a reverse scan monitor. I say, “I was told to say that I’m used to a standard monitor.”

Immediately, everyone says variations of “Oh God. I’m so sorry” with a lot of reassuring laughter and comments about what a brain twister it is.

Let me say that Allan Trautman is a generous and fun improv partner. The first scenario was a job interview for a chat room moderator. I had a buxom blonde bombshell, with my Mae West/phone sex voice, so — remembering the advice to be bold — I decided that she had previously worked in a BDSM dungeon, which made her perfect to spot abuse as opposed to consensual play. Laughter all the way through. Thank heavens.

Next, I was drawn to a little girl puppet with pigtails. “Are you looking for children’s voices?”

“If they are edgy. Sure.”

I pick her up. Edgy? That I can deliver. Mentally, I decide to play her like she’s one of those thirty year olds who keeps getting cast to play children. Sounds like a child. Mouth outta the gutter.

The prompt for this scene was that we were cleaning up from throwing a party.

Allan’s puppet was looking at the ground, “Hey! I think that party was really a success.”

I entered my backwards, looking off camera. In my little girl voice, I say, “Yeah. The only problem with this sort of party is cleaning the semen off the walls in the bathroom.” (sorry, Mom)

Huge laughter. And we’re off! A couple of lines in, I realize that this could go down the wrong path if I don’t work in that she’s actually an adult, so I steer the conversation to just talking about the kind of implements that one uses to clean semen. “Which is so spoogie” and then a rundown of various squeegies. It was fun. They were laughing, thank heavens.

When I finished, Patrick said, “Well, it’s good to know that you aren’t afraid to go there.”

Really, really not. I thanked them. They thanked me. And that was the end.

And the outcome of the audition? Triumph! It was fun and I learned stuff.

Oh– Oh you mean… Yes. Yes, I got into the workshop! Well, the first half. They’ll work us for two weeks, and then choose a smaller number to continue on for another six weeks. Regardless, this was such fun and I wouldn’t have missed it, not even for the Nebula Awards.

 

 

Caught by the Camera — European puppetry pioneer Richard Teschner

This is circulating in the puppetry community because it catches rare footage of Richard Teschner performing.  According to Bil Baird’s The Art of the Puppet, “In 1911, an event occurred that had a profound effect on a large segment of popular puppetry. Richard Teschner of Vienna and his new wife traveled to Holland on their honeymoon, and there he encountered and became intrigued with the high artistic quality of the Javanese wayang figures and their simple effective means of operation.”

At the time in Europe, you would see glove puppets, shadow or string puppets. While this form was well-known in Java as wayang golek , it was previously unknown as a style in the West. In fact, the British announcer calls them “marionettes” in this clip. While Teschner adapted the style and created new systems of control, the roots are undeniably Javanese.

Now, this style is very popular in the U.S. and Europe. In fact, Kermit the Frog is a hybrid of two styles, he’s a moving mouth hand and rod puppet.

Since Teschner only performed in his own studio to audiences no larger than 70 people, this is a delightful and rare opportunity to see some of his puppets in motion.

I’ll also note that the lady with the sail chair is pretty darn fun, too.

CAUGHT BY THE CAMERA NO. 70

City of Carlsbad – William D. Cannon Art Gallery

Hey, if you are in or near Carlsbad, CA, allow me to recommend an amazing exhibit. The World on a String: Puppets from the Alan Cook Collection of The International Puppetry Museum. The exhibit runs till December 30, 2011 and is one of the best collections of puppetry you’ll likely get a chance to see.

See the world through wooden eyes with puppets from Bucharest, Palermo, Bali, Africa, Asia, North America and many more points around the globe. Featuring over 120 puppets from all over the world, this exhibition is on loan from the International Puppet Museum of Pasadena, and features a portion of the Alan Cook Collection, founder and director of the Museum.

via City of Carlsbad – William D. Cannon Art Gallery.

Trailer: The Narrative of Victor Karloch

Wow. It should not surprise me that this is an impressive trailer given that its provenance. Kevin McTurk, the creator, has been doing amazing work in puppetry for years. This film will be appearing in Heather Henson’s Handmade Puppet Dreams 2012 series. Looking forward to that in big, big ways.

The Narrative of Victor Karloch [Official Trailer] from Kevin McTurk on Vimeo.

