Black Annis Returns

We are very excited to be hard at work again on our show Malevolent Creatures! We first workshopped this piece in the summer of 2014, but it got put on hold for awhile as we focused on building and then performing Saudade. Now we are back at it, exploring the layers of meaning in stories featuring supernatural characters from British folklore.

The first segment of the show, which focuses on a witch from Leicestershire called Black Annis was developed and shown as part of a puppet slam at Black Cherry Puppet Theater in Baltimore this past month. Here are a few photos from rehearsals and the performance. Photos are by Cecilia Cackley and Bill Haas.

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Peacocks and Puppets

Although we mainly work with puppets for the theater, last month we had the opportunity to work on a short film project with She Monster Productions up in New York City. It was a video for the song ‘The Waltz’ by Ian Axel and featured several Muppet-style puppets alongside human actors. The puppets were provided by us and the New York based puppet company Puppetsburg. Set partly in the city and partly in an afterlife with a decaying, ornate feast, the video follows two women as they find each other, are separated through death and then find each other again.

Puppetry for film is very different than for the stage, and although our arms got tired, it was fun to try moments over and over again, with no thought for an audience’s patience or sight lines. Everyone connected with the project was creative and eager to try new things. And we got to meet a peacock! His name was Dexter and he wasn’t all that thrilled with tons of people and puppets invading the apartment where he lives, so while it would have been fun to have the puppets try and interact with him, we resisted. Here are some photos of the shoot. We will share the video when it is finished!

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Emily and Cecilia resting between shots.

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The feast table, set with all kinds of odd objects.

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Cecilia taking a quick nap behind the table.

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Puppets with one of the actors. They  look cute, but they can be dangerous!

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Peacock! Say hi to Dexter.

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.

Winnipeg Photos

Some photos of our trip to Winnipeg this month for the Winnipeg International Storytelling Festival:

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The entire show of Saudade. Everyone was very impressed by our packing abilities!

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The poster for the festival.

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Genna sorts control rods before a show.

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The puppets (60 in total) laid out ready for a show.

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We performed in the gym at the NEEDS center, a community space for newcomers. Our fantastic sound guy, Hassaan is at the computer.

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Talking with the kids at the NEEDS Center after the show.

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The rivers of Winnipeg are beautiful in the sun.

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Cecilia and Genna at the opening dinner of the festival.

 

So Many Changes

Like many artists, I am rarely satisfied with the first iteration of a project. After the performances of Saudade at the Intersections Festival, we had lots of conversations with audience members and each other about what could be clearer, stronger and more powerful in the piece. From puppet movement to sound, to crankie images, we examined each element of the project to see what could be improved.

Because we are going to the Winnipeg International Storytelling Festival in May, we have a deadline for completing all these fixes and it is getting close! Here are some photos of the work we’ve been doing:

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A new frame! We hope this will make everything a little more visible to the audience.

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Here, the fabric panels are coming together and the crankie is in place.

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We’ve added scenes to the end of the show. Here, Cecilia tries to manipulate three puppets with two hands.

An Interview with Katherine Fahey

Baltimore artist Katherine Fahey designed the puppets and crankie illustrations for SAUDADE. We asked her a few questions about her process and inspiration. Enjoy! 

Katherine's first crankie, made for Wye Oak video, Fish.

Katherine’s first crankie, made for Wye Oak video, Fish.

Cecilia Cackley: When did you start building crankies and what draws you to them as an art form? 

Katherine Fahey: I started making crankies in the beginning of 2011, when I was making a music video for Wye Oak called Fish. My first crankie was made as part of a larger shadow puppet piece. That was when I started to see for the first time that I could perform with my artwork. This was exciting and frightening to me. I have always admired the connection performers have with their audience, but I am a pretty shy person. I was excited to be able to combine my passions for shadow puppetry, paper cutting , music, and storytelling together, but wasn’t so excited about getting up in front of people.

CC: Who are some of the artists that inspire you? 

KF: My creative community mostly. All the folks at Black Cherry Puppet Theater (Valeska Pupoloh, Michael Lamason, Lisa Krause, Jenn Strunge, Kevin Sherry, and Porch Puppets),  Erik Ruin, Nanaprojects , William Schaff, Anna Robert Gevalt, Elizabeth Laprelle, and all of the other crankie makers, paper cut artists, story tellers, and puppeteers out there.

Katherine performing one of her crankies at the opening of her paper cut and shadow puppet exhibit at The Creative Alliance in Baltimore, with Anna Roberts Gevalt and Elizabeth Laprelle.

Katherine performing one of her crankies at the opening of her paper cut and shadow puppet exhibit at The Creative Alliance in Baltimore, with Anna Roberts Gevalt and Elizabeth Laprelle.

CC: What were some of the challenges in designing Saudade? 

KF: I have a lot of experience working with other artists, but have become accustomed to just coming up with a show on my own from start to finish. It was different to have to stop and ask Cecilia what she meant and try to see things through her eyes. We spent a good amount of time editing scenes together so that they could be translatable to shadow puppets and a crankie.

I was eager to cut things out and assemble things, so I had the get used to just drawing and coming up with ideas. I had to wait to see the final product, but then it was exciting to see the pieces finally come to life.
Puppets from SAUDADE on Katherine's sketchbook.

Puppets from SAUDADE on Katherine’s sketchbook.

CC: What was your favorite scene or character to draw and why? 
KF: I enjoyed exploring the aesthetics and folk art of the various cultures and incorporating this into the designs. My favorite puppets are the heads.
Large head puppets from SAUDADE, designed by Katherine.

Large head puppets from SAUDADE, designed by Katherine.

Katherine Fahey (right) and Cecilia Cackley at the opening of SAUDADE in D.C.

Katherine Fahey (right) and Cecilia Cackley at the opening of SAUDADE in D.C.