Posts Tagged ‘theater’

Classic Christmas Puppetry From Richard Teschner

PuppetVision Blog pointed out this stunning video by Richard Teschner. There are a couple of things you need to understand before watching this short film. It was filmed in 1916, so it is very early cinema. It is also not stop-motion. Both of those things are cool. What is significant though is that Richard Teschner is credited with adapting Javanese rod puppetry for the western world. Before him, you saw marionettes and hand puppets but nothing else. His work was quite revolutionary. I’ve seen photos of his puppets for ages and have been captivated by the sheer artistry of them. This film is the first time I have ever seen them in motion. I would love to see a better print, because even in this the delicacy of movement is beautiful. Despite the lack of dialog, you can feel Joseph’s tenderness to Mary as fully as if he were delivering monologues. It is easy, oh so easy, to see why Teschner’s work changed everything for western puppetry.

Tempest build, Day One

You guys are getting this on time-delay, because I’m using these posts to communicate with Emily DeCola, the designer, who is on a trip to China at the moment. So, once she reads and we catch up, I’ll post the pictures of the build.

Just because it is interesting, I’ll also share the commentary that we have going. Feel free to join in, just know that we are three days farther along in the process than you.

Monday, December 10th, 2007

We started the day at 10:00 today, shopping from home and organizing plans. Around eleven, Rob and I headed down to the shop and met up with Jane at noon. While Jane and I worked, Rob did the shopping for us. Gotta love husbands.

Here’re the fruits of our labor today.

Boat mockupI mocked the boat up in heavy paper to get a general pattern and to sort out construction plans of attack. When Rob brought the plastic back, I decided to go ahead and try building the rehearsal mockup from that rather than cardboard. Largely because I also needed to play with the materials, and this gave me an opportunity to do both.

Boat mockup with lightI couldn’t find a clip light, so I stuck two maglights under the boat to check out it’s qualities as a lamp.

Overall my conclusions were:

  1. I think want the material to be more opaque, or I want to put a diffusion gel on the lamp.
  2. You can’t score this stuff, or it will crack. But, you can bend it and it will hold the crease without breaking
  3. Easiest way to have the boat fit under the playboard is to lay it on its side. Having the pieces collapse works, but makes the boat jiggly.
Bubblewrap coil
If the El wire isn’t in the equation, Jane and I both prefer the bubblewrap. She’s wrapping it with the bubbles on the exterior, which looks really great.
Bubblewrap coil on table
This is one of the short coils. We are tappering the spiral, which is different from the way you approached the McCarter harpy.

Batting coilWe tried cling wrap to hold the batting in. Not a good plan. It’s easy, because it sticks to itself. Which is bad when you try to move the puppet.

Batting coil on tableWe didn’t finish putting the batting on this one. Jane suggests trying the small bubble wrap on top of the batting as a compromise. Really, we won’t know anything until we get the EL wire in there.

In performance, tonight

T-rexI should’ve mentioned this earlier, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about my own show. Just finished a run-through and I think it’s okay.

So: Tonight. December 9th, 2007
8:00 pm at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue (corner of 9th)
Voice 4 Vision Puppet Slam.
I’ll be performing Nails in Our Feet, a puppet monologue by one of Ray Harryhausen’s retired T-Rexes.

Trouble with the trick chair

It’s hard to be upset about things breaking when you get to have this conversation.

Stage Manager: Hi. I hate to bother you, but the chair isn’t spurting blood anymore.

Me: What’s it doing?

SM: Blood just dribbles out onto the stage instead of shooting across. We really need spurting blood.

I went down to take a look and couldn’t duplicate the problem. So, I fiddled with things. Everyone agreed that it was working. I went home.

After the show, I got another call, this time from the technical director.

TD: It stopped spurting blood again.

Me: You’re kidding.

TD: I figured out why none of us could get it to fail. We weren’t letting the blood sit for an hour before spurting.

The theory is that there’s a hole somewhere in the line that is allowing air to enter and that the chair is spurting air bubbles instead of blood. We got nothing else to work with so I’m going down tomorrow to replace the tubing.

First stages

First Stages set conceptI’ve been doing scenic design work for a couple of years for McCarter Theater’s education department. It’s work that I enjoy because it combines the dual challenge of making a design that fits a shows aesthetic as well as one that will tour. The current project is for their First Stages Company. It’s not a touring production, which feels like a total luxury. I mean, I don’t have to figure out how to fit the set into a van and put it up in an hour. On the other hand, the set that I design will be used by all the classes in this project, which means that eight different productions will appear on it over the course of a weekend — ranging from Hamlet to the Wiz. It has to make sense for all of them.