He’s using 30″ rod puppets, shadow puppets and in camera effects to create what promises to be a deeply eerie film. You can read more about the Narrative of Victor Karloch at the Spirit Cabinet.

(Hat-tip to Grá Linnea)

 

 

 

We Almost Didn’t Have the Muppets: Four Alternate Points in Jim Henson’s Life | Tor.com

As part of Muppet Week at Tor.com, I talk about the impact that Jim Henson had on modern puppetry. Here’s a teaser.

Let me be clear, before we start, that I’m about to geek out on puppetry. Jim Henson is why I’m a professional puppeteer today, even though I never met him. Like many puppeteers, I grew up watching Sesame Street and The Muppet Show and before I discovered the wider world of puppetry.

Now, I’m also a science fiction writer and here’s the thing… Henson would be a really good subject for an Alternate History story of the “Duck Mr. President” variety, where a single change could affect the entire time line.

I do not exaggerate. The face of modern puppetry would be completely different if not for Jim Henson. Here, let me show you.

Read the full article at We Almost Didn’t Have the Muppets: Four Alternate Points in Jim Henson’s Life | Tor.com.

(I’ve closed comments here to encourage folks to comment over there, instead. And please do! I want to know what you think and so does Tor.com)

My second audition for Madame Butterfly

I’ve just come out of the audition for Madame Butterfly. I was cut in the first round, which is disappointing — I won’t even pretend that it’s not — but not particularly crushing. The thing about auditions like this is that they are such a long shot anyway. You don’t go in expecting to get the part, you know? It was a really good set of puppeteers and frankly, I didn’t show well.

So, what does an audition like this look like?

It was a little different from the last one. There were only a dozen of us, which is pretty amazing to start with. We were led up the elevator to what felt like the bowels of the Met but is actually the top floor. Totally feels like a basement, though. The last time, we’d been on a replica of the stage, with the actual set. This time was in a rehearsal room

The puppeteers all sort of stretch out while we’re waiting. This is part getting the body ready, part showing off flexibility, and part distracting oneself from nerves.

They started by just having us move around the room to get comfortable with the space and with each other. The goal with these moments is to see how well we move and also to start building teamwork. Since the puppet is worked by three operators, this is vital.

Once we’d warmed up, they started having us work the puppet in teams. The first team up was really good. I mean… frequently that is not the case, but they’d already narrowed the selection. I think all of us sort of internally went, “Oh, crap.” Or maybe that was just me.

Then the team rotates so that each person gets to try a different position on the puppet.

When my turn came, having watched the others, I volunteered to do the feet first. With the other teams, as they rotated, the puppet director had the puppet try faster things so the last person on the feet kept winding up running. I’m no dummy. I did not want to have to do that without practice.

I had fully expected the feet to be my worst position, because I have the wrong body type. Since the figure is direct manipulation and worked on the floor, this requires the puppeteer to hold the feet and work in a squatting posture. In the show, the puppet runs 60 feet down a raked stage.  For this particular figure, you want short legs and a long torso so you can really stretch out in front of you. I have long legs and short torso. My knees get in my way.

And yet, that was the position that I was strongest in. I had good placement and stride. I planted fully and showed weight.

Then we rotated. I was fine on the torso and right hand. Nothing special but nothing broken, either.

Then we rotated. On the head I made such a basic mistake that I’m sort of horrified. I checked the range of motion on the other body parts, but I did not check where the puppet’s focus was — where its eye level is when it looks straight ahead — before we started. It was much, much higher than I thought. So my puppet spent the entire time staring at the ground. I also verbally coached my teammates, which, in hindsight, I shouldn’t have done. It’s a trick we use in rehearsal, but in this audition, they were looking for non-verbal communication. I also, didn’t do a particularly good job of countering, that is keeping sightlines clear. So, as I said, I did not show well.

By the way, this is the performer’s version of rejectomancy.

I want to be clear, for people who aren’t used to theater, that I do not feel sorry for myself. It’s also not false modesty or downplaying things to say that I didn’t show well. I’m a really good puppeteer. I know what I’m capable of and I didn’t deliver today.

The last thing they had us do was cross the stage floor in a gliding walk. It’s a very stylized movement that stagehands use in bunraku. I have no idea how I did there, since there weren’t mirrors.

