So one of my favorite things on twitter is to tweet exactly what I’m doing, without giving any context. Usually this is something that I just said at work. So… for the people who have forgotten that I’m a puppeteer, here are a sampling of things said at work.
What we said.
Do you know if the blood is still in the mini-fridge?
It’s good in there. Warm, soft… padded rod.
Can I stick my hand in him and feel him?
Stop! Don’t go past the bunnies. Oh god. Whatever you do, don’t pass the bunnies.
I’m about to put the ass of the dog through the sewing machine.
What it really means:
Stage blood has a lot of sugar in it so we keep it in the fridge to discourage bugs.
I’d just installed a rod in a puppet and the padding was still warm from the hot glue.
My colleague wanted to test a puppet.
I was shopping for a taxidermied animal and stumbled on a page that had pre-taxidermy animals. It was all fine until a series of horrific pictures after a set of very cute bunnies.
Exactly what it sounds like, except the dog is made of cloth.
I am feeling unspeakably old. No, no, it’s not because of the elf costume that I’m wearing at work these days, though it is work related.
One of the men working in operations came up to me at work last night and said, “Does the phrase, ‘It happened in Narnia,’ mean anything to you?”
I hedged my bets and said, “It might…” because all I could think of was that someone had told him about the white spandex suit I used to have to wear in a production of the show.
The he said, “Do you remember little K— P—?”
My jaw dropped. Really. That’s not a metaphor. When I had last seen him, he had been twelve or thirteen years old playing Edmund. Now, I know that people age and realistically, I recognize that it has been 13 years or so since we worked together, but– but… he was twelve and now he’s an adult peer.
Peter got in safely. He and Dad spent the morning practising for the saw festival. The only hitch was that Peter had been learning the wrong Ave Maria so he and Dad sat down to work out on the Bach version.
Afterwards we went out to lunch and then Peter and I trotted down to pick up some pirate regalia for him. He’s an adherant of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He has a good hat and a pair of boots now. The boots should work with non-pirate gear, but the hat is definitely piratical.
The three of us went to see “The Norman Conquest: Table Manners” tonight which I loved. Very funny and also smart.
I just got home from seeing MACHINES MACHINES MACHINES MACHINES MACHINES MACHINES MACHINES. Yes, that’s really the title of this play. My friend Emily invited me to see it and she tends to pick interesting theater, so I happily followed her to the theater.
Here Theater is just around the corner from City Winery, so we started the evening with dinner there.
In the wake of the grim news about the bankrupt auto giants, commentators have been bemoaning the decline of American manufacturing. Please don’t share this sad news with the three crackpot inventors in the gloriously demented new show “Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines,” at Here Arts Center. As the obsessive-compulsive title clearly suggests, these guys are intense, seriously nerdy and highly sensitive fellows. The idea that the world’s last superpower has lost the knack for gizmo making might send them into a colossal funk.
And the program notes say, the production company, rainpan 43, is “dedicated to creating innovative, actor-driven absurdist plays that are at once deeply profound and utterly ridiculous.” In that, they have utterly succeeded with MACHINES MACHINES MACHINES MACHINES MACHINES MACHINES MACHINES. The set, a collection of contraptions and Rube Goldberg machines, is as much a character as any of the actors. I really don’t know how they could have rehearsed without it.
While we’re talking about amazing shadow puppetry, this is another company that I saw for the first time at the San Fransisco puppetry festival back in 1993. Larry Reed’s Shadowlight does really ground breaking work involving using full human figures and multiple projectors to play with scale.
This is a sample of their Monkey King
At the SF Puppetry Festival I volunteered to help with whatever was needed and was lucky enough to be assigned to the Shadowlight production of In Xanandu. This mostly meant I was a runner if they needed anything, but the upshot as that I got to watch the show from backstage. As a young puppeteer, this had a huge impact on me. This photo is of Miranda and Ferdinand from the production of Tempest we did at McCarter theater. I think you can see the influence.
If it interests you, here’s Part 1 of a two part documentary about their work, including behind the scenes shots.
For the show, Night Sky, I was brought into the project very late, after the original propmaster had to depart. We had a tight budget and very little time to find furniture, which meant that I was shopping for shape, knowing that I could adjust the color later. The designer was very particular about wanting all the furniture to have the same chocolate brown finish.
As you see, this chair is honey maple. Now, if I had time and were going to do this right, I’d have stripped off the varnish at this point. But I found these piece the day tech started, so time was not my friend. I also don’t need it to look good forever.
What you see here is a test of some different color palettes. The one on the right side of the chair (bottom of the photo) is mostly burnt umber. The darker stripe is about half burnt umber and half mars black. I also tried a spray and a rag treatment, neither of which I liked.
