Summer Days at the Studio

IMG_4225It’s been four years since we started Wit’s End Puppets and for all that time, we’ve been operating primarily out of a house in the southwest quadrant of Washington DC. Each person on the team had her own workspace at home, but meetings and large building projects, from covering flats with recycled paper, to gluing together a 60ft cranky, happened in the living room of that house.

This summer, we said goodbye and moved our boxes, puppet sets and building materials to a new studio in the Brookland neighborhood. At first, the space looked like it does in the photo above. It took a lot of time and effort, but we’ve finally made progress and everything is (mostly) organized. Here you can see the two sides of the room, with materials and tool storage and plenty of surfaces to work on. Here’s to another four years of creativity and passion, collaboration and puppet magic!img_4530

img_4531

Stars and Space Creatures

We are nearly done with objects for Arts on the Horizon’s new baby theater show Space-Bop. We are thrilled to be collaborating again with Tia Shearer-Bassett and working for the first time with Christylez Bacon and Seamus Miller. Back in the summer of 2015 we participated in a workshop of this piece and now rehearsals start in just a few days! Meanwhile, here are some photos from the building process.

IMG_3495

A new star pattern, with one of our light-up gadgets in the background.

IMG_3552

A rather bumpy planet surface.

IMG_3561

The somewhat messy beginnings of another planet.

IMG_3562

Pieces of the astronaut helmet, before being put together.

Hand Puppets in Central America

Students in El Salvador show off their sock puppets.

Students in Ilobasco show off their sock puppets.

After traveling to Canada and Armenia, my final adventure of the summer season was heading to two different countries in Central America to teach puppet workshops. Under the auspices of the non-profit Co-partners of Campesinas, I was invited to teach puppetry to students in the towns of Ilobasco in El Salvador and Chichicastenango in Guatemala.

A teen from El Salvador with his hand puppet. The head is a gourd that grows locally.

A teen from Ilobasco with his hand puppet. The head is made from a gourd that grows locally.

These two workshops were structured very differently. In Ilobasco, students ages 6-25 were grouped by age for a week long art and conflict resolution workshop during a school holiday. Due to changing school schedules, transportation challenges and family obligations, there were different numbers in the classes each day and not all students were able to stay for the entire workshop. Despite this, the younger students built sock puppets and used them to invent short scenes while the older students experimented with constructing hand puppets that used local gourds as heads.

A student in Guatemala sews her puppet's body.

A student in Chichicastenango sews her puppet’s body.

In Chichicastenango, the workshop was hosted by a community organization called ASDECO and lasted for five days. I had a class of about 20 students, mainly teens and young adults, with some older participants, who made paper mache hand puppets. Unlike in El Salvador, where the focus of the workshop was creative expression, this one was intended to further the cultural goals of ASDECO who are dedicated to preserving and sharing the indigenous Ki’che culture of the region. Magdalena, an ASDECO staff member, led discussions about the traditional Ki’che stories of the Popol Wuj, which the students then turned into a short puppet play. I taught the group to construct hand puppets of the play’s characters with paper maché heads and cloth bodies. The finished piece was shared with the center’s staff and other community members on our final day.

Puppetry is not a very common art form in Central America. Few of my students in either Ilobasco or Chichicastenango had ever seen a puppet show and usually it was on TV rather than live. It was wonderful to see the students making creative decisions as they built their puppets and sometimes using other skills such as embroidery or beadwork to add to puppet clothing. I’m looking forward to seeing what else these artists create in the future.

The class in Chichicastenango, with their puppets.

The class in Chichicastenango, with their puppets.

Outer Space and Baby Theater

Workshop moment with a rocket ship! Photo courtesy of Arts on the Horizon.

Workshop moment with a rocket ship! Photo courtesy of Arts on the Horizon.

Along with the Capital Fringe Festival and our one-night revival of Saudade, this summer was spent working with our friends at Arts on the Horizon to workshop a new baby-theater show called Space-Bop. It stars a clown and musician who travel into outer space, encountering planets, stars and space creatures. Among the objects we created for them is a colorful rocket ship, a tiny astronaut and a pet star.

One of the challenges of this show was coming up with ways to make objects light up, since light and darkness is important to our ideas of outer space and bright lights are engaging for very young audiences. It was very gratifying at the workshop performances to hear tiny voices say “How does it DO that?” As we look ahead to the full production this winter, we are pulling inspiration from other environments to add to our imagined idea of this space-world.

One big inspiration for our work on this piece was the Australian puppet show The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik. Strangely enough, there are many connections to be made with underwater adventures and outer space. Other sources for visuals include classic moon landing photographs, early cinema such as this gem from Georges Melies and vintage design featuring rocket ships. We will post more process photos as we continue working and if you have a little one or just like wordless theater, be sure to put the show on your calendar for February.

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 !!!!!