The dinosaurs are coming! We are thrilled to be welcoming not one, not two, but THREE fabulous puppet builders to our first Puppet Lobby of the fall. What do they have in common? They’ve all built dinosaur puppets, for very different projects. Francisco Benavides created a mammoth for an immersive theater experience in Baltimore, Matt McGee built a family of dinosaurs for the American classic The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder, and Ingrid Crepeau invented a whole cast of different dinos for her popular children’s show DinoRock. The Puppet Lobby is free and open to everyone and starts at 8:00pm on Monday, October 15 at the Brookland Artspace Lofts’ Selman Gallery. Come hear about these puppeteers and their research process, designs, successes and failures as they created these prehistoric creatures!
At our company meeting last summer, when I asked if there were any projects we wanted to start for the upcoming year, Patricia Germann mentioned that she’d like to curate a lecture series on puppetry, featuring local artists. She had noticed that we often had lots of people come up to us at our shows looking for more information about puppetry and puppet-building and realized that there might be an audience for a free event bringing artists and spectators together. One year later, we’ve had six great conversations with a wide range of puppet artists. Here’s Patricia, talking a little bit more about what has turned into The Puppet Lobby.
Cecilia Cackley: When did you get the idea for The Puppet Lobby?
Patricia German: I’d been thinking about an event series like this for about a year before we actually started it. DC is such a networking town, and I often come across events like this in so many other industries. Creating a space for artists to connect about puppet design, building, and performance felt like we were filling a gap.
CC: Has it gone the way you had hoped when you started? Is there anything you would change?
PG: I’m really happy with this first year, and the response from the community has been great. We’ve had so many incredible speakers willing to share their work, and we’ve covered such a breadth of topics — stop motion, hand puppets, full body costumes, installation pieces… It’s really exciting to see how much talent we have in the area, both in DC and in Baltimore. (And people from Baltimore have been willing to drive into DC on a weeknight for this! For me, that’s been wonderfully unexpected.)
I think the speakers have kind of surprised themselves with how much they have to share. When we initially asked for a 15- to 20-minute presentation, some speakers were worried it was going to be a stretch to fill that much time. But once we got going with the series, it started feeling like even at 20 minutes we were cutting off some great conversations. So over the year, we started setting aside more time for the featured speaker, rather than trying to fill out the agenda with several different topics. I think that’s worked well.
CC: What are some of your favorite moments from this year’s conversations?
PG: Ha! Each one has been different in its own way. I loved playing around with Alex Vernon’s Fettig Project puppet mechanics. They were so expressive, and I hadn’t seen anything like that before. Hearing more of the story about Hamida Khatri’s mom as the inspiration for her short film was really great. And pretty much any part of Ingrid Crepeau’s presentation could be a favorite moment. She’s a hoot, and had so many great design tips to share!
CC: If you could invite any puppeteer to visit The Puppet Lobby, who would it be and why?
PG: Nicholas Mahon, who created the puppets for the Olympic Opening Ceremonies this past winter in Pyeongchang. I’d love to hear about the process of creating those characters, actually getting them over to South Korea, and incorporating them into such a huge event with so many elements. Also, I’d love to work on an Olympics opening ceremony, so I’m curious to hear how he got the gig!
CC: What can we expect to see in the upcoming year from The Puppet Lobby?
PG: More puppets! More lobby! I have some ideas for panel discussions around a specific theme, like bringing together the three artists from this season who we discovered have all built large-scale dinosaur puppets. And for the more typical presentations, we’re continuing to reach out to artists across DC and Baltimore. We’re hoping that with a little more lead time, some of the speakers who couldn’t make it last year will be able to join us in 2018-19. But part of the idea of The Puppet Lobby is to connect artists who don’t normally work together — so if you have some great project you’ve been working on that you want to share with this community, send us an email and let us know!
We’re excited to welcome puppeteers Lisi Stoessel and Francisco Benavides to the Puppet Lobby this month, along with Wit’s End company member Amy Kellett. It’s especially meaningful because Lisi worked with us on the very first project that Genna Beth and I created together back in 2011, a show for the Capital Fringe Festival called The Malachite Palace. While the company wasn’t fully formed back then, we did use the name ‘Wit’s End Puppets’ for our family show about a princess and a little golden bird. Lisi designed beautiful shadow puppets for that project and later worked on some of the early material that would eventually become our first fully produced show, The Amazing and Marvelous Cabinets of Kismet. Lisi lives in Baltimore where she designs sets and puppets and works in a variety of theatrical and creative roles, for Submersive Productions, among other companies. With Francisco Benavides, she created puppets for Submersive’s recent production H.T. Darling’s Incredible Musaeum and they will be showing us some of those puppets on Monday March 19th. We hope you’ll join us at 7:00pm at the Selman Gallery at Brookland Artspace Lofts for some great conversation!
We are thrilled to welcome Sarah Olmsted Thomas and Alex Vernon of Alex & Olmsted as our guests at our next Puppet Lobby on January 29. Alex and Sarah have been making puppets together since 2010. In recent years, they have performed at LaMaMa NYC, The Puppeteers of America Festival, Bread and Puppet Theater, and two National Puppet Slams. They will be talking about their show Milo the Magnificent which was awarded a 2017 Jim Henson Foundation Grant and a Greenbelt Community Foundation Grant and was featured on the front page of the Hartford Courant. Milo is a show about a magician with a variety show of tricks and science experiments that don’t go quite as planned. You can watch a trailer for the show here.
In addition to Alex & Olmsted, Wit’s End artistic director Cecilia Cackley will be talking about her latest project in the Brazilian style caja lambe-lambe, which is a form of street puppetry. She recently took her latest work-in-progress, called Library Love to the Savannah Children’s Book Festival. We hope you can join us to hear about these puppet projects on January 29th at 7:00 at the Selman Gallery at the Artspace Lofts in Brookland.