For the final chair, I used a fluid satin acrylic “varnish” or medium to create a glaze. This allowed some of the original wood to show through for richness. That, combined with the brush strokes give a fairly convincing tightgrained wood. One of the tricks is to use a wide brush — in this case a three inch chinese brush for doing ink work — and long brush strokes. Any time you start or stop the brush it shows as a grain variation, so you have to either continue the stroke off the furniture or lift very smoothly.
The downside to this treatment is that it does scratch easily because it’s basically sitting on plastic. We’ve got a paint kit to do touchups, which is fairly easy, but it’s not something I’d recommend for a long run. With a long running show, taking the time to deal with the original finish would have been significantly more worthwhile. Or if this wasn’t a piece that was going to get a lot of wear, I could get away with this.
My dad said he thought a dull day for me was more interesting than most people’s day jobs. As an experiment, I used twitter to record the minutia of today. There are big silent stretches, unfortunately, where I’m in the theater without a signal to the outside world.
10:22 Picked up a zipcar at 10 and am going to get a table and chairs for Night Sky. #
10:40 Astonishing. Parking in front of the building. #
10:40 The very nice French student and her father helped me get the table & chairs into the car. Now, to the theater. #
11:16 I have arrived at the theater and am not dead. Again, there is parking in front of the building. This is not normal. #
11:36 Dropped off the furntiture, extended the Zipcar res. And heading out for next load. #
11:42 Also sending designer reference photos while stopped at traffic lights, of which there are many. #
12:06 Ah ha. Now is the driving in circles looking for a spot, as expected. #
I was at the theater today and one of the folks I’m working with commented on my website. He asked why it doesn’t say anything about props.
Truly? Because unless I’m building something interesting, the job is deadly boring. My posts would consist of, “Today I went shopping for paper, a box and a copy of King Lear.” At best. More likely they would say, “Today I went shopping and didn’t find anything on my list.”
The other reason is that when I’m really in full swing, as I’m about to be this week, I don’t have time to post at all. So it doesn’t say anything about the props ’cause I just don’t have time. Like, I’m heading into tech week starting tomorrow and I won’t surface again for another week.
And the last reason is that I don’t self-identify as a props master. I am one, but I identify as a puppeteer and more recently as an SF writer. The props thing feels like just a dayjob.
While researching champagne for stage, I stumbled across this 1906 article from the NY Times. It’s a fun read if you’re a theater geek like me.
EATING and drinking on the stage,” remarked the chronic theatregoer the other night, “always bores me when I have dined well and tantalizes me when I haven’t; but whenever I go to a theatre nowadays I am sure to find the people across the footlights either enjoying a big meal or pouring down tea or champagne early and often.”
Today was hands down the most fun I’ve had with Peter so far. We stopped to get bagels and he walked me up to the theater. It was a short day for me as I just needed to finish the angel wings and get them primed.
After that, we headed down to the theater to see Avenue Q. The seats were in the very, very last row of the theater, but it’s such a small house that it didn’t feel that far away. It’s been a couple of year since I’ve seen the show, but it was as fun as I remembered it.
The bonus came afterwards. My friend, Jen Barnhart, is an original cast member of Avenue Q and gave us a backstage tour afterwards. Amoung the other characters, she’s the girl Bad Idea Bear and was totally game for photos with Peter.
We were both sort of bouncy after the show so walked home from the theater. We stopped halfway for a late dinner and then just kept walking because the night was so pleasant. Peter was belting out songs from the show, although I suggested that “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” might not be the best choice at 11:00 on a NYC street. I was surprised that he has the songs mostly memorized.
Oh! The other highlight of the evening. At one point he said something which prompted me to say, “I find your rationale dubious.”
Peter said, “Why do adults think teens always have to have a reason for doing things? We don’t. We’re totally random and just do stuff. There’s no reason, we’re teenagers.”
Today was long, but very good. I got the ARCs for Scenting the Dark in the mail, which was pretty darn exciting. I wasn’t looking for them to arrive, so I hauled them up to my production meeting although I did not actually give in and show them off. Here they are, next to the signature sheets.
From there I swung by the apartment to collect Peter and we went to see August: Osage County. Rob was supposed to join us, but then couldn’t so I gave his ticket to an old puppeteer friend who I hadn’t spent time with in ages. It was great catching up although I think that bored Peter. He reports that the play was good. I’m pleased, I must say, by the fact that my nephew wasn’t put off by being taken to a pretty heavy bit of theater. Bleakly funny though it is.
We went out for Italian for dinner and then came back to the apartment so I could get some work done. He’s used to having his xbox 360 so is a little restless in the apartment. We wound up going for a walk around 9:00, up to the Hungarian Pastry shop and then around the Columbia campus, just shooting the breeze.
It was a good day. If only I didn’t still have work to do.
(Tor Books – July 14 2020) Mary Robinette Kowal continues her Hugo and Nebula award-winning Lady Astronaut series, following The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, with The Relentless Moon. The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and […]