September Grab Bag

A round up of links, videos and articles we highlighted on Twitter this month: 

See #1. Photo from The Independent.

See #1. Photo from The Independent.

  1. A huge animatronic bear appeared on the streets of London this summer to protest drilling in the Arctic.
  2. The living doll artist in this article loves it when people ask “Is he real or unreal?”
  3. The otherworldly sculpture of our favorite artist Shaun Tan will seen be on view in this new book. If only we were going to Australia sometime soon!
  4. In a perfect world, we would collaborate with artist Jonathan Latiano to make some puppet dolphins, along the same line as this exhibit.
  5. Fair warning, this video short from France about shadow puppet artist and animation pioneer Lotte Reiniger is profoundly moving and may make you cry. You can read more about Reiniger’s life and work on our blog.

February Grab Bag

A roundup of links, articles and generally cool stuff we highlighted on Twitter in February. 

See #4

See item #4

1. Here’s a super cool stop-motion video with cardboard puppets.

2. This exhibit at the Hirshhorn museum includes a piece involving light and cast shadows.

3. The official trailer for Song of the Sea, an animated film based on the selkie legend which we incorporated into Malevolent Creatures. 

4. The picture book The Rabbits, written by John Marsden and illustrated by our favorite Shuan Tan has been turned into an opera.   

5. This show came to the Artisphere in Arlington and we were sad to miss it! Hopefully we can see this company another time.

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!

August Grab Bag

#5 The website Bookriot has excited muppet arms for both books and Muppets!

#5 The website Bookriot has excited muppet arms for both books and Muppets!

A roundup of articles, links and videos that we highlighted on Twitter this month. 

1. The first book on puppetry I ever bought was by John Wright of The Little Angel Theatre in Islington, London. His wife Lyndie still carves puppets for them and this article about her is just lovely. If you go to London, try to see a show there.

2. As we continue to work on Malevolent Creatures, this website looks intriguing and will hopefully help out our research.

3. At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, the show The Pure, the Dead and the Brilliant took a look at the upcoming Scottish independence referendum through the eyes of four Scottish fairies, including Selkie. Read a review here.

4. Yet another amazing interview with one of the giants of contemporary illustration and a special hero of ours, Shaun Tan.

5. And because really, most things should end with the Muppets, here is Bookriot with a roundup of literary-related Muppet antics. Enjoy!

April Grab Bag

A round-up of articles and events we’ve highlighted on Twitter this month. 

Sleeping Beauty in performance. Photo by Gene Carl Feldman.

Sleeping Beauty in performance. Photo by Gene Carl Feldman.

1. Pointless Theatre’s production of Sleeping Beauty: a puppet ballet has only one more weekend to run! You’ll be sorry if you miss it.

2. Elizabeth Hyde Stevens wrote this article for Salon about the Muppets and how they created Generation X.

3. A group of Argentine puppeteers is seeking participants for a convention of women puppeteers from around the world, to be held in Argentina this coming November. Stated goals for the convention include discussion about the messages of shows, the space we occupy, who we reach with our art and how we can help each other. If you are interested in participating or simply learning more, you can email

4. Poncili Creacion was in town for one night this month. Find out more about the work of this Puerto Rican theater company that creates surreal puppetry on their tumblr.

5. We were fortunate enough to see Ronnie Burkett’s amazing marionette show Penny Plain at the Kennedy Center (more of our thoughts here). For those interested in learning more about Burkett’s work, here’s an old interview from The Guardian.

6. Our favorite illustrator and key inspiration Shaun Tan has a new book out! It’s called Rules of Summer, read more about it on his website here.

October Grab Bag

Tan's sculpture for 'Hansel and Gretel' retold by Philip Pullman.

Tan’s sculpture for ‘Hansel and Gretel’ retold by Philip Pullman.

Because our show Cabinets of Kismet was inspired by him, I’m going to bring in the artist Shaun Tan as the subject of this month’s grab bag. A few beautiful, thought-provoking and wise items to view or listen to:

1. Shaun Tan theater! Featherwight Theatre is  a company of dancers and theater makers from England who presented The Red Tree  at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year. It was a beautiful adaptation, with many innovative and surprising ways of bringing Tan’s images and words to life. You can see a video and hear some of the original music on their website.

2. More Shaun Tan theater! Clearly there is consensus that Tan’s stories are compelling on the page and even more compelling when brought to life by actors, dancers and puppets. Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, from Fremantle Australia, recently performed an adaptation of Tales from Outer Suburbia, a collection of Tan’s short stories.

3. A new book! Tan’s latest picture book, Rules of Summer was just published in Australia. A story of two brothers and the rules they learn, the book pairs simple phrases (‘Never leave a red sock on a clothesline’) with surreal oil paintings that provoke questions and ideas.

4. An interview about Rules of Summer is available to see here. Tan talks about his inspiration, and process in creating the book, as well as principles of storytelling and bookmaking in general.

5. Tan’s other new book is actually in German. Philip Pullman, the celebrated fantasy author, published a collection last year of his favorite fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. His version of the stories has now been translated into German, illustrated with amazing sculptures by Tan. You can see photos of some of them and learn a little more about why he chose to create sculptures rather than paintings, here.

March Grab Bag

See item #3.

See item #2.

This month’s grab bag has a decidedly paperish theme, perhaps because we spent so much time building paper puppets at the beginning of the month. Here are some videos, artists and events that caught my eye:

1. Artist Irving Harper is profiled on