Posts Tagged ‘theater’

More set

Most of the time a set designer draws a pretty picture and then a TD (technical director) makes it a reality. I think I’ve been able to do that with one set. Most of the time, because of the limitations of puppets, I have to think about the mechanical as I’m designing. Also, because I’m usually designing for tour, I have to think about the mechanical to know if what I’m asking my TD to do is even possible.

When we’re in the same town, we can discuss things back and forth and hammer out the details of what goes where and how. With Lance, the TD for Other Hand Productions, all I really have to do is say, “I want it to fold here.” He’s toured enough that he knows what it’s like.

With this particular set, I’m working with a very talented, very professional theater who haven’t really built a school tour before. It’s different and I’m trying to do really detailed drawings so that it’s clear what I need the set to do.

If you are interested, here is a pdf of one set of drawings for Arabian Nights. Next, I have to do a set of side drawings at about this level of detail. I’m hoping that their TD won’t be insulted that I am not just giving them a pretty picture. Last time we tried this they built every thing out of wood. It was very heavy. This is a large part of why we are doing a new set for this tour.

The speed of blogging and oral story-telling

I biked down to Hawthorne to have lunch with Jay Lake, so that he could sign the limited edition chapbooks of his story Christmas Season. The wind was pretty ferocious and it was like biking uphill the whole way there, which was frustrating, since that’s the downhill direction.

By the time I got home, two people IMed me, knowing that I had been at lunch with Jay. Granted, he was closer to the restaurant than me, but still. There’s something a little odd about having lunch with someone in the same town, and having the news be instantly on someone’s computer, across the country.

Anyway, the lunch, as he reports, was fun. This is the first time I’ve gotten to hang out with Jay outside of a con, and he’s even more frighteningly intelligent when not sleep deprived.

During the course of lunch, we were talking about written versus oral storytelling. I think it sprang up, because I was talking about the cultural difference between a writers’ convention and a puppeteers’ festival. At World Fantasy, I told my Sleeping Beauty story, which is the tale of a puppet show gone horribly, horribly wrong. It’s always a good story, but the reaction that I got at WFC was much, much bigger than anything I get among puppeteers. At first I thought that it was because the material is familiar to puppeteers and unexpected to writers, but, after going to a party with a bunch of theater friends, I think there’s more to it. I think it’s that writers aren’t used to people who know how to tell a story, as a performance. When I was at the theater party, we all seemed to take turns telling stories, like miniature plays. We all have repertoires of stories that we trot out when they seem appropriate. I tend to tell the Sleeping Beauty story, the Stolen Van story, the Hot Chocolate story and the Time I Hurt My Wrist story with most frequency.

They do have titles. I love it when Jodi tells the Jello Salad story. Or when Sam tells the Beauty and the Beast Vomit story. It’s true in other fields, clearly. Ken Scholes’s Orange Bicycle story, is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.

But none of these are written stories. I could write down any of them, but it’s not the same as telling them. Have you read Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories? He wrote them specifically to be read aloud by parents to their children. They are full of asides like, “O Best Beloved”

So the Whale swam and swam to latitude Fifty North, longitude Forty West, as fast as he could swim, and on a raft, in the middle of the sea, with nothing to wear except a pair of blue canvas breeches, a pair of suspenders (you must particularly remember the suspenders, Best Beloved), and a jack-knife, he found one single, solitary shipwrecked Mariner, trailing his toes in the water. (He had his mummy’s leave to paddle, or else he would never have done it, because he was a man of infinite-resource-and-sagacity.)

It’s a very different style of writing. In fact, Gentle Reader, it makes me wonder if that’s why the direct address to the reader used to be in style. Was it a holdover from when stories were predominately an oral form?

I’ve sometimes wondered if the blog and audio books will bring direct address back into style. Certainly, I address you much more than I would if I were writing Fiction with a capital F. As readers become used to that, will it come back into style? The Algebraist, which I’m reading now, begins with direct address. I quite liked it. It was exciting to feel as if an author were speaking to me. It’s one of the reasons that I’ve always liked Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series; I always feel as if Vlad were sitting across the table talking to me.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but I think there are some ideas that are worth exploring. If nothing else, it will help me be more aware of my audience next time I’m telling a story.

George Latshaw

I just found out that George Latshaw passed away.

When I was in college, I got an internship at the Center for Puppetry Arts. To add to my good fortune, I was assigned to the cast of Wizard of Oz, directed by George Latshaw. I had already read his book, The Complete Book of Puppetry, and was stunned to be able to work with him.

