James and the Giant Peach

Joel Abels out of Fresno, California contacted me on a Wednesday night.  By Thursday we had discussed what he needed: James and the Giant Peach puppets.  When did he need them? Two weeks from that Thursday so that gave me a week to make something work for him.

I love a good challenge and with this project, I haven’t been building as much lately, so it was a great kick start to getting back into my workshop and getting things going again.

There are five characters in the musical that are usually puppets: Earthworm, Centipede, Ms. Spider, Ladybug, and Grasshopper.  I have never made bug puppets before (or arachnids) so this was going to be fun.  I started off creating designs of what I wanted.  Through the entire time I kept telling myself “Keep it simple. Keep it simple.” because my tendency is to overcomplicate or think I can actually accomplish more than I realistically have time for.  For example: moving mouth and eye mechanisms take a lot longer when you want to make them out of a hard material with a trigger attached, as opposed to cutting out a mouth in foam that a person just has to use their hand with. (Thanks Kevin Augustine!)

So I kept it simple.  My Uncle Tony had a lot of black reticulated foam that he said I could use for my puppets a while back, so materials were basically donated.  I built five large puppets and six small puppets.  In about a week.  I got them out the door with enough time so that the students had a few days to rehearse with them and get to feel them out.  I used a lot of hot glue and rough cuts, so I would really love to build these puppets again and take my time to make the moving pieces and more articulation.  I want to push myself to have a better grasp of the mechanical possibilities in puppet building.

I’ve attached a few photos below of some of the puppets.  When Joel sends along some performance photos, I will share those as well.

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Beauty and the Beast at the PuppetCo

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You guys seriously.  Marionettes are a challenge.  But when you get it right…there is something so completely magical about the experience.  I don’t mean “get it right” as in “I need to move a hand I pull a string”, rather, this character and I are one being right now and how she feels is how I feel and she’s the one who shows it because I am imbuing her with everything I’ve got.  Once you get to that point in a show using puppets on a strings, there is a very surreal feeling of connection through a tiny physical tether.

The puppets we used for this production were not true marionettes, but a hybrid between Sicilian Rod puppets and marionettes.

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Myself with Beauty and Josh Rosenbaum with Beast.  

There is a central rod that connects to the puppets head.  On top of that is a controller that has strings connected in a loop for the hands, and a rocker bar on the front so you can walk the legs around.  They were designed by the late Terry Snyder and they are beautiful.   The type of puppetry is overt puppeteering, meaning that we the puppeteers are visible through the entire show, right next to our puppets.

So, you ask, what are the challenges to working with marionettes?  Well, in the immortal words of Mr. Allan Stevens “Anything on strings isn’t for me” because strings tangle, they break, they get caught in other puppets….the list goes on and on…but…when you stop worrying about the mechanics of the puppet, and begin to give the puppet life, you handle those little snafus one moment at a time.  For example: see that beautiful Beauty puppet up there?  Sure, she’s elegant, she has a glorious gown, she’s heavy as the sun is bright, but she has one fatal flaw….she likes to lose her head.  Josh and I fixed her neck multiple times during the run, but inevitable three times, that head just wanted to float away from her body.  You could actually feel the disconnect, it wasn’t a pop, it wasn’t a snap…it was a “Oh dear lord I’m not holding up ten pounds of puppet anymore” which somedays my shoulder was happy about…even though the rest of me was on “Please oh please don’t let the body fall over because how terrifying would that be to a group of kids….” so I learned how to grab her body and we would finish the show without a hitch…literally there was nothing hitched together.

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This scene…this scene caused sooooo many problems. 

I loved being Beauty.  I usually play the characters in plays, so being the princess was fun.  (I’ve played princesses before as puppets…but this was different for me)  However, my favorite character to play was one of the mean sisters: Vanity.