Today’s meeting was to introduce the design concept. I don’t have to have scale renderings or anything like that, I just had to have some drawings and an idea. Since the First Stages is made of fourth-twelfth graders, I decided to focus on the idea of raw materials. These kids are tomorrow’s adult actors, you know?

So I want to keep the wood bare and use simple shapes. I don’t want to pretend that things are finished, but I do want to surprise and delight the audience. So in the rendering that I’ve got here, what you see are three platforms, and several 2 x 2s. The 2x2s slot into the platforms, the way a square peg goes into a square hole. Spandex strips weave between them to introduce color. This one shows my idea for the yellow brick road on the way to the Emerald City. Simple, eh?

First Stages, boatThe fun thing is that all of those poles can reposition at angles to become the jungle in the Tempest, or get different, gray ribbons to become skyscrapers in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The platforms can move around becoming anything from a boat in the Odyssey to the ramparts in Hamlet. They made some suggestions, which were intelligent (part of why I like working here), but for the most part seemed enthusiastic about the design. Always a relief, I’ll tell you.

The next step, before I do anymore work, will be for them to talk to the production department to check schedule. While all of this is fairly simple, there are a couple of trick pieces (the 2×2 that breaks to form a door frame, for instance) which we need to make sure can fit into the schedule. I’ll show you other scenes and the model as the design progresses.

Rag and Bone

The show that I’ve been working on most recently is at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and called Rag and Bone, written by Noah Haidle and directed by Sam Gold.

I watched a preview last night and am delighted to let you know that the hearts I made and the twenty tiny ladders make total sense within the context of the play.

Check out their blurb.

Jeff and George, mourning the death of their mother, struggle to make ends meet at the family ladder store, which George also utilizes as a front for the black market sale of human hearts, hearts bought and sold for people who either feel nothing or too damn much!

Previews Begin: November 14
Special Preview Benefit: November 19
For benefit information and tickets, click this link
Opening Night: November 20
Runs through December 16
Wed – Sat at 8pm, Sun at 5pm
For tickets, call 212-868-4444 or click this link

Trick chair

For the new show I’m working on, Rags and Bones, I have to make a trick chair that spurts blood and hides human hearts. Actually, I have to make it look like an actor is spurting blood, but the chair is the easiest way to deliver said fluid.

Secret compartmentThe harder thing was figuring out where to hide the heart.The chair’s structure is fairly open and we like the way it looks. After playing around with various options I finally decided that I would start by making the heart a little smaller than commercially available options. I’m also giving the seat a much thicker pad than it had originally, which allows me to incorporate a secret compartment.

PaddingFrom here, it is much like a standard upholstery job. In fact, the top layer is the original padding from the chair, trimmed to allow access to the secret compartment.

UpholsteredWhen fully assembled, I’m not trying to hide the seam, but I am trying to make it look intentional. I have to pick up some different material for the seat because the plether I had on hand was way the heck too thick.

Heart in its compartment And there’s the rehearsal heart, tucked away inside its compartment.

Tiger Tale and Good night

We just finished the show and are tucked safely away in the hotel in Albany. It felt really good to be performing. I’ve missed it.

And it’s very nice to have nothing on my docket for the evening.

Finished dog

I finished the dog today. Finally. The consensus was that it needed to be gorier, but since I hadn’t built it that way, there were limits to what I could do without rebuilding. For instance, exposed bone wasn’t an option… wait a minute. There’s a real skull in there.

So, I dislocated the jaw and ripped part of her face. I also amputated a leg, and put a blood-soaked sponge in its place. Plus lots and lots and lots of blood. She drips when she comes out of the box now and everyone seems happy.

Going to bed early

In a sort of minor miracle, I don’t have a mountain of work to do tonight. I had to distress the dog a bit and tweak the intestines, but otherwise, nothing. I even cooked dinner.

Of course, I also picked up two new gigs today. I’m going up to Albany on Friday with Chinese Theater Works to perform in their production of Tiger Tales. I think they do wonderful inventive work and am delighted to get this chance.

I’m also going to be doing props on a new show. Once again, I’m dealing with organs. Hearts this time. Four of them. That and twenty tiny ladders… I’m sure it will all make sense when I read the script.