They sent us all out in the hall while they conferred for five minutes and then brought us back in. They read the names of the six people they were keeping. While I hoped I was wrong, I was not surprised when mine wasn’t one of them.

It was a great experience overall. So often, productions think they can just teach anyone to work puppets and it is wonderful to see them take puppetry seriously. It’s also really nice to spend an afternoon watching a whole bunch of really good puppeteers do their work.

And at the end of the day? I got to audition for the Met. Twice. How many people get to say that?

I am in NYC

I caught a redeye from Salt Lake City to NYC where I will be until Friday morning. Why? Because I’m clearly insane.

In all seriousness, I have an audition tomorrow. For the Met.

I’ve been called back for a show I auditioned for four years ago. You can read about that audition and I’ll tell you about tomorrow’s once I get on the other side of it.

How do I think I’ll do? Impossible to say. They are looking at a lot of puppeteers tomorrow. As much depends on body type as skillset for this role. Am I nervous? Yes.

But… it’s the Met. Just being able to say the sentence, “I’m auditioning for the Met” is incredibly, amazingly, cool.

One more time.

I’m auditioning for the Met.

Edited to add: I had a great time, didn’t get the part, and you can read how the audition went.

Disappearing blood recipe

A couple of years ago, I worked on a show called That Pretty, Pretty, which involved vast quantities of blood.  The problem was that the blood needed to spray the walls and then disappear by the next scene. I figure with Halloween just around the corner, that people might want another trick up their sleeve.
The answer? Disappearing ink. I loaded a water canon with disappearing in and did massive blasts of blood on the walls as people were shot.
You have to fiddle with the proportions a bit depending on the effect you want.  This is the original recipe that I used.

http://chemistry.about.com/od/demonstrationsexperiments/ss/disappearink_3.htm

And here is the recipe for the canon effect blood. Please do note that because of the lye this can’t go anywhere near the actor’s face. Seriously, this can blind people if it gets in the eyes. This is for walls or inanimate objects only. Even that… test it first. It’s got some nasty chemicals.

It does lose its potency when exposed to air, so you need to keep it in an air tight container and not make it more than a day ahead.

Touring memories and yet not a tour

Rob and I had to go out of town this weekend and I was struck by how many of the  places we visited had a touring memory attached to them.  I played in elementary schools all over the place and we were very much in my old stomping grounds this weekend.

At one point, we needed to get diesel for the car and Rob said that he thought he’d wait until we exited for our next turn. I thought that there weren’t any options at that exit — and I was right. It was weird.

If you were in elementary school in Washington or Oregon in 1995-97 or in Idaho in 1993-1995 or 1998, then  I almost certainly performed for you. It is a little awkward how many adults I run across that have memories of seeing me perform or rather of seeing the shows that I performed.

My 2011 Worldcon Schedule

We are on the road to Reno! The puppeteers, (Lance and Jodi) and I left yesterday afternoon after rehearsal.  We’ll be performing on Friday at the convention.

Normally, I only post the public things on my schedule, but this time I’ve included things like rehearsals and SFWA board meetings so you can see why the chances of spotting me on the floor of the con are very slim.

Wednesday

  • Teaching SF: Give the Kid a Book (Workshop), Wed 14:00 – 15:00, A18 (RSCC)
  • Giving an Effective Reading (Workshop), Wed 15:00 – 16:00, A17 (RSCC)
  • Puppet Show Rehearsal (Rehearsal), Wed 19:00 – 21:00, A17 (RSCC)

Thursday

  • Sketching Your Costume Idea (Workshop), Thu 11:00 – 12:00, A12 (RSCC)
  • Autographing: Thu 13:00 (Autographing), Thu 13:00 – 14:00, Hall 2 Autographs (RSCC)
  • Reading: Mary Robinette Kowal (Reading), Thu 15:00 – 15:30, A14 (RSCC)
  • Writing Excuses Podcast (Panel), Thu 17:00 – 19:00, D05 (RSCC)
  • Shadow Puppetry (Demonstration) (M), Thu 20:00 – 21:00, Hall 2 Demo2 (RSCC)

