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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 !!!!!
Here at Wit’s End Puppets, we build and create puppets all year long. The weather has recently become hot and muggy in DC, making me wish I had planned a little better and scheduled the spray painting for now, rather than back in January when it was 18 degrees out! Just for fun, a quick rundown of our preferred times for specific puppet-making activities.
Winter: It’s certainly not 20 inches of snow kind of weather in DC but it does get pretty cold out. Great time for staying inside and doing some wood carving, maybe sewing puppets with fabric. So why do we always seem to be spray-painting in the backyard during these months?
Spring: This is a much better time for sawing, spray-painting or anything that involves the outdoors. Due to limited space, we’re often going back and forth between the upstairs studio, downstairs living room and outside patio and this is a nice time to keep the doors open and let the dog run around (though not in the paint).
Summer: Ugh. Summer in DC is the WORST. Hot and humid, with bugs and pollen galore, there are many days when we just don’t want to move. Summer should be a time for sketching, painting a little and generally daydreaming, but that isn’t how it always works out.
Fall: Another good in-between time, fall is a season for working on paper-mache heads and cutting out shadow puppets. If we have lots of down-time while waiting for hot glue to set on pieces of polyfoam, there are all the new fall TV shows to distract us.
All kidding aside, puppet making is our passion and no matter the weather, we’re not quitting any time soon. We hope you’ll join us for one of our shows and see what we’ve created!
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: