It was a real thrill to get to perform alongside so many friends and fellow puppeteers at the first DC Puppet SlamNation on September 23rd. Thanks to support from We Are Takoma, ten puppet performers and a local rock band were able to share their talents at the Takoma Park Community Center for a crowd of a hundred and fifty. Here are a few photos of the night, all by David Moss.
Just a quick note here on some changes around the website that you might want to take a look at! We have new video up on the Cabinets of Kismet page, so if you didn’t get to see the show, check that out for some highlights. If you didn’t get to see our show Fabulas Mayas, it now has its own page, with photos. We have some new additions to our Friends and Family page; people who have great work and cool projects that you can support. Finally, on our Education page there are new descriptions of the workshops we offer to schools and community groups. If you are interested in having us come to your school, please send us an email!
It’s a little counter-intuitive, but one of my absolute favorite things about live theater is that it ends. Each production exists in a certain span of time, no two performances are exactly alike and when a show is finished, that is it. Sets are broken apart, costumes put away, actors scattered to other places and projects. Ephemeral, if you will.
We are sad to say goodbye to Cabinets of Kismet which has been our main project for nearly two years now. Last Sunday was our final show and in just a couple of hours, the theater looked as though we had never been there. Risers are back in place, lights put away and speakers re-hung. Puppets are in boxes, cabinet units have been broken apart and are now housing gels and wood scraps, as well as shadow puppets.
It’s been a fantastic experience, thanks to the wonderful support from CulturalDC, our mentor Pete Miller, our collaborators from SCRAP DC and of course the incredible audience members who came to the show and stayed to share their thoughts and impressions. If you came to a performance, THANK YOU and if you missed it, we hope to see you at our next one! Check back here for more information about upcoming events soon!
One of the most common questions from audiences after seeing Cabinets of Kismet is “Where did you get the idea for the story?” While I’ve talked a little about Shaun Tan before on this blog, I’m going to try and outline the process of creating the story for this play, because it was a rather unusual journey.
The initial seed of the story came from conversations between Genna, Lisi, Nikki and myself about Tan’s work. We all read various books and stories by him and came to the conclusion that the themes we were most interested in exploring were those of alienation and outsider status, as well as the journey of accepting change and dealing with fear. We each created prototype puppets with various objects and paper and somewhere along the line, I think I came up with the initial idea of having a character who escaped from one world into a very different other one. We called him Kismet and based his look on a magnifying glass photo holder with alligator clips that Lisi had.
Most of the puppets were created before the specific moments of the story, which is the reverse of how we usually work. Once we had a cast of puppeteers, we ended up doing a few sessions of improvisation with the object characters, to figure out what each could do best, and how they could express various emotions and states of being. Then our director Carmen Wong put those various segments in order or arranged them on the set and we worked out the timing so that everyone had a sequence. We ended up each taking 2-3 principal characters, although we also switch off a lot to make things easier. With object puppets like this, it doesn’t work as well to say “Be sad” because the features of the puppets don’t change. They have to move or perform an action to express that sadness, and that of course is different for each object. Breaking down all the emotions and reactions of each character into tiny specific actions for the puppets was a long and very time-consuming process.
In the end, I think we probably could have benefited from having more audience input. Because of scheduling and various cast changes, we didn’t have a chance to ask people to come and give feedback during rehearsals and I think that would have been very helpful. Object world was much intentionally much busier than Paper world, and therefore a little harder to follow (especially if you came in late). Just for fun, here is an excerpt of a ‘script’ written by puppeteer Amie Root, detailing her movements just before the destruction of Object world. I think it gives a good sense of our approach to our movements and characters.
When Genna perches over Cecilia, enter with Demon Bird to terrorize Mophead. Fly off SL around the garage unit and hover by the theater unit until Amy is set for handoff of bird. IMMEDIATELY pull swirl dancer from her drawer behind theater unit. Quietly as possible, unwrap the jingle chain, set her and the telephone cord on top. QUICKLY strike the jingle chain. IMMEDIATELY go to nurse at garage unit and enter when Kismet calls. Freak out over zoom. Hand off to Genna.
Each performance of Cabinets of Kismet moves quickly and there is little time to stand still or relax. Everyone is constantly picking up puppets, shifting set pieces, prepping puppets or props or lights and getting into place. But I did manage to sneak my phone backstage last week and take a few snaps of the silliness that ensues in our idle seconds. Amie loves Text Monster, as you can see in these photos:
Only one weekend left to see The Amazing and Marvelous Cabinets of Kismet! We recommend buying tickets online–we have a relatively small number of seats and would hate to have you miss out. I’m excited to be able to share some of our beautiful production photos today, taken by C. Stanley Photography!
The Amazing and Marvelous Cabinets of Kismet has been getting attention in both print and online media, thanks to interested writers and some very kind reviewers! Below, a selection of mentions from the past few weeks.
Jacqueline Lawton, one of D.C.’s most accomplished dramaturges and playwrights, was kind enough to profile us on her blog.
Stephanie Merry of The Washington Post Weekend section, wrote a fantastic preview article about Kismet.
Check back soon for a post on some of the comments we’ve been hearing from audiences!
For a very long time, marionettes were the one form of puppetry I was a bit scared of. So many strings, so wobbly and hard to control. They felt like the most complicated kind of puppet out there and I wasn’t sure I could construct one adequately, let alone perform it. In spite of that, quite a few of our characters in the Paper World section of The Amazing and Marvelous Cabinets of Kismet are marionettes or variations of marionettes. Here are some photos of the different controls and how they work.
This is the control for Gecko. It moves his back legs and one of his front legs.
This is the control for the Loopy. It’s a variation on a 19th century control that I found a picture of in a book. The bottom piece unhooks to move the two “arms” of the puppet, while the top piece anchors the rest.
One marionette is complicated enough. Putting together four of them makes some things easier and some things harder. You sacrifice individual movement when you put multiple puppets on the same control, but it’s worth it to get the effect of the group moving together. Genna came up with the design for this control, of a whole school of Paperfish.
The Amazing and Marvelous Cabinets of Kismet is a project that happened because a group of artists all read books by Shaun Tan and were inspired to create a new story. We hope that watching our puppet play inspires other people to create their own stories as well. To help that process along, we are thrilled to be able to present a PUPPET-MAKING WORKSHOP on Sunday, May 12 in collaboration with SCRAP DC.
Directly after the 2pm show, Karen Klein and Heather Bouley from SCRAP will lead a workshop on making puppets from recycled materials. This workshop is for all ages and is a perfect activity for families to do together. There are only 25 spots in the workshop due to space limitations, so buy your tickets today!