December Grab Bag

Puppets at the Smithsonian. Photo from

Puppets at the Smithsonian. See Item #2.        Photo from

A round-up of events, exhibits and shows we’ve highlighted on Twitter this month:

1. Will you be up late on Christmas Eve, wrapping gifts? Turn on CBS at 11:35 pm to see this Nativity show with puppets from the late Jane Henson. Remounted by Cheryl and Heather Henson as a tribute to their mother, it looks like it will be an amazing performance.

2. If you’re showing family around DC this holiday, be sure to stop by the American History Museum on the National Mall and check out the puppetry exhibit on display. With a whole group of famous puppets, it should be fun for puppeteers or anyone interested in pop culture.

3. I’ve spent many hours watching The Muppet Show, but somehow I missed this lovely segment with puppeteer Bruce Schwartz animating a ballerina that was part of a show with guest star Cleo Laine. Start at about 3:30 to see the dance (or just begin at the beginning if you want some quality time with Dr. Julius Strangepork).

4. Puppets have been sadly lacking in American television since The Muppet Show ended in 1981. Fortunately, for those of us who prefer talking puppet heads to talking human heads when it comes to politics, Fusion is now producing No You Shut Up, a topical news show hosted by comedian Paul Tompkins and a panel of four puppets.

5. And finally, Pat came across the Irish theater company Branar through a local film festival. With magical wordless shows for children and elegant, minimal sets, this is our type of theater. Fingers crossed we get to visit Ireland one day and see their work in person.

November Grab Bag

Moses from THE TABLE. Photo by Lorna Palmer and Xue Qian

Moses from THE TABLE. Photo by Lorna Palmer and Xue Qian

1. Last week, Pat and I got to see a fantastic show by Blind Summit Theatre from England. It was called The Table and consisted of three puppeteers and one puppet telling the story of Moses, along with many clever asides. Really amazing work and the company website includes a set of tips for puppeteers which are also great.

2. A fascinating article about marionettes built by Ralph Kipniss, an artist I had never heard of before. While the Kickstarter campaign mentioned in the article did not reach its goal, there are still people working to raise the money to find a home for this amazing collection and preserve it for future generations. You can find out more and help out by donating here.

3. We made lots of puppets for Cabinets of Kismet out of various kinds of paper, but one kind we didn’t really use was tissues. Maybe if we had seen this video by Yuki Ariga, we would have:

4. Last but not least, yesterday was Thanksgiving, which of course means the puppets that had the biggest audience were the Macy’s Parade balloons. Did you know that Tony Sarg, who first came up with the idea for those books, was a puppeteer? Here is a VERY short clip of him with one of his graceful marionettes. The balloons aren’t nearly so graceful, but they are a lot bigger.

September Grab Bag

The Light Princess, a new musical with puppetry at the National Theatre in London.

The Light Princess, a new musical with puppetry at the National Theatre in London.

A quick note here with a VERY short September grab bag. We are in the midst of building puppets for Fábulas Mayas and battling illness as well as stubborn cardboard and dull X-acto blades. However, I wanted to highlight two puppet projects from the UK; one of which I saw in Edinburgh this summer and another which just opened at the National Theatre in London.

1. Bunk Puppets is a one-man operation with several shows in repertoire. Slapdash Galaxy, which I saw as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, tells the story of two brothers who leave their home planet in search of a new home. The puppets are shadow puppets, but projected from the front onto a screen, rather than from behind, the way all our shadow work has been created. At the end of the piece, 3D glasses are handed out and the shadows turn three-dimensional in an impressive display. If you find yourself at a festival or in a city where Bunk Puppets is performing, be sure to check them out.

2. A much larger project is The Light Princessan original musical by Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson based on the 19th century fairy tale by George MacDonald, which just opened at the National Theatre in London. Part of the creative team worked on War Horse at the National Theatre and this new play also includes puppetry. The story of a princess who cannot cry and is in danger of just floating away, this sounds like a magical new piece that I would definitely see if I were lucky enough to be in London this fall! Amos talks about the process of writing the show in an article here.

June Grab Bag

Katherine Fahey’s amazing crankie. See #1.

1. I was lucky enough to catch the work of the marvelous Baltimore artist Katherine Fahey at a Puppet Underground cabaret this week. She creates beautiful shadow puppet ‘crankies’ for music videos and other stories. Check out some of her work here and here.

2. One of the places that has long been on my ‘To Visit While in NYC’ list is the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. Now that they have announced the upcoming Henson Gallery, devoted to all things Muppet, I think it should move to the top of the list.

3. Baby Universe is a play opening next week at Studio Theatre, that combines puppets with a variety of other media. I won’t be able to see it, but it looks amazing, so you should all go and then tell me about it!

4. Our friends at SCRAP DC have announced their Summer Carnival! Cake walks, lemonade, face paint and games and best of all, all the proceeds go to helping this fantastic crew continue to bring us unique, affordable and recycled arts supplies. Tickets available here.

May Grab Bag

Kismet is over and so (almost) is the month of May! With all the work at the theater this month, there has been less time to spend online and out and about seeking new and exciting things. But here are a few:

1. FIGMENT DC has submission forms up! We participated in this fun, free arts event last year and had a blast. If you are creative and have an idea for some kind of interactive arts activity, you should sign up! And if you would rather participate in someone else’s imaginative idea, put it on your calendar and come out to Anacostia for a fun time.

Our friends at Blue Sky Puppets will be performing at Strathmore this summer!

Our friends at Blue Sky Puppets will be performing at Strathmore this summer!

2. Strathmore out in Maryland has a whole bunch of puppet theater on tap for the summer, including our good friend Michael Cotter of Blue Sky Puppet Theater. Our friends at Pointless Theatre should be up there too for the puppet slam on August 2, so head over and say hi to them!

3. These photos by Todd McLellan came up on my radar screen via several different sources. Every time I looked at them, I had to restrain myself from going out and finding some particular tiny piece of machinery that I was convinced could become part of a puppet. Mr. McLellan, if you’re looking to get rid of any scraps, we should talk.

4. The International Toy Theater Festival is being hosted by Great Small Works up at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn from June 14-23. If you’re in the NYC area, you should check out the amazing work being done at this colossal event of miniature proportions!

April Grab Bag

Ited fell down the rabbit hole of the TED website recently, with the result that this month’s grab bag is a mix of TED videos. Some are directly related to puppetry, others are more tangential. But they all made me think, wonder, and get excited about being a working artist in the world today. Enjoy!

1.  I was intrigued by the descriptions of arts festivals in this talk by producer David Binder; I was reminded of Ping Chong’s series Undesirable Elements as well as the upcoming Figment. And I REALLY want to get a closer look at those giant puppets!

2. In conversation the other day, a puppeteer friend and I were discussing how many people now immediately think of War Horse when you mention puppets. Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler of Handspring Puppet Company talk about their amazing creations for that show in this talk.

3. Amanda Palmer is a musician, but she used to work as a living statue, a form of street performance that I’ve always loved. In this talk, she explains the art of asking and value of connecting with an audience. Lots of food for thought.

4. Traditional Chinese hand puppetry performed by Chen Xi Huang, with an amazing fighting sequence.;TEDShanghai

5. This I think was the first TED talk (actually, TEDx talk) I ever saw, by one of the design editors at National Geographic, Oliver Uberti. I remember thinking that his comment that many of his projects “have a high risk of being terrible” sounded a lot like building a puppet. He also sounds like he’s had similar awkward conversations with employees of hardware stores who don’t quite understand what you’re trying to do!;search%3Aoliver%20uberti

These are five TED videos that intrigued me, but there are many, many more that I love and that I’m sure you will love. If you have some free time, check out the site and watch some videos. I’m sure you’ll find some interesting ideas!

March Grab Bag

See item #3.

See item #2.

This month’s grab bag has a decidedly paperish theme, perhaps because we spent so much time building paper puppets at the beginning of the month. Here are some videos, artists and events that caught my eye:

1. Artist Irving Harper is profiled on the website Etsy; take a look at his amazing paper creations!

2. The animated short Paperman by Disney won an Academy Award, proving that paper airplanes are the route you should take to find love! This is the same award won by Shaun Tan in 2010 for his short based on the picture book The Lost Thing. See the trailer for Paperman here.

3. Another spectacular combination of paper and video is the music video of this song by Josh Ritter. 12,000 pieces of construction paper were used!

4. Richard Sweeney is an artist from the UK whose paper sculptures have greatly influenced our designs for the environment and creatures for Paper World. You can take a look at his amazing creations on his Flickr page.

5. We were excited to see the dates announced for Figment DC 2013! After our fantastic experience last year, which you can read about in this blog post, we are starting to think about what we can offer audiences at this year’s event. Maybe it will involve paper! Who knows?

February Grab Bag

PUPPET STANDUP! See #3 for all info.

PUPPET STANDUP! See #3 for all info.

1. An interview with Shaun Tan that made me slightly less grumpy that I missed his Keynote Address at the SCBWI Winter Conference earlier in the month. Favorite quote: “…we have to make sense of ourselves within a world that can shift and change radically…” That’s the story of Cabinets of Kismet in a nutshell!

2. Basil Twist, who is one of the most well-known contemporary puppeteers in the US, is creating a lobby installation as part of The Rambler by the Joe Good Performance Group. At the American Dance Institute, March 2 and 3; more info here.

3. Standup is a tough business, particularly when you’re a puppet. THIS Saturday, February 23 at 8 & 10pm, come support local puppets in Puppet Standup, a showcase of the best puppet comics working today. Get tickets here and if you use the code GRABBAG, you’ll get 20% off General Admission tickets to the 10pm show! Don’t miss this unique event (no ventriloquists here!) at the Warehouse Theater, 645 New York Ave, NW.

4. If you’re searching for a fun night out this week or next week, look no further than the Mead Theater Lab at Flashpoint and the show Canterbury, produced by our friends at the Pointless Theatre Company.

5. Our friends at Puppets in Prague still have a few spaces left in their March workshops on making marionettes, for anyone lucky enough to be in Prague this spring.

January Grab Bag

Some interesting puppet-related links and videos from around the world that I came across this month:

1. Titeres Monini is a puppet company from Mexico. This video of their show telling the story of the Meso-American feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl shows their truly stunning shadow puppets.

2. Salt & Poppet Theater from Australia created the shadow puppets in this video. The poem was written and read by Neil Gaiman. Note to self: new goal is to create puppets for a poem by a favorite author.

3. When I was performing in the Avignon Off Festival in 2009, one of my favorite shows that I saw was an Italian version of Sleeping Beauty called Rosaspina that included puppets. After a little digging, I found the show on YouTube! It still makes me smile.

4. Perchance to Dream is a theater company from New York that is now starting to produce in D.C! Welcome! Everyone should go see their production of Twelfth Night (it has puppets!!) at Fort Fringe that starts on February 8. More info and ticket sales can be found here.

5. Shaun Tan has a new book! It’s actually a museum catalogue called The Oopsatoreum and it details the (fictional) inventions of a fictional inventor named Henry Mintox. The book was produced for the Sydney Powerhouse Museum (I wish the Smithsonian museums had cool names like that) and goes with an exhibition that they are putting together this year. More information is on Tan’s website here.