Friday

  • SFWA Board Meeting (Special Interest Group), Fri 08:00 – 12:00, OFFSITE (OFFSITE)
  • Puppet Show – Set-up/Rehearsal (Rehearsal), Fri 12:00 – 15:30, C01 (RSCC)
  • Puppet Show (first showing): Whatnot (Performance), Fri 16:00 – 17:30, C01 (RSCC)
  • Puppet Show – Break (RESET), Fri 17:30 – 18:30, C01 (RSCC)
  • Puppet Show (second showing): Whatnot (Performance), Fri 19:00 – 20:30, C01 (RSCC)

Saturday

  • The Image of Art in SF: How Art and Artists are Depicted in Science Fiction and Fantasy (Panel), Sat 10:00 – 11:00, A01+6 (RSCC)
  • Historical Figures in Action! (Panel), Sat 11:00 – 12:00, A10 (RSCC)
  • SFWA Meeting (Special Interest Group), Sat 13:00 – 15:00, A02 (RSCC)
  • Art Direction: What’s Involved? (Panel) (M), Sat 15:00 – 16:00, A04 (RSCC)
  • Pre-Hugo Reception (Reception) (I), Sat 18:00 – 20:00, Capri (Peppermill)
Sunday, I catch a 6 a.m. flight to go to Michigan so I can record two new October Daye books by Seanan McGuire. Which is why you won’t see me at the con on Sunday, either.
Whee!

Making teeth for Papa Fuzzy.

A closeup of Papa Fuzzy's teeth. This is what I made today.

Teeth!

They are made of medical grade thermal plastic and individually placed in Papa Fuzzy’s mouth.

Basically, I cut a tiny piece of thermal plastic and lower it into boiling water with a slotted spoon. I pull it out to shape it using a flat surface and a scoring tool (my fingernail).

For the molars, I shaped two pieces of the plastic and stacked them to get the width I wanted.

You can juuuuust barely see his tongue in this shot.

I’m particularly happy with the molar, but I may wind up not making any more than that.  I just want the hint of white when he opens his mouth and having a full set of teeth might break the “cute” aspect of him. Although I’m using ecru thermal plastic, it’s still a little stark for his mouth.

Hanging out with Google+

I’ve been playing with Google+ since they opened it up for field testing and I’m really liking it.  With Buzz and Wave, I was hopeful but neither of them filled a need for me. Wave came closer to working for me but… Google+ is hitting at a time when I’m annoyed by Facebook and wanting a replacement. I’m finding it easier to carry on a conversation there.  Even easier than my own blog, to be honest.

But the thing I really, truly love are the hangouts.  This is basically video chatting, but I can put up a public hangout and anyone can join in OR I can limit it to a specific group of people.  It’s kind of awesome that way.

So far, I’ve been inviting people to hangout while I build puppets.  Today I have some writing to do, and so I’m having a writers’ hangout.  I’ve played with this a little on other days and it’s kind of like hanging out at a coffee shop but I get to bring my own cats and don’t have to worry about what part of the world the other writers are in.

So… if you are on Google+ today,  I’m going to try Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s method of writing dates.  We’ll chat for fifteen minutes. Then at quarter past we’ll start writing for forty-five minutes. On the hour, there’s another 15 minute break for chat… Rinse and repeat.

I don’t know about you, but I have some page count to get done and having folks around makes it easier to not get distracted by my sudden pressing need to vacuum the cat.

If you want to join in mid-way, that’s fine, but we’ll just wave at you until the next break. If you want to join in and draw instead? Totally cool.

So if you are on Google+ drop in and hangout.

[Edited to add: I’m taking a break, but hopefully we’ll do more later. I got a lot of writing done.]

Eric Wright + puppet workshop = fun

This has been a fun week. Among other things, Eric Wright was in town.  Eric is one of the founders of The Puppet Kitchen in NYC and a dear friend. While he was here, he taught a puppet workshop at the Cast Iron Carousel.

The workshop was on making these tiny little hand puppets which are great for travel or just to have around. The Pup-It workshop was two-hours long and everyone made ridiculously cute puppets. RIDICULOUS.  The Puppet Kitchen teaches workshops in NYC, so allow me to recommend them.

It’s been ages since I made a puppet just for fun and this was a nice break. I also learned some new tricks, which is always nice.

While I wish he’d been in town longer, I did manage to get Eric to Powell’s City of Books and Voodoo Donuts.