He was kind, witty, charming and wouldn’t let me get away with anything less than my best. My work in puppetry was so strongly shaped by the month under his tutelage, that I can’t even begin to dissect what George taught me from my understanding of the art form. The following summer, I went to the Eugene O’Neil Theater Center for the National Puppetry Conference and spent ten intense days working on George’s Bonsai Boy. I remember him saying that he’d spent his whole life with one foot in puppetry and one foot in theater and that he wanted to be able to stand with both feet under him. My God, that connected with me and still does.

The thing about George that remains so inspiring is that he was constantly engaged with life and pushing the boundaries of the art form. I’ve said before that I wanted to be George Latshaw when I grew up; by that I mean that I want to maintain that childlike enthusiasm and interest in life. Oh. Oh, I miss him.

Arabian Nights revisited

Last year, I designed the set of Arabian Nights for McCarter theater’s touring production. They have re-imagined the show, eliminating the frame story and making other changes significant enough that the existing set doesn’t make sense any more. At the same time, there are scenes within the show that they did like and want to use those scenic elements.

Jon Ludwig, whose work I adore, is directing the show. When I was an intern at the Center for Puppetry Arts, I was extraordinarily lucky to be in a production of Wizard of Oz, with Jon as the scarecrow, and George Latshaw directing. If you’re a puppeteer, I don’t have to explain how cool this is. For the rest of you, suffice to say that that combo makes may puppeteers drool with envy. Anyway, this is my first chance to work with Jon since my intern days, which were fifteen years ago. (GAH!)

Here is a teaser of what one of the options for the new set. We’re still playing around with looks, but I’m basically riffing off of Rajasthani puppetry.

Arabian Nights

We pretty much like the proscenium, but are still working on the front curtain. If you are curious, you can download the pdfs of the sample curtains and the different scenes. Both files are massive. The ground plans are here; these is all very rough right now as we’re still defining the look.

Back on the boat

So. For those of you who have only recently begun reading my blog, I’ll do a little backstory. In 2000, I had a wrist injury and wound up having to take about two years off from puppetry while things healed. I got a job at the Portland Spirit, a river cruise dinner boat, in their sales department. Yes. I was a sales weasel.

When the wrist was better, I had recognized the glories of being able to turn down the types gigs which I found loathsome, which a steady job allows one to do, so I stayed with the company, but switched to waiting tables. Yes. I was a singing waitress.

They are used to people in theater and have noooo problem with me saying, “Hey, I’ve got a gig, I’ll be gone for five months. Is that okay?” They have been amazingly supportive of me and have a track record of taking really good care of their people. Anyway, before I got back to Portland, knowing that the holiday season is busy, I dropped Dennis a line and said, “If you need any help…”

Fool. Little did I know that they had acquired a second boat and were understaffed in addition to the usual holiday crunch. Dennis also told Lori, in the sales office, that I was coming back, and she asked me to do some training for their new sales staff as well as updating some different computer thingies that I set up. Despite using the word “thingie,” I was the sales department’s token computer geek. The company has an IT guy, but I was the bridge between the two because I can speak geek and sales. It’s a handy skill.

This is great, it’s income and it’s with people that I like. But.

But in the past, the two departments have always had to juggle my schedule to avoid putting me into overtime. Knowing that I’m only in town for a limited time, the president has given them permission to put me into overtime. Heh. So, if my number of posts declines a wee bit in the next couple of weeks, you now know why.

Six weird things about me

Michele Lee tagged me with this little game.

Each player of this game starts with the “6 weird things about you”. People who get tagged need to write a blog of their own 6 weird things as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose 6 people to be tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave a comment that says “you are tagged” in their comments and tell them to read your blog.

  1. While standing, I can turn my feet to point backwards. Not all the way but definitely pointing back.
  2. I can’t stand cooked carrots and will pick them out of my food like a little child.
  3. I have a weakness for B-movies, but can’t stand bad theater. I think because you can’t heckle live theater.
  4. My procrastination skills are so refined that I sometimes get stuck in the house.
  5. My cat wears a basket on his head.
  6. I have never had a Southern accent.

I’m tagging Beth, Maggie, Jenny Rae, JJA, and Patrick.

The talkies

I was in Icelandic class and we were talking about what we did over the weekend. I realized that I completely forgot to mention this to you guys. On Saturday, I went to the movie theater at the Krlnglan, the mall close to my house, for a screening of two Lazytown episodes. We saw “Little Sportacus” and “Trash Trouble.”

