Jodi came over this afternoon and we spent a while with one of my rehearsal puppets practicing some overt manipulation. We’ve got an audition tomorrow and figured it would be a good idea to brush up. The thing is, that we’ve performed for so long together that we got back into the groove really fast, which I know is totally misleading us about how the audition will go.
No. I won’t tell you what I’m auditioning for yet — I’m strangely superstitious that way — but I will ask for you to send good vibes my way from 11 – 4.
Afterwards, we all went out to dinner with Jonathan who is heading down to New Orleans for a film shoot. It was a good day today, all in all.
The theater decided to move the dress rehearsal up a day, as in tomorrow. I explained that it was impossible to have the wings built and installed in the dress–which the designer also knew–by tomorrow. So, they are going to cut the puppetry wings.
The costume designer for Mabou Mines’ latest show approached me about making a wing mechanism for her. I didn’t have time for the whole project, but was able to make a single wing, hoping that they could copy it for the other. She took it to California to be tested. Last week I got a phone message from her that was garbled. All I could make out was something about her going out of town and something about picking up. I sent her an email saying, “Hey, I couldn’t understand your message. What’s up?”
Meanwhile, she went out of town, confident that someone from Mabou Mines would contact me and explain the situation. No one did. So the poor designer arrived back in town tonight to discover that nothing had happened with the wings while she was gone. Her message had been that she couldn’t find anyone to copy the wing and could I please, please make the other one.
Their dress rehearsal is on Wednesday.
At this point, I simply don’t have the time. The first one took me about four hours, but I am booked solid this week. I’m already staying up until midnight just to get my current commitments finished. Three of my projects are due on the 30th and there’s not one that I can bump.
They have no money–I was doing this as a gratis thing–and the designer is totally screwed. Had I gotten the message last week, or had someone from the company contacted me as she had asked, I could have helped, but I can’t now.
I’m looking for anyone with reasonable skills with power tools to duplicate the existing wing mechanism on Monday or Tuesday in the New York area. You can see what I built here. I will happily supervise while I work on another project.
I will buy you a really good meal and trade you an equal amount of time later. I just flat don’t have time right now. Interested? Full of pity? The woman is really screwed and really nice. Mabou Mines is not a bad company to get in with–aside from this unfortunate miscommunication–and I’ll make sure you get credit.
Did I mention the meal? How about a bottle of wine?
If you are curious, there are pictures of the Monkeys in rehearsal. They aren’t finished yet. Emily still has hair and “makeup” to do, but she’ll wait until closer to performance for two reasons. First, they’ll get dinged up in rehearsal. Second, she’ll have a better idea of what the needs of the paint are, as she watches the monkeys work in the space.
We met with the cast today and heard their first table read of Serendib. It was very exciting to hear it, and confirmed that I really like this play. After the read, Emily put them through a quick puppetry experience, which she’ll go more in depth with later. It’s a relief to see that they were all excited about the puppets and really jumped in to play with them. Sometimes you run across–frequently, you run across actors who are not confident enough in themselves to be able to translate that into an external form. Puppetry is a form of acting, but the tool, the body, your character has to inhabit is not the tool we’re used to using. A lot of people can’t separate their acting from what is happening with their body, so they can’t transfer their skills to the external body of a puppet. It’s nice, and a huuuuuge relief to see that it’s not a problem with this cast.
I’m sad that I won’t be here for the rehearsal process, but, as they say, my work here is done. From here on out, it’s all hair and makeup for the puppets. I’m off to Hawaii with my husband to visit his folks. That’s not a bad way to end a build.
I had an interesting experience today. We ran into a problem with the girl monkeys because their heads were cast of a significantly heavier material than the rehearsal puppets. The workshop design required them to be light. What to do.
After ages of trying different things and getting frustrated and thinking that we would have to recast them with featherlight, we decided to go to dinner and not think about it, hoping that our subconscious would present us with an answer later.
We got back to the studio, and Lo! the answer presented itself to me in beautiful three-dimensional renderings, with a clear plan on how to make it work. I exclaimed that I thought I had a solution. Emily asked me to explain. In the process of pulling the answer out of the non-verbal part of my head and translate it, the entire idea fell apart. It just didn’t make any sense at all.
I grabbed a reference book (Rod Puppets and Table-top Puppets, by Hansjurgen Fettig) hoping that I could bolster the crumbling idea with an illustration. As I was flipping through the pages, my brain offered me another idea.
