We’re Going to Canada!

Wit’s End Puppets is taking to the road! Or the plane, as a matter of fact. We have been invited by the good folks at the University of Manitoba’s Mauro Center for Peace and Justice to perform Saudade at the Winnipeg International Storytelling Festival in May.

This is the first time we have been able to take a larger show to an out-of-town event, so we are extremely excited! Since we wrapped up our INTERSECTIONS run, we have been making some changes to the show, adding puppets, polishing scenes and revising sounds to better achieve the effects and images in our minds. We received lots of excellent feedback from our audiences at the Atlas, and have been considering how best to incorporate audience suggestions. The show has a new ending, several interludes that break up the stories of our three main characters and we are working towards creating recorded monologues to begin and end the show that will feature the voices of many of the people whose stories were captured and shared in the script. Here are a few pictures of the progress we’ve made so far:

Amy is carefully placing the tiny paper birds between these two silhouettes.

Amy is carefully placing the tiny paper birds between these two silhouettes.

A new scene added at the end of show.

A new scene added at the end of show.

The ending images were all cut in one long big piece this time.

The ending images were all cut in one long big piece this time.

We have to carefully cut off the bottom edge to make sure everything matches.

We have to carefully cut off the bottom edge to make sure everything matches.

Building a Puppet Ballet: Interview with Genna Davidson

This week, our managing director Patricia Germann spoke with Wit’s End artist Genna Davidson about her recent work constructing puppets for Pointless Theatre Company’s newest show, Sleeping Beauty: A Puppet Ballet, which is currently running as part of CulturalDC’s Mead Theatre Lab program.

Patricia Germann:  What puppets did you work on?

Genna Davidson:  I primarily worked on Sleeping Beauty, the Prince, and the Witch who turns into a dragon.  I worked on all of them, actually, but those are the primary ones.

Puppets in rehearsal. Photo by Genna Davidson.

Puppets in rehearsal. Photo by Genna Davidson.

PG: I recall that Pointless did a version of Sleeping Beauty before. Did they learn lessons from the last production, in terms of how they wanted them to move, or how they wanted them to be built?

GD: They needed the puppets to be way lighter.  Because for the first production of the show they had made them all out of papier-mâché and wood; they were super heavy.  They also wanted the puppets to have a lot of flexibility – but not limitless flexibility, because that makes them hard to control.  So I contributed the bodies, the structures, the new innards and forms of the puppets focusing on building with lighter materials.

PG: You had told me before that the company went to ballet classes.  Did that experience affect how you were building the puppets, or modifying them during the rehearsal process? 

GD: One thing we learned is that these puppets – because it’s ballet – they stand mostly in turnout. When I made the Prince, I made his legs with feet and knees pointed forward. At some point, we realized this means the puppeteer has to always be turning the feet out.  It would be much easier to just have them built in turnout, and then the puppeteer can turn them in as needed, which is almost never.  So I adjusted them on the Prince, and then when I made Sleeping Beauty, I made her legs in turnout. 

Sleeping Beauty in performance. Photo by Gene Carl Feldman.

Sleeping Beauty in performance. Photo by Gene Carl Feldman.

PG: Were the puppets pretty durable?  I’m thinking back to our own experiences with having to repair puppets over a run.

GD: From every project that we do, I learn more and more.  I’ve been very happy with some of the joints of these puppets, in particular the ones which I chose to make elastic from the get-go because of wanting to allow the puppeteers to extend through the ballet movements and then settle back; more breath.  So at important junctures, they have thick fabric-covered elastic joints.

Their spines are really cool. They’re made out of dishwasher drainer hose, which is connected to PVC with hose clamps and plumbing parts.  So there’s lots of plumbing inside!  The drainer hose allows for lots of flexibility, so that the spine can actually arch backwards and forwards.

I had to rig the head in such a way to allow for rotation to the right and left independent of the neck which can only get easy movement arching forward and backward.  Imagine a wooden dowel coming out of the  bottom of the head and inserting within a hollow cylinder, the spine. The heads can spin 360 degrees, but the reason that the head is staying inside of…or one part of the neck is staying inside the other part of the neck…is that I ran a piece of elastic along the outside of the spine all the way underneath the pelvis of the puppet and back up again to that dowel coming out of the head.  And that has been – knock on wood – really pretty durable.

PG: We haven’t really talked about the witch-to-dragon transformation.

GD: Basically you have to see it to understand it and I don’t want to give it away.

