Outer Space and Baby Theater

Workshop moment with a rocket ship! Photo courtesy of Arts on the Horizon.

Workshop moment with a rocket ship! Photo courtesy of Arts on the Horizon.

Along with the Capital Fringe Festival and our one-night revival of Saudade, this summer was spent working with our friends at Arts on the Horizon to workshop a new baby-theater show called Space-Bop. It stars a clown and musician who travel into outer space, encountering planets, stars and space creatures. Among the objects we created for them is a colorful rocket ship, a tiny astronaut and a pet star.

One of the challenges of this show was coming up with ways to make objects light up, since light and darkness is important to our ideas of outer space and bright lights are engaging for very young audiences. It was very gratifying at the workshop performances to year tiny voices say “How does it DO that?” As we look ahead to the full production this winter, we are pulling inspiration from other environments to add to our imagined idea of this space-world.

One big inspiration for our work on this piece was the Australian puppet show The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik. Strangely enough, there are many connections to be made with underwater adventures and outer space. Other sources for visuals include classic moon landing photographs, early cinema such as this gem from Georges Melies and vintage design featuring rocket ships. We will post more process photos as we continue working and if you have a little one or just like wordless theater, be sure to put the show on your calendar for February.

September Grab Bag

A round up of links, videos and articles we highlighted on Twitter this month: 

See #1. Photo from The Independent.

See #1. Photo from The Independent.

  1. A huge animatronic bear appeared on the streets of London this summer to protest drilling in the Arctic.
  2. The living doll artist in this article loves it when people ask “Is he real or unreal?”
  3. The otherworldly sculpture of our favorite artist Shaun Tan will seen be on view in this new book. If only we were going to Australia sometime soon!
  4. In a perfect world, we would collaborate with artist Jonathan Latiano to make some puppet dolphins, along the same line as this exhibit.
  5. Fair warning, this video short from France about shadow puppet artist and animation pioneer Lotte Reiniger is profoundly moving and may make you cry. You can read more about Reiniger’s life and work on our blog.

An Interview with Gabriela Cespedes

When Cecilia was traveling in South America last year, she took a workshop with Argentine puppeteer Gabriela Cespedes in the art of caja lambe-lambe puppetry at the Convocatoria de Mujeres Titriteras (Convention of Women Puppeteers). The following is an interview with Cespedes about her work. It has been translated from Spanish and condensed for this blog post. 

Gabriela Cespedes, teaching a lambe-lambe workshop in Argentina.

Gabriela Cespedes, teaching a lambe-lambe workshop in Argentina.

Cecilia Cackley: How did you become a puppeteer? When did you first become interested in puppetry as an art form? 

Gabriela Cespedes: My training comes from acting. I started doing theater in 1988, with Mariu Carreras, a great teacher. It essentially taught me that theater takes place when we are dealing with the public and that is why you always have to create and perform work for an audience. Puppetry came later, in 1996 when I start to do street shows with two colleagues and became forever trapped in the art of puppetry …my interest in this technique must have been born from playing with small things, making houses, staging and playing with friends to make characters.

CC: Are there projects that have changed in response to audience comments? How do you maintain a balance between other people’s criticism and your own vision? 

GC: At first audience comments about a work they had seen affected me a lot and I always tried to change small things … but after a while I realized that art is intimate and solitary, that one can not meet the whims of each viewer … so when someone makes any criticism I take it with respect and affection, and on the other hand I still respect my artwork as I conceived it.

One of Gabi's lambe-lambe shows, set up for spectators.

One of Gabi’s lambe-lambe shows, set up for spectators.

CC: Do you work alone or in collaboration with other puppeteers? Why or why not? 

GC: At this moment all my works are solo … by choice or because it has been easier to move from one place to another by myself with my puppets !!!!
There are plans to work in groups … but we are always organizing activities in conjunction with other puppeteers.

CC: What project are you working on right now? 

GC: At the moment I am researching miniature drawings to use in both stop-motion animation and lambe-lambe theater or caja magica.

CC: What advice do you have for people who want to work with or learn more about puppets? 

GC: The art of puppetry is an ancient technique, captivating, trapping, that allows us to travel into unsuspected worlds … but mostly it is hard work and a lot of research, and that is fundamental to puppetry … and as they say in Japanese “give life to the wood” in that is everything, be able to give life to everything that comes into our HANDS !!!!!

July Grab Bag

A round up of articles, links and videos that we shared this month on Twitter

1. This puppet production from England uses puppets made from organic materials and sounds really unique!

2. Fantastic giant Alice in Wonderland puppets from Barcelona’s Teatre Nu.

3. An article about one of our favorite Chicago companies, Manual Cinema.

4. Paper puppets in a Japanese music video.

5. More paper artwork, this time tiny objects recreated by artist Cybele Young

Puppets and Clowning

Some of my colleagues from this trip to Armenia.

Some of my colleagues from this trip to Armenia.

After getting back from Winnipeg, I had just a short break before leaving on another international trip, this time to Yerevan, Armenia with a group of clowns and artists led by Patch Adams. Adams, the founder of the Gesundheit Institute, is a clown, activist and speaker. He saw our show Cabinets of Kismet in 2013 and we have been in touch since then, talking about the possibility of using puppetry on one of these trips.

It was a new and different experience to be working with puppets in an entirely improvised setting, without words (I don’t speak any Armenian) and usually without story. Our group visited hospitals and orphanages in four different Armenian cities, encountering children of all ages. I found that the puppets usually worked best in a hospital setting, or where children had limited mobility. In these kinds of places, we were moving from room to room, often on our own or with just one other person. The intimacy of small numbers meant I could take the time to introduce the puppet, play and let the child try it out for themselves.

Clowning and puppetry have a lot in common. An emphasis on physicality, over the top reactions and wordless interaction are hallmarks of both art forms. Just as the children laugh at the surprise of an adult in a colorful wig or giant false bottom, they laugh at the surprise of a puppet appearing out of a bag or box. I had never worked as a clown before and so I didn’t have as many familiar ‘bits’ or planned interactions to fall back on, but I found that the puppets worked well as an introduction to many kids, especially those who were shy at first.

I brought only hand puppets on this trip–a sock puppet, basic glove puppet and tiny mouse finger puppet–thinking that they would be easiest for the kids to understand and manipulate. If I have the opportunity to do this kind of work again, I’d like to bring some object puppets (similar to what we created for Kismet) and see if kids respond to that. Part of the fun of puppetry is often taking familiar objects and turning them into personalities, with or without words. It would be great to see what kids in other places come up with using that style of puppet.

June Grab Bag

A round-up of links, videos and articles we highlighted on Twitter this month. 

See Item #1. Photo by John Overholt.

See Item #1. Photo by John Overholt.

1. We were alerted via Twitter to this gorgeous, wood-bound book in the Harvard Library by John Overholt. Upon closer inspection of the library record, we realized it’s an edition of Heinrich von Kleist’s essay ‘On the Marionette Theater.’

2. We dare you to watch this video and not smile at least once.

3. Chicago-based company Manual Cinema is a big inspiration to us. Read this article and you’ll see why.

4. Great interview here with Max Humphries, an artist from England.

5. If you happen to be in Bennington, Vermont this summer, keep an eye out for these giant puppets.