Rather than explaining it to Emily, and risking losing it when I translated, I just built the thing. It worked, beautifully, and doesn’t require recasting. If I had to articulate the thought process now, I’d say that I stopped thinking about how to make it work like it did before, and started thinking about what the most comfortable hand movements were. That’s it. That would be all I’d be able to say verbally.
The rest of the idea happened in a space without words. Which makes me wonder, if I had just built the other one, would the idea have held up? I think it would have. It felt right. If I had time, I might try to pull that picture up and try to build it. I don’t have the time, but it still makes me wonder.
I’ll post a picture of the solution tomorrow. I’m very pleased with it.
This is the last of these re-run posts. The Rabbits, Carrots and Whales tour was very short, but I used to tour nine months out of the year. I don’t do that anymore. At least, not the same way, but it does seem like I’m gone an awful lot.
Friday, October 22, 1998 Day Sixteen
This is the last day of tour! We had the best support that we’ve had at schools the entire tour. The cultural arts representative brought us juice and warm muffins. The kids were great. The choir teacher helped us pack up when we were done. It was the perfect end to the tour. Sungura even stayed in one piece. Although in a moment of irony, as we were packing Joe accidentally stepped on the Little Brer Rabbit puppet he made during rehearsals, and broke the rod. But that was our only casualty
Then we drove home. Seattle has really nasty traffic.
We’ve now had day two of rehearsal. I say rehearsal loosely, because most of it was spent repairing puppets. In addition to Sungura’s ears, the other challenge we faced today was admitting that one of the puppets is missing. We’d hoped yesterday that it would show up, but no- the small Brer Rabbit puppet is gone. Joe spent the day making a new one.
This is a nifty little control. What you are seeing is the armature for a running puppet. It has cables running to two points on the thighs and then down to a toggle. When you rock the toggle, the legs do a lovely running motion.
I did manage to fix Sungura’s ears today. I was quite proud of myself. It was one of those repairs, where the more you fixed, the more broken things you find.
Look! His ears are down. I’m holding the control for the ears in my left hand.
And now, I’ve pulled on the cable and they are up. The head is controled through a bicycle break in my right hand. (I had to fix that too.) If you are interested how I fixed him, you can take a closer look at my repairs.
We did actually get to run through Brer Rabbit several times today. Joe is working Brer. It’s a six rod puppet. He is holding the main control in his right hand and controlling the other four with his left. It’s not as bad as it sounds, but still tricky. The head and body are both manipulated with a Fettig control in Joe’s right hand, so he has two rods there, but only one control.
The stage is not as tall as Joe, and it slopes so he can’t stand up straight, and there are places where I have to duck to. Not good for our posture, eh?
I’ve got Brer Elephant, who also needed repairs, his head was all wobbly. He’s also a rod puppet, but he has cable controls for his legs, much like the little Brer Puppet. You can kinda see the rocker bar in my right hand.
With the move and everything, I’m feeling a wee bit overwhelmed so I’m going to use the wayback machine to post my online journal from a tour in 1998. At the time, I was touring with Tears of Joy, the second largest puppet theater in the US. The tour was a short one, only two weeks, and I covered it on my online journal. I’d just gotten a digital camera, I guess, and had a website on geocities. That was back in the day when it was all hand-coding, none of this fancy-schmancy wordpress stuff.
The puppets were twenty years old. They broke every single freakin’ day on tour. Enjoy.
Monday, October 5, 1998
The picture to our left is of Joe and me realizing that we have to remember this show. We each have performed it in the past, but it’s been a couple of years and we didn’t perform with each other. I’m also doing a role in the show that I haven’t done before, so it’s an adventure.
But seriously, we started by reading through the script to familiarize ourselves with each others rythmn and timing. It was also good to make sure we both know the same version of the show. Sometimes a team has deleted a section, or added an ad lib that stuck. Joe and his last partner have added things that are new to me, but they are fun, so I’ll learn them.
The next stage was to get on our feet. We worked in sections today on Sungura the Hare, one of the two stories in this show. Joe is working Pembele the rhinocerous in this photo, but he won’t use all of the costume until later in the week.
During the course of today’s rehearsal we discovered several repairs that need doing. These puppets are twenty years old, so they require a bit of love to work. I’m trying to fix Sungura’s ears. They are supposed to go straight up in the air when their string is pulled. Pretty much the first thing that happened today was that it broke. I’ve added the duct tape to test a repair, but the masking tape appears to be original to the puppet, because it has some fiberglass repairs on top of it.