Vanity was a Brooklyn girl (the play takes place in rural Russia((our version does anyway)) and she has always been a Brooklyn girl.  Josh and I came up with so many new fun bits to add to the show.  We somehow managed to improvise with each other…and I only made him break on stage once! She had many wonderful lines including “I’m so hungry I could eat my shoes” and “How long does it take to squeeze a chicken?”

We had some moments were the technical aspects glitched out, but Josh and I were so comfortable working together that we could make it through.  Even when Josh decided to stick an altoid in his mouth moments before going on stage and ended up spitting it out….we both watched it roll across the floor and hit my shoe…that was a very interesting moment on stage.  We had opportunities to interact with the audience, we made the sisters into a comedy act all to themselves, and we learned how to do a ribbon dance with puppets all while not tangling ourselves up in the process.

The experience with this wonderful play written by Terry Snyder, given to the PuppetCo and performed by veteran master puppeteers like Christopher Piper, MayField Piper, and Eric Brooks, was a delight to learn and even more fun to embellish on.  Allan gave us the freedom to discover new moments and try new bits.  He also pulled us back when necessary.  I could write an entire thesis about the process, but that might be a bit more information than anyone is willing to read! It was an enriching experience and one that I will miss greatly.

Aladdin at the Puppet Co Playhouse

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Josh Rosenblum, Christopher Piper, Toni Goldberg, various puppets, and Liz Dapo. Photo by Christopher Piper

In February and March of 2015 and again in October of 2015, I happily performed in Aladdin at the PuppetCo Playhouse with Josh Rosenbaum and Christopher Piper.

I was the lead puppeteer for Princess Badre, Mother, the tailors, the dancing girl, the Spirit, the Slave of the Ring, and I sometimes puppeteer the peasant, older Aladdin, and various props.  It was a challenge to learn the backstage choreography and to get into a rhythm with the other two puppeteers, but once we had our lines down, and got to be on stage, we quickly formed a unit that was able to anticipate the needs of each other, and help out when things went awry.

 

Developing characters for this production was one of the easier processes for that.  Princess Badre spoke with a soft and educated voice that was also sweet.  I try to avoid what I call “stereotypical princess voice” which to me plays down the intelligence of the heroine and makes her too naive and gullible.  Mother was a little over the top and a pushy older lady, who was really very concerned about her son.  She was probably my favorite character in the show.  The Slave of the Ring was just a few pieces of gold colored, sheer fabric on a long rod that waved around quickly, was actually quite magical.  His voice was very nasally and reminded me of a Neptunian from Futurama.  The Spirit was a beautiful long rod puppet that Josh and I voiced together.  We got to a point where we didn’t have to look at each other, but could follow each other during a performance, so that if one of us missed or added a word, the other would instinctively follow.

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The Spirit from a backstage point of view.  Created by Allan Stevens and Christopher Piper

It was a lot of fun and it was the first show I performed with the PuppetCo Playhouse.  I look forward to hopefully many more opportunities.

For a review of the performance click here!

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Josh Rosenblum backstage.

Washington Post

I was SUPER EXCITED to be interviewed by Clinton Yates of the Washington Post for puppetry and puppet videos I’ve been making with Revolution Messaging.

 

Click here for the article.  

Stormy and Baker

I’m super excited to be part of this project based in Philadelphia.  Working with the Monkey Boys and director Kevin Kelly, I was fortunate enough to be puppeteering the part of Sophie, the adorable raccoon puppet.  We filmed three short episodes and if all goes well, we will be filming more throughout the course of the year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FM9SK5P-YO4

 

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No Bosses in My Bedroom

I built the puppets and sets for this puppet short.  Written by Lizz Winstead, made by UltraViolet and Revolution Messaging.  So. Much. Fun.  My friend Kevin Chick helped out by puppeteering the Puppet Boss.  I hope we get to make a few more of these awesome videos.

Sesame Street Workshop Audition

I auditioned via video for a workshop being held in New York. I didn’t get it this time, but that won’t keep me from trying again. 🙂 I posted it here for your viewing pleasure!

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