The show holds up really well on the big screen, which it should considering that we shoot in high-def. (No, I’m not going to go into a discussion about what the shows was like, because the episode is just like the one on TV, except bigger.) Everyone invited guests so the audience was packed with kids. I managed to get through most of my conversations in Icelandic. It helped that everyone was asking exactly the same questions. “What have you been up to?” and variations on the them. It turns out that my Icelandic teacher was there with his family. One of the editors is a good friend of his.

We didn’t discover this until we were back in class. Of course, my teacher then went on to explain that I couldn’t use “að ganga” to say that I went to the theater, because it is specifically reserved for walking even though I had walked to the theater. So, even though “að ganga” and “að fara” both mean “to go,” I have to use “að fara.”

Hóll and back again

The side yard at HollOur hosts were warm and seemed amused by my attempts at Icelandic. I think it pleased them that I was making the struggle to be understood. Their front yard is charming and has lots of flowers in bloom. I tried taking a picture of the view, but you’ll have to take my word for it that there are mountains in the distance. The farm has been in their family for several generations and I understand that our host’s grandfather used to keep sheep in a cave on the property.

Holl from way far away The phone in the front hall at HollI will freely grant that this photo does not look as enchanting as Hóll actually is. After we arrived Saturday night, we went for a walk down the side of the road. The thing that you should note in this photo is that there is nothing else around for kilometers, and Hóll has trees. In Iceland. This makes it a prime spot for us. Even that weren’t enough to make me happy, check out the phone in the foyer. The only thing that bothered us the first night was the astounding snoring of one of the guests. Even with earplugs we could hear it.

In the morning, our hostess provided a full spread for breakfast. We met a Swiss couple and a German couple. I managed to stagger along in German for a little. While I usually maintain that German was a usless language to learn in school, because it seems that the only Germans who travel are the ones with flawless English, in this case we were fairly evenly matched in the language department. Only a little, and very, very broken. Hey, I took it twenty years ago, I’m pleased I remembered any.

Jogging sheep at HollAfter breakfast, we went for a horseback ride. While I didn’t take any photos on the trip, I can show you what we saw. Lava and sheep and moss. This was Rob’s first time riding as an adult and I don’t think he’s particuarly enamoured of it. My inner eight year old kicked in the first time I saw Icelandic horses. (Why is it that so many girls go through the horse phase?) This was only my second time riding in Iceland, but I need to do it more. The tölt which is the distinctive fifth gait, unique to the Icelandic horses, is as smooth as they say. Well…maybe not quite smooth enough to drink tea, but certainly smooth enough that one isn’t sore the next day.

We came back in and took a nap, which is a vitally important part of any vacation schedule. The snorer was gone, and the house was very, very quiet. Since we hadn’t heard him, so much as felt the snoring, I’m forced to conclude that the house is fairly soundproof and he was prodigious.

AsbyrgiDucks at AsbyrgiPost nap we headed off to Asbyrgi, which is a horseshoe shaped canyon reputed to have been formed with Oðinn’s eight legged stallion stamped the Earth. It’s certainly large enough to have belonged to a god’s horse. Besides the natural formation, Asbyrgi has thousands and thousands of trees. In the 1950s someone decided to plant non-native conifers along with Icelandic birch. As we were driving into the park we were struck by how we’ve become used to being able to see the horizon all the time. The natural amphitheater cups a shallow, but large pool which is home to lots of birds. Including ducklings! Hello, watch my iq drop at their cuteness.

Now I will just post photos of Asbyrgi and let you enjoy it without my commentary. It would largely consist of “Look. Pretty!”
Asbyrgi Asbyrgi Asbyrgi Asbyrgi Asbyrgi Rob at Asbyrgi Asbyrgi Asbyrgi Asbyrgi Asbyrgi Asbyrgi

Photo 080606 018 1After we got back from hiking around Asbyrgi, we took another nap–I said they were important–and just in time. The wind had picked up on the way back from Asbyrgi and brought rain with it. Our room was warm and cozy, but the wind snuck through the window and caught the mirror, jittering the view of the room to and fro like a raven with a new pretty. In the evening, I read in the downstairs sitting room and then our hostess cooked us a delicious dinner featuring trout from the lake on the farm. It was delicious, but necessitated an evening constitutional. We walked down to the lake through knee-high grass that was still heavy with rain. Our pants were soaked by the time we found a sheep trail that saved us from the damp. The sheep watched our every move. Spies.