Tomorrow, we’ll have more repairs to make and hopefully rehearse Brer Rabbit
I’ve spent most of the last two days trying to solve the issues with ventilation in ways that don’t make it really unpleasant for the actors. The thing about testing to see if the fogging still occurring is that really the only way to do it is to put the head on and start a timer to see when the eyes fog over. So, I’ve spent a lot of time with the bear head on. The other night, I edited the short video of the bear during bouts of testing.
Right now, I’ve got it on again as I’m writing this. AÃ°albjÃ¶rk and Josa, the actresses who will take turns being Hringur, came over to test my mock up. They agreed that it was only mildly obnoxious and that the fogging didn’t seem to be happening.
So, I’m putting the real one in now, or rather, I’m testing the real one before doing the last thing that will make it permanent. My assessment is that, while it does seem to stop the fogging, it makes the impression of heat in the head more intense. See, what’s happening is that the hot air coming out of my nose and mouth is bouncing around in a much smaller area before exiting the character, which means that it feels like I’m breathing in a steam bath.
Here are the steps I’ve taken. I had already replaced the fiberglass cheeks of Hringur with foam for a more huggable bear, but I used the standard upholstery foam rubber. I switched that foam out for a reticulated foam. You can see that reticulated foam (on left) is much more porous than your standard foam rubber (on right).
Next I honeycombed the new cheek to let even more air flow through. Although this allows more air through, it also makes the cheek weaker. I can get away with it here because the surrounding fiberglass adds structure.
I covered this with netting and put in plugs as I did with the other holes that I cut in the bear.
In theory, the finished bear is not noticeably different from the original bear, but is cooler. What I’m finding is that when I’m moving around, enough of a breeze gets through all of these small holes to cool the head down somewhat, at least compared to what it was before. I’ve been in the head for about fifteen minutes now, including a dance break, and there’s no fogging. BjÃ¶rgvin is coming by to pick Hringur up for rehearsal. Oh, please, please, let this work when they rehearse with it.
Today I had the simple task of flipping a sheet over Bessie’s head. Ahahaha. Right. The illusion we were going for was that she was hanging laundry and that a sheet fell back over her, momentarily making her look like a ghost. The trouble, as always, is that I had to do this over my head. In rehearsal I managed to do it with ease, but the moment the camera came on, I kept flipping the sheet behind her or getting caught on the clothesline over our head. I finally figured out that if I asked Emily, the other assistant puppeteer, to anchor part of the sheet, that I could flip the rest of it over Bessie. Once we figured that out, we got it in one take.
I think it looked good but it was maddening getting there.
I’m tired of it already. I had a fit today that sounded like I had consumption. Okay, not really, but it felt like someone ought to be concerned that I might have consumption. Basically, my sore throat has become a nasty chest cold which is aggravating my respirtory infection induced asthma, which is further aggravated by the fumes in the puppet shop all of which means I’m probably heading for bronchitis.
Now, I have taken steps, such as moving the sewing machine to green room, away from the fumes, (I did finish the prototypes today) and visiting the pharmacy and using my inhaler. Unfortunately, it seems that things are so aggravated right now, that I can’t be in the kitchen while Rob is cooking because of the pepper and onions. This is the point where I realize how fortunate I am that I have a house-husband to cook instead of having to fight with these things while trying to cook.
Besides that, the day was good. I got the prototypes made, the New York cast arrived today. Tomorrow we get the rest of the cast. Then the team will be complete. Our first day of filming is Monday. We’re spending the time until then working in our rehearsal room.
All the puppets have working eyebrows now. Ooooo! It’s taking us a little time to get used to using them.
I got to watch a rehearsal of Arabian Nights today. The puppets look fabulous and the actors are doing a really good job. Everyone says nice things about the set, but I naturally have some concerns. I’ll get to talk to the TD tomorrow.
Meanwhile, I’ve just come back from a very nice dinner with Jodi, Sam and Emily. Bill, one of the actors in the show, joined us as well.
I’m sitting in the Chattanooga airport on my way to New Jersey. McCarter Theater is bringing me up to talk about the Arabian Nights set. It’s built, thank goodness, but there are some questions so Chris Parks, the director, wants me to come watch a rehearsal and meet with the TD. I’ll come back to Chattanooga on Friday.
(Tor Books — August 21, 2018) Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars. Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, […]