Why you almost never see me do a puppet show at an SF con.

Frequently, when I’m attending a convention as a writer, someone on programming will ask me to bring a puppet show. And they ask me to do it for the children’s track. I understand this impulse, I really do, because people have probably never booked a show before and there’s a fair chance that they haven’t seen one.

There’s a temptation to just send a price sheet over and let the $10,000 price tag stop the conversation, but let me actually explain the math behind this, because I know that I’m not the only performer who gets these requests.

First, let me lay some groundwork. I am a puppeteer. I am a writer. Both of these are jobs.

When I go to an SFF convention, I’m there as a writer and part of my job is promoting my work. But no one is asking me to actually write. Just to talk be on a panel and talk about writing. I’m happy to do that. I’m happy to talk about puppetry, too. These are passions.  When I’m talking with a group of my peers, it’s fun.

Two problems then with bringing a puppet show.

  1. Kids are not my peers.
  2. And folks aren’t asking me to talk about puppetry. They’re asking me to do an actual show.

For perspective… this is the set of one of my kids shows.

It’s 20’w x 20′ deep x 10′ tall and fits into a cargo van. So let’s talk about what it would take to get that to a convention.

  • Flights x 2 – $400 = $800
  • Luggage – $500
  • Salary x 2 – $1000 = $2000
  • Per diem for performers – $600
  • 2 weeks rehearsal x2 – $1600 = $3200   <– We don’t perform on a regular basis anymore, so we’d have to get back up to speed.
  • Director – $800
  • 2 weeks rehearsal space – $500 <– This won’t fit in my living room.
  • 2 weeks refurbishing time – $1000
  • Miscellaneous – $250 <– There’s always something you’ve forgotten.

During all of this, I’m not writing.

Now when I was touring to schools, I could ammortize this because we’d hit multiple schools in a very tight span of time. So I could market the show at $1000. In the 1990s. Now? Ahahaha….

Taking a show to a convention, in a town where I don’t live…  That’s one show that I’m doing all that work for. It’s not like people are going to see the show and then immediately rush out and book me to perform at their school. And frankly, I don’t do that anymore.

My goal has always been to turn down the gigs I don’t want to do. I don’t want to do children’s theater anymore. Which is where the rest of that price tag comes from, because during those three weeks of prep, I. Am. Not. Writing.

If you approach me about doing one of our adult pieces? Yeah. I’m more likely to have that conversation with you, because I do enjoy that. But it’s still going to be expensive because there are a lot of moving pieces.

And please, please, think before you ask if I couldn’t just use someone local to do the show with me. Really stop and take a moment and think about how insulting that is. It’s like saying, “Hey! World class violinist! We’re going to hand some instruments to some random people and see if they can figure out how to play this orchestra. It can’t be that hard, can it?”

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4 Responses

  1. Bill Housley

    Their thinking is that it’s all that simple like Punch and Judy or something. I watched your adult show at WorldCon (somewhere). It was very talented and extraordinary.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

      Yes, but– Even a smaller show would still be expensive to bring. It’s a one person show, yes, and requires less luggage, yes, but no less skill or rehearsal time.

  2. Peter Hentges

    That all makes lots of sense and makes me want to see one of the shows you used to do. That much prep surely produces something wonderful.

    Also makes me appreciate even more the work that goes into the May Day parade put on by the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater here in Minneapolis every year.

  3. Pam

    I did love the puppet show you did at Worldcon- were we in Chicago?- that was crowdfunded on Kickstarter.