Back from World Fantasy

I had a seriously great time. Hung out with many fabulous people but didn’t get to spend enough time with any of them. Got back to the city and went straight to the theater to pick up the dead dog and the intestines.

My god… I have such a strange job.

Anyway, I’ll try to do a full con report soon.

Making the dead dog

Chihuahua skullI’m starting by using a real skull for the dog head. I’d planned on just getting a resin dog palette, but lo! There’s Skulls Unlimited has a giant collection of dog skulls.

Now, I’m not going to be using the Chihuahua skull in this picture, but had to share it with you. Does that not look like an alien? No wonder they so often look creepy.

I ordered a large B-quality domestic dog skull. Once it arrives, I’ll enlarge a picture of a dog’s skeleton to match the skull and use that for my scale rendering. It should be an interesting process.

No need for wings, after 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.

le sigh…

Marketing short fiction

Douglas Cohen has posted about having a subscription drive for short fiction genre magazines. Now, working on a small press magazine, Shimmer, I certainly support the idea of wanting more people to buy our magazine, but I think that the subscription drive is a matter of looking at the symptoms rather than the cause.

The problem is that fewer people are buying short story magazines these days. As Doug says, “…the short story market is dying. ” The question I don’t see anyone asking is: Why aren’t readers buying short fiction?

I’ll tell you what I think. I think it’s because genre fiction markets tend to be poorly designed and marketed. They tend to have people running them for the love, and not with any understanding of marketing or business. When an editor answers the question, “What’s your target market?” with “I don’t know, I just buy what I like,” that’s an editor who is not going to sell magazines. I’ve heard editors say this. It makes me crazy.

Look people. I made my living for the past seventeen years selling puppet shows. I know about marketing things that people don’t think they want. Things that people have preconceptions about. I’ll tell you that I’ve seen theaters run as non-profits and as for-profits. You know what’s interesting? The for-profits make money. Those folks who say, “I’m not doing this to make money,” won’t make money. When short fiction markets are run as a business with the intention of making money, then you will see them make money. And you will see changes.

Allow me to voice something that I have thought for a while and that no one else seems to be willing to say in public. And lord knows it will not make me popular. Here goes… The design of F & SF is dowdy. It is old and it will not appeal to young readers. It looks the way it did when I was in high school — twenty years ago. Have you picked up Asimov‘s? Analog? Do you see anything that will make a teenager want to own it? Heck, even want to be seen carrying it?


It’s not that I think these magazines need to cater exclusively to teens, but all markets need to recognize that what their target demographic finds appealing changes as new generations grow into that demographic range. Fashions change and we, as a genre, aren’t keeping up with the times.

You want more readers for short fiction? Then answer this question for me: Why don’t you buy short fiction magazines?

Now answer this one. What would it take to make you change your mind about reading short fiction?

Go see Stardust

I’ve returned from a preview screening of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust–tickets provided by the fabulous Livia Llewellyn. Since I got out of the theater, I’ve been wanting to go back. When was the last time that happened to me?

Princess Bride? Goya in Bordeaux? But since then… I can’t remember one.

I don’t want to gush too much, because part of the joy of the film is the discovery. The actors are all strong, particularly Charlie Cox as Tristan. Male ingénues are so hard to play and he is spot on perfect. Normally I link to trailers and what not, but don’t–try not to see a trailer before you go in to watch the film. And do go, tomorrow. Don’t wait. It’s not that there are enormous spoilers, but there are surprises and moments of wonderful ah-ha! waiting for you at every turn in Stardust, and yet it all makes sense and is inevitable. Oh, it’s just wonderful. Go.

I’ll see you there. Partly because I want to see it again and sink back into the world, and partly because I want this film to have a really strong opening weekend so that there will be more.

There’s a funny sort of symmetry for me about seeing this film while I’m making the Coraline puppet. The first time I performed in NYC, was with our production of Old Man Who Made Trees Blossom at Here Theater. The puppets are made out of paper–it’s a different technique than the one I’m using now, but still, it’s the first time I used washi paper on a puppet. One of the other performers loaned me a copy of the ARC (advanced review copy) of Stardust–and behold, here I was tonight at an advanced screening. Funny how things work out.

Edited to add: I forgot to mention that large parts of the movie were filmed in Iceland. If you want to understand, really, why I want to move back…