Too Much Light

Touring a puppet show is always challenging, but when the show in question involves shadow puppets, things become especially tricky.

Shadow puppetry depends on the interaction between light and objects (usually flat cutout puppets made of cardstock). This means that controlling light sources becomes even more vital than it would be for another kind of puppet show. In a theater, that is fairly easy. Most theaters are built without windows, so there’s no extra light spill to interfere with the shadows. But our show Saudade was intended from the beginning to be an outreach show; a piece that is shared in community spaces such as schools, churches, libraries and community centers. And almost all of these spaces have, well, windows.

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The perfect shadow puppet space, with side light on the audience but not the enclosed stage.

When we get to a new performance space on tour that has windows, placing the stage becomes extra important. We’ve had lots of discussions as to how we can achieve the best lighting: do we worry more about light spilling onto the screen from the front and perhaps washing out the shadows? Or do we worry about light spill from behind, which could distort the shadows or reveal certain images before they are intended to be seen?

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This was a good setup–no windows behind the stage & blinds that blocked most of the side light.

 

Sometimes we attempt to cut off the light with curtains, venetian blinds, or shutters and hope for the best. Often we are setting up the show a good hour before we start, which means that the sun can sink lower in the meantime, finding its way through cracks in the curtain or blind. We have fond memories of how various venues have gone the extra mile to try and block windows, including covering them with trash bags (at a transitional school in Winnipeg, Canada) or with large sheets of cardboard (at a church in Minneapolis). For the record, cardboard works the best.

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This was the pitch black gym that made the kids scream in Winnipeg!

In the end, not all light spill is terrible. It can be helpful to have just a little bit of light as we go through scene changes and prepare puppets for upcoming moments. It can also help the audience feel more comfortable. We did one show in Winnipeg at an after-school program where we were performing in a gym with no windows and it was pitch black when the lights first went out. Not only did that make several of the children scream (whether with fright or anticipation I’m not quite sure) but it meant we had no help whatsoever when trying to find the next puppet if one screen light had gone out and the next one wasn’t on yet. As a result, there were a few fumbles when the wrong puppet was picked up and had to be fixed quickly.

Light is essential to shadow puppetry and controlling it is a must when considering where and how to take a shadow puppet play on tour. We hope this post can help other people with these challenges when taking shadow puppets on the road.

 

Touring Minneapolis

We completed one of our long-time goals for the company this year, taking the show Saudade on an out-of-state tour to Minneapolis, Minnesota. We chose the city because of its strong local puppet scene, anchored by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater, which was kind enough to put us in touch with one of our venues. After six shows in five days, we were tired, but very satisfied with our work. Here are some photos of the shows and our adventures.

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We had to take apart the crankie box and reassemble it when we arrived, always a slightly nerve-wracking task!

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St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, which put up this lovely bilingual sign, had us speak to their arts and leadership youth group before the performance.

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The backstage view at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

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One of the kids from the youth arts group at St. Paul’s tries out a puppet after the show. “It’s not too hard–you just have to get the hang of it!” he told a younger kid.

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The beautiful arch at The Southern Theater, a building that has seen many changes.

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Genna Beth, Cecilia and Amy at the sculpture ‘Spoonbridge and Cherry,’ part of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden near the Walker Art Center.

Snapshots from the Road

We’re proud to have completed a tour of D.C. and Arlington, VA with our show Saudade this year, partially supported by a City Arts Project grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Below are some snapshots of the places we performed.

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Lincoln’s Bedroom at President Lincoln’s Cottage, in Washington, DC.

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Performing for an adult ESL class at the Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP)

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We were part of the On the Move tent at the 2016 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

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We performed in the beautiful and historic Arts & Industries Building for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

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The view from the stage at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

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

 

 

Revisiting Saudade

As part of our preparation for this tour of Saudade (which starts on Friday!) we were able to bring in photographer Liza Harbison to take some shots of the shadow puppets. Here are a few:

 

Five Firsts: Wit’s End Puppets in 2015

It’s been a busy year here at Wit’s End Puppets; a year filled with new work and new friends and collaborators! Here is a list of our top five ‘first’ moments from the year.

IMG_23095. First crankie!
Ever since I saw Katherine Fahey’s amazing crankies, I’ve wanted to tackle constructing one ourselves. It was a thrill to work with Katherine this year on our shadow play Saudade. 

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4. First Fringe show in way too long!
Our very first show using the name Wit’s End Puppets was back in 2010 for the Capital Fringe Festival. We had a wonderful time working with banished? productions on their piece I Thought the Earth Remembered Me for this year’s festival.

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3. First video shoot!
It was a whole new world for us, incorporating puppets into a gothic, lush set for a music video with She Monster Productions.

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2. First City Arts Project grant! 
We are thrilled that DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities decided to award us a grant to tour Saudade around the city in collaboration with the American Immigration Council and GALA Hispanic Theatre. If you would like to help support this tour and send us to even more places, you can donate here!

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1.First International performance!
Traveling to Winnipeg for the Winnipeg International Storytelling Festival was an amazing opportunity. We met so many incredible artists and teachers; people who work every day to help immigrants and refugees in Winnipeg. It was an honor to share our art with them and hear their thoughts and stories.

Here’s to a 2016 that’s just as rewarding and exciting!

Winnipeg Photos

Some photos of our trip to Winnipeg this month for the Winnipeg International Storytelling Festival:

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The entire show of Saudade. Everyone was very impressed by our packing abilities!

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The poster for the festival.

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Genna sorts control rods before a show.

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The puppets (60 in total) laid out ready for a show.

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We performed in the gym at the NEEDS center, a community space for newcomers. Our fantastic sound guy, Hassaan is at the computer.

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Talking with the kids at the NEEDS Center after the show.

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The rivers of Winnipeg are beautiful in the sun.

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Cecilia and Genna at the opening dinner of the festival.

 

So Many Changes

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:

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A new frame! We hope this will make everything a little more visible to the audience.

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Here, the fabric panels are coming together and the crankie is in place.

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We’ve added scenes to the end of the show. Here, Cecilia tries to manipulate three puppets with two hands.

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.

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.