Six Months of The Puppet Lobby

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.

PuppetLobby

Michelle Valeri and Ingrid Crepeau, Genna Beth Davidson and Hamida Khatri presenting at the Puppet Lobby in 2017-2018. 

 

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!

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ICYMI: Saudade Trailer!

Our March tour of Saudade is halfway done and it’s World Puppet Day! If you haven’t had a chance,  check out this new trailer and a few other blog posts about amazing puppetry and puppeteers from around the world.

An Interview with Gabriela Cespedes from Argentina

A Brief History of Puppets and Social Justice

Recycled Puppets by Ashley Bryan

A Few Puppeteers You May Not Know

 

 

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 !!!!!

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.

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.

SAUDADE Audio Clip

 

Saudade7Saudade was based on a series of interviews with immigrants to the DC area from all over the world. Among other questions, I asked everyone about moments when they felt ‘saudade’–the feeling of longing for a place or person you once had that is now gone. Here is a very short audio clip in Portuguese of one of the interviewees from Brazil talking about times when she feels saudade.

January Grab Bag

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

# 2 Why don't I live in Chicago?

# 2 Why don’t I live in Chicago?

1. These gorgeous shadow puppet photos, based on various mythologies that explain the Northern Lights, were created for Kinfolk magazine.

2. We have fantastic museums here in DC, but I’ve been wishing I could get to Chicago to see this exhibit of puppets at the Art Institute of Chicago.

3. Puppets can illustrate real world issues as well as ancient mythologies. One of our Twitter followers called our attention to this article about Ebola, illustrated with two-dimensional puppets.

4. The creator of the puppets for that article is Jons Mellgren, a director, illustrator and writer from Sweden. Here are photos of one of his stop-motion puppet films, called ‘Paperworld.’

5. Sometimes I think that I must have read every single article and interview with illustrator Shaun Tan. I don’t think I’ve shared this one though, which is a conversation with Neil Gaiman, one of my other favorite writers. It is quite delightful and I hope you enjoy it!