PG: Did they have a design for that going in, or did you come up with that transformation?

GD: No, I came up with the design.

The witch, built by Genna. Photo by Gene Carl Feldman.

The witch, built by Genna. Photo by Gene Carl Feldman.

PG: Wow, that’s really cool.

GD: Yeah, that one in particular was my feat of magic – but I wish we had had more time to rehearse the transformation.  It took me so long to construct that we were basically in tech and didn’t have long to choreograph it. [The transformation] works well, but I would have liked to suggest some other choreographed movement.  For a couple days, we were worried we’d have to cut the transformation onstage and leave it to happen offstage, which would have been really disappointing.

The one thing we couldn’t make happen was her face turning into a dragon.  We ended up just bringing on this mask and putting it on her face, basically.  It’s done in a way that works, but we had wanted to have the mask incorporated somehow into her as a witch, so that when the transformation happens, it would be like, “Oh, it was there the whole time!”  That was something we had to let go.

I do want to mention Kyra Corradin, who did the sculpting of all the heads.  Even the puppets who were primarily mine in body, she did those heads, and they’re really beautiful.

PG: You were telling me earlier about the challenges of trying to fit a controller into a head that was already built.

GD: Kyra had built these heads and made them hollow because it would make them lighter…but because she has built these kinds of puppets before, she didn’t think about how to build the head control mechanisms into the puppets.  But actually it worked out well because these heads are really well shaped, beautiful and completely hollow. Though it was tricky to get the mechanisms inside and not damage the sculptural work, it was worth it.  If we had had to build the head around the control mechanism, I’m not sure we would have been able to achieve that hollow, light head that she created. So not knowing is a benefit sometimes.

Pointless Theatre Company’s Sleeping Beauty: A Puppet Ballet runs through May 3, 2014, at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint.  For tickets and more information, visit www.culturaldc.org

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Intersections Photos

Performing at the 2014 Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival was an absolutely incredible experience. I’m hoping to write more fully about it soon, but in the meantime, here are some photos I took over the past two weekends.

Setting up the screen in Lab 2.

Setting up the screen in Lab 2.

Puppets waiting on the floor.

Puppets waiting on the floor.

Puppets and instruments on tables backstage.

Puppets and instruments on tables backstage.

View of the pyramid and screen from the audience.

View of the pyramid and screen from the audience.

The Fabulas Mayas team, toasting a sold out show with cupcakes!

The Fabulas Mayas team, toasting a sold out show with cupcakes!

 

 

Sneak Peek

A description of the bean-nighe, one of the folklore characters we're researching.

A description of the bean-nighe, one of the folklore characters we’re researching.

Our next devised piece is inspired by the vast treasure trove of British and Celtic folklore and especially the supernatural creatures usually known as fairies. Thanks to a number of cultural factors (most prominently, Disney), we have a tendency to think of fairies as tiny and pretty, with sparkles, wings and magic wands. According to tradition however, they are far stranger and more dangerous. For centuries, people feared the fairies, calling them a number of euphemistic names (the Good Folk, the gentry, the Little Poeple) to avoid drawing their attention. To be suspected of dealing with fairies or being related to them led to persecution and on occasion, injury and death. Where did these beliefs come from? What are the rules for dealing with fairies and what happens when we break them? What does that say about our fears, hopes and wishes as humans? These are all questions we will be exploring as we begin to build puppets and create performance material in preparation for a workshop in June. We hope you will join us for the journey!

Backstage at Kismet

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:

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Amie indicating that all puppets are ready to go.

Amie making a face at paperfish. 

Waiting with Widget behind a unit.

Waiting with Widget behind a unit.

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the video sequence to finish, in the light of the projector.

Waiting for the video sequence to finish, in the light of the projector.

 

 

 

Kismet 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 todaytaken by C. Stanley Photography!

Kismet, discovering that his world has been destroyed.

Kismet, discovering that his world has been destroyed.

Puppeteer Amie Root, with Lightbulb Head.

Puppeteer Amie Root, with Lightbulb Head.

Matt Reckeweg and Genna Davidson, with Kismet and Jellybird.

Matt Reckeweg and Genna Davidson, with Kismet and Jellybird.

Puppeteers Amy Kellett, Cecilia Cackley and Genna Davidson, with Nurse, Zoom and King Lamp.

Puppeteers Amy Kellett, Cecilia Cackley and Genna Davidson, with Nurse, Zoom and King Lamp.