Building a Shadow Puppet Joint

Saudade7We occasionally get questions about how we create our shadow puppets for shows like Saudade, so here is a short video with the steps for making a joint out of fishing line. Genna Davidson explains the process, using a lighter, awl and scissors. Hopefully this will be useful to those of you making puppets at home!

 

A Huge Thank You

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A first glimpse of our crankie!

Saudade would not have been created without the help and support of many, many people who agreed to be interviewed about their experiences as immigrants to the DC area. Some of these people also helped us record sound clips for the show; others contributed their memories, stories of challenges they have faced and of course, moments of saudade. For reasons of privacy, we are only identifying people by their first names, but we want to acknowledge everyone and say a huge thank you for your help!

Sonia – Stephanie – Eiko – Sebastian – Ruth – Santiago – Ana – Juliana – Ottoniel – Eddy – Victor – Juan – Seare – Yolanda – Yanira – Oscar – Anamaria – Fernando – Nurya – Alexei – Genevieve – Grimaneza – Cintia – Rosario – Miguel – Svetlana – Nurbiya – Benta – Souad – Natalia – Hoummad – Noelya – Marisabel – Julio – Zohar – Emi – Diego – Johanna – Andrea – Doyoung – Fabiola – Artemis – Savana – Erick – Emma – Victoria – Omar – Arie – Susana – Medina – Amanda – Mehdi – Rashad – Sandra – Birol

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!

Favorite Tool: X-acto Knife

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As we continue to work on building Saudade, my favorite tool has to be this simple X-acto knife and box of blades. When you’re cutting detailed puppets or crankie scenes, a sharp blade is absolutely essential. It’s easy to switch blades quickly with this knife and having a full box of blades means I can pull out a fresh one every few minutes. With shadow puppets, you want every line to be smooth and clean, so it appears as clearly as possible to the audience. This is my favorite tool for making that happen!

You can see Saudade as part of the 2015 Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival on February 28 at 2:00pm and March 7 at 7:00pm. Performances will be at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H St. NE. See you there!

5 Reasons to Make Shadow Puppets

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One of the main characters in our new show SAUDADE. See our homepage for more details.

There are oh so many reasons why I love making shadow puppets. Let’s list a few of them:

1. Simple materials and tools. Often when I say that I make shadow puppets, I get the response “Oh, you mean with your hands?” The oldest form of shadow play was probably created with human hands, but today you can use cardboard, thin plastic folders, and tape to cut out and put together whatever kind of puppets you imagine. No need to invest in expensive equipment or materials–shadow puppets can be made with the contents of your desk drawer.

2. If you can use scissors, you’re good to go. It takes a lot of practice to successfully create a puppet using some methods, such as woodcarving. Other methods are easier, but can quickly get messy (like paper mache). Shadow puppets, however, only require the use of a normal pair of scissors, or maybe an x-acto knife. You might still want to supervise very young children trying their hand at it, but this is a puppet form that all ages can attempt with confidence.

3. Transformation is magical. One advantage of shadow puppetry is that you can achieve lots of different effects with just one puppet. At a workshop I took in Argentina, we played with using two light sources, varying the distance between screen and puppet and the angle of the puppet. You needn’t feel restricted to flat cutouts in shadow puppetry either–try playing with images of your hand, objects and furniture as well. With all the pieces hidden behind the screen, the audience will be amazed as your puppet grows, shrinks and turns into someone new in a  matter of seconds.

4. Join a very, very old tradition. There’s no real way to be sure, but I’d say it’s likely that the earliest form of puppetry was when people sitting by fires thousands of years ago in caves started to manipulate the shadows thrown by the flames. This is an art form that has changed and mutated many, many times over the years and is still in the process of growing. Why not join in?

5. A lesson in simplicityGetting to the essence of a story, character, or action is often the hardest part of creating a puppet show. Because shadow puppets are usually a silhouette, they require even more care in the choosing of an image. Shadow puppetry is a wonderful way to find the core of the story you are trying to tell and how best to communicate it to your audience.

Postcard #8

Wit’s End artistic director Cecilia Cackley is currently traveling in South America. While she is gone, Cecilia is keeping a visual journal of the places she visits and shows that she sees. She will be posting pages here occasionally as virtual postcards from her trip. 

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A Quick Guide to Puppets

Curious about puppets? Looking for some basic information about how to tell what kind of a puppet you might be looking at? You’ve come to the right place. Puppets are quickly gaining exposure in our popular culture, but they belong to a very old tradition, and are just as diverse as many other art forms. Here are some basics to know:

The definition of ‘puppet’ can be slightly different depending on who you talk to. Most people picture the fabric toy puppets they might have had as children, or the Muppet characters created by Jim Henson for Sesame Street. We often say that a puppet is any object brought to life by an operator, a definition which includes both realistic and abstract characters.

A hand puppet created by a student.

A hand puppet created by a student.

Hand puppets are puppets operated by the puppeteers hand inside the puppet’s body, usually making the head and hands move. Punch and Judy are good examples of traditional hand puppets. Sometimes a hand puppet is operated by two people, such as Telly Monster from Sesame Street.

Rod puppets are puppets with a rod holding up the body and usually two rods controlling the hands or arms. This allows the puppeteer to put some distance between themselves and the puppet. They are traditionally found in southeast Asia, primarily Indonesia.

Czech style marionette.

Czech style marionette.

Marionettes are puppets controlled by strings or wires. A good example of marionettes are the puppets in the movie The Sound of Music. Some marionettes can have up to a dozen strings controlling all the different parts of the body. Marionettes are usually human figures but can also be animals or abstract figures.

Over-life-size puppets is the term used by puppet historian John Bell to describe puppets that are larger than human size or enclose the puppeteer inside the puppet. Big Bird, from Sesame Street is an example of this kind of puppet.

Shadow puppets that we created for Fabulas Mayas at GALA Hispanic Theatre.

Shadow puppets that we created for Fabulas Mayas at GALA Hispanic Theatre.

Shadow puppets are flat cutout figures traditionally seen in silhouette, behind a screen. They can be made of paper, plastic, or leather and are sometimes opaque and sometimes translucent.

Object puppet is a term we sometimes use to describe characters that are created from found objects. All puppets can be classified as ‘object theater’ but these are characters made from a single object such as a hairbrush, fork or pair of binoculars.

Bunraku is a style of puppet originally from Japan. They are usually half or three quarters of human size and are operated by three puppeteers at once.