Poo The lake is Iceland’s newest lake. Sadly, I didn’t quite understand which eruption caused it, but evidentally a volcano went up, and the earth here sank. The lake is home to trout and to lots of birds. Just in case you have any doubt about the number of birds, take a look at the ground. Those aren’t pebbles. Astounding, eh? On the walk home, I found a horn from one of the sheep which had the name of the farm etched into it. I picked it up as a reminder of our stay and the wind played across its open mouth with the sound of distant trumpets. Remarkable. I had always wondered who first thought it was a good idea to stick a horn in one’s mouth and blow.

Tomorrow, I’ll post the pictures of our drive home and the places were we stopped.

Reading aloud 1: The basics

This entry is part 1 of 17 in the series Reading Aloud

I’ve been thinking about discussing reading aloud for a while now and John Joseph Adam’s recent post about Harry, Carrie and Garp brought it to mind again. I know it seems like reading aloud ought to be self-explanatory, but I’ve heard a lot of authors who should not be allowed to read their own work.

I used to compete in Interpretive Reading back in college. (It was a branch of the debate team.) What with that and the radio theater, I know a couple of tricks about character distinction and such which might be helpful for those folks who have readings scheduled with book signings, or who want to record something or who just want to read aloud to their kids.

The first place to start is with your selection. When you pick a story or an excerpt from a novel, make certain that it is something that is suitable for being read aloud and fits your voice. So, what makes something suitable?

Primarily you’re looking for a small cast of characters. The more characters you have, and the narrator counts as one, the harder it will be to vocally distinguish between them. Unless you’re Mel Blanc, four characters, including narrator, is probably your safe upper end. (This will vary, obviously.) Within that cast, it will be easier if your characters are disparate in terms of type. For instance, a woman and a man are easier to distinguish than two women.

Secondarily you want a self-contained scene, so that the audience gets a beginning, middle, and end, even if it’s part of a larger whole. Now, if you are doing a reading to sell your book there is something to be said for ending on a cliffhanger, but make sure that it’s really a cliffhanger and not just a random stopping place.

Thirdly, language that lends itself to an almost onomatopoeic sense. Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories were written specifically to be read aloud. He uses rhythm and onomatopoeia to make really dynamic sentences that are just plain fun to read–he’s also writing for children. But an extreme example is sometimes useful, eh?

Really, what you want are words you can linger over and play with. Read this out loud and try to bend the words. “He jogged to the train station, three blocks from his house.” There’s not a lot you can do with it.

On the other hand, “…they ate wild sheep roasted on the hot stones” you can do a lot with. “Hot” for instance isn’t a true onomatopoeic word because hot makes no sound, whereas “sizzle” does. Make sense? But it’s a word that you can twist in a lot of different ways.

Try saying “hot” thinking about the following definitions and make the word mean something different each time.
Very sexy

Try the same thing with “wild,” which is a great word.

So, you’ve found a selection with a small cast of characters, in a self-contained scene, with an almost onomatopoeic sense. Those are stories that will sound good read aloud, but are you the right person to read the story? Does it suit your voice?

If it’s a first-person story, you really, really need to be the same gender as the narrator or your audience will have a hard time getting past the audio cues. Even in third person story, you need to be aware that the narrator voice will often echo the thoughts of the Main Character, so picking a section where the gender matches will be easier on the audience. There are people who can get away with cross-gender roles, but it’s not easy. Know your limits.

Next week, I’ll talk about some ways to create character voices that don’t sound hokey. Feel free to ask questions.


We went to Footloose, which was quite the experience. The set design was inventive, the choreography was fun but the voices were weak. I think there were four good singers in the cast, and everyone else was flat.

I really enjoyed the evening, but did have to adjust the lens that I viewed it with. If I think of it as a show at the city theater of the capital of a nation, then it was weak. If I think of it as community theater in a town of 150,000 then it was very impressive. Steve said that he had a great time, but felt like he was in high school. I know what he means. The production values were very high, but since it is a musical, the singing really pulled it down. Still, the acting was strong enough that even though it was all in Icelandic, I was engaged throughout.

Eating apples

As you might imagine, the characters on the show spend a lot of time eating “sports candy.” The puppets can’t actually take a bite, so I wind up doing one of my favorite theater tricks. The apple already has bite in it but that part of the apple is held upstage so the audience can’t see it. Then as the character takes a bite, I just rotate the apple so the bite comes into view. We usually use a fake apple with the puppets because we can pin or tape it to their hands, but today I needed to be able to put the apple down. There were also a lot of real apples in the scene, which meant the fake apple would look noticeably fake. (It’s interesting that fake apples are fine unless there’s a real one close by.) Now, the puppetry here is not particuarly interesting. It was fun, but it was basic live hand stuff, and we were standing, so it wasn’t even painful. What was interesting, at least to me, was the bite in the apple.

The first one was just a guy taking a bite out of an apple and handing it to me. But as we continued shooting the bite turned yellow, as apples do, which made a continuity problem. So they had to bite another apple. You don’t think about these details, but the prop guy had to find another apple that looked like the first one, and then make a bite that looked the same. It’s the kind of thing that seems simple until you watch someone go through the process. It was in fact, two bites in order to make it large enough to read.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think these bizarre mundanities are interesting.

Anyway, I spent most of today live handing and was only off set at lunch. Tonight Rob has invited the post-production crew over for martinis. He apparently planned for it to be about seven or eight people, but when we left the studio the number had blossomed to thirty. Knowing Iceland, the party will go until three so I’m not expecting to get anymore writing done today.

Here’s my update.

Once in the streets of Repp-Virja, the bright mosaic of her family shattered the bland crowd.


Each step made her tunic brighter and her crop more naked.

There is only one sentence between the two, but I went back to earlier sections and added some details that I needed. So I wrote 252 words today.

Readercon, Day 3

Waking up was hard. I had planned on going to the ten o’clock panel, but by the time we checked out and put our luggage in the car it was 10:30. We wound up catching up with some folks and chatting until the eleven o’clock panels started.

I went to the Interstitial Arts discussion, which was talking fiction that falls between the cracks of genre. I have to say, that I felt as if I were hearing conversations about the role of puppetry in the larger theater context. Puppetry tried to coin the term “figure theater,” which some people still use, to suggest puppetry for adults. I think that coming up with a term is not about creating the art or fiction, but about trying to expand audience. The most effective things that puppetry has been doing to expand its audience is to work to become incorporated into mainstream fiction. Take Lion King, it’s a great big puppet show, but no one thinks of it that way. They think of it as theater which incorporates puppetry and mask. Even so, it opened up Broadway to Avenue Q. So to me, it makes the most sense for someone whose fiction falls between the cracks to say, “I write fiction which incorporates elements of fantasy, science fiction and…” or “I write literary fiction through the lens of classical mythology.” I mean, why make up a new term knowing the definition will shift? Why not just make the definition shift of the existing words?

Anyway. After that, I went to a panel called, “Social Class and Speculative Fiction.” The program description said, “Any completely satisfactory imaginary world will include some sort of class structure (not necessarily rigid or hierarchical), or an explanation for its absence. Are all novels without social class utopian by definition?” I thought this sounded very interesting, but the moderator shifted the focus to the mythology of social mobility in America. While this is an interesting topic, it is not what I came to hear. It was frustrating. China Mieville did touch briefly on some things about the myth of the single protagonist that causes great societal change. Which made me want to ask a question I’ve long wondered about, but I couldn’t get it in so I’ll ask it here. Why there are so few small-scale fantasy novels? I mean, it’s all “the pig boy who became king,” why aren’t there more novels which are “the pig boy who fell in love with the miller’s daughter?” The same for science fiction. Everything seems to be about “the fate of the universe,” but clearly it is possible to support novels with smaller personal stories, or the vast majority of literary fiction wouldn’t exist. What is it about the speculative genres which encourages these sweeping plots?

I had lunch outside with Joy. It’s so nice to eat outside. Ah, warmth.

During the lull after I ate, I took advantage of the hotel shuttle to run to the mall and pick up shoes for the wardrobe department. It was interesting watching the sales clerks try to figure out why I was asking about a shoe size which I clearly did not wear.

David Louis Edelman
David Louis Edelman
Once I had the shopping finished, I went back to the hotel to say goodbye to everyone. David Louis Edelman offered to share the cab that he and John Scalzi were taking to the airport. This was the best offer I got all weekend. David is funny, charming and a real gentleman.
John Scalzi
John Scalzi
Scalzi was ridiculous, fun and if you can make him blush, the tips of his ears turn red. The conversation ranged from astronomy to Civil War to book tours to the World Cup. And then they had to catch a plane.

I spent the time waiting for my plane catching up on email and instant messaging. I was so tired it hurt. I got lucky on the plane. I had asked for a window seat, so I could lean against the wall and sleep. Instead, I got a seat in the middle aisle but no one else was in my row. As soon as we reached cruising altitude, I stretched out across all three seats and slept.

Czech Puppet Theater

I was looking for a website on Theatre Drak, and stumbled across this page. They published a magazine on Czech Theater and had an entire issue on Czech Puppet Theatre. It is out of print, but you can download the magazine in pdf format and it has gorgeous pictures. The text is in English and French.