We’ve had a great time this year getting our Puppet Lobby series started. These events bring puppeteers together for conversations about different aspects of puppetry, from methods for building body puppets, to the challenges of writing a puppet show. Here are a few photos from our first two events.
By Cecilia Cackley
Our next Puppet Lobby event is scheduled for Monday, November 6 at 7pm. We hope you’ll join us at the Brookland Artspace Lofts for some great conversation and community-building. We are excited to start talking about a subject our company has been interested in from the beginning–stop-motion animation using puppets.
Stop-motion animation has a long history of artists using puppets very effectively from Jan Svankmajer to the Brothers Quay. At the Puppet Lobby we will hear from local artists Hamida Khatri and Noa Heyne about their experiences studying stop-motion at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).
Hamida Khatri works in a variety of mediums — from figurative drawings, to photography, to sculptural puppets, to animation. As well as an artist, she is also a writer, curator, arts educator, community activist, and a creative arts therapist. We were lucky enough to screen her stop-motion short film, Mom & Me as part of our Puppet SlamNation back in September.
Noa Heyne holds an MFA in Sculpture from MICA and has also studied in New York, Italy and Jerusalem. Her work has been exhibited in Baltimore, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and she will have an installation in CulturalDC’s Space4 mobile gallery next year.
In addition to a presentation on stop-motion animation, this Puppet Lobby will also include a conversation between Cecilia Cackley and Nina Budabin McQuown, both Wit’s End Puppets company members, about the challenges of writing plays specifically for puppets. Whether you are a puppeteer yourself or an eager audience member, the Puppet Lobby will give you a chance to ask questions, meet artists and find out more about this infinitely varied art form. See you on November 6th!
By Genna Beth Davidson
When I took on the endeavor to organize and produce a puppet slam (our first Puppet SlamNation!) this September, I was feeling ambitious and motivated in a way that I haven’t felt before in my life. It was a new and exhilarating leadership experience for me. You see, I was always the kid who took on leadership roles begrudgingly because no one else would step up to the plate. I think my peers have thought of me as a leader, but I’ve never really wanted to be one. I’ve also always felt crippling anxiety when it comes to the responsibilities of running the show. I think several factors helped me take on this recent endeavor and get beyond the anxiety.
First off, and this is the biggest thing, my mental health is finally under control. I thought for years that I just wasn’t as capable as others seem to be at getting projects underway and seeing them through to a successful end. I blamed myself and thought “I’m just not good enough.” But I now see that depression and anxiety were the problem, and those disorders are not really me. Planning the SlamNation, I still had anxiety, but it came and went and most days I felt positive and motivated, and thus I could send emails that needed to be sent and thought through logistics that needed thinking through.
The second factor pushing me to take on the role of producer was the relative invisibility of puppet artists in DC. I know so many fabulous, creative and inspiring artists who do puppetry not just for kids but for adults! I want their work to be shared because I know it will be valued, and it’s mind bending for adults to realize what puppetry offers adults. I want there to be a vibrant puppetry arts scene in the DC region. So I guess there was a little bit of the same thing I experienced as a kid: no one else is doing this, so I’m going to take it on. Only this time I didn’t do it begrudgingly.
Finally, I’ve always loved the way Black Cherry Puppet Theatre in Baltimore has given space to all sorts of puppet performance artists at various levels and stages of production. They put on their Puppet Slamwich shows pretty regularly (look out for the next one on November 11, 2017), and it’s always a wonderful and supportive environment for artists to join. The great thing about their puppet slams is that the audience gets a huge variety of skill, talent, vision and story to digest. If an artist is trying out a new piece, and parts of it don’t work, it’s okay. Some people have complete, solid, winning shows, and some people are just starting out. The novices among us are supported and encouraged. It’s all a chance to play and grow. So I wanted to bring this style to the Wit’s End Puppet SlamNation.
Now that I’ve organized one slam, I can’t wait to do another one. There are many things I’ve learned from the experience. Here are some of them. 1.) Always have a stage manager. Our very own Amy Kellett took on the role for me this time. I mistakenly thought I could do that, but it’s not my skill set AND I had too many other things to take care of. I thank her a thousand times for realizing I was in need of her skills and for stepping into that role without me having to ask. Next time, I’m booking a stage manager from the get-go. 2.) Trust that people will commit. So much of my anxiety was from this nagging thought at the back of my mind saying performers will back out at the last minute. No one did! I will have more faith next time. 3.) Always ask questions to the venue manager and don’t worry about if you’re being a bother (again – the anxiety disorder). The We Are Takoma series who gave us a space and time for the slam handled things beautifully, but I could have asked more questions upfront to lessen my anxiety. 4.) Delegate as the event date draws near. This happened naturally because I work with awesome people who realized where they could help. Pat took care of programs. Cecilia and Nina managed front of house. Krista was back stage with me managing transitions between shows, and she brought snacks for everyone! And finally, 5.) People will underestimate how long their performances take. This was the only area that I really messed up. The show went on an hour longer than it was supposed to! How did I let that happen?!?! Well 5 mins extra here, 10 mins extra there…it all adds up. Next time I need to think that through more and have wiggle room.
There were also many things that we did right including booking an awesome band (check out Petty Indulgences), having a reception after the show, getting DVD footage of the shows, getting an awesome turn out, putting the more kid friendly shows in the first half of the program, having multiple ways of getting donations, and the list goes on. If you weren’t able to make it to our Puppet SlamNation this time, don’t worry. We’re sure to have another one in 2018. Not sure where. Not sure when. But I’m excited to figure that out early next year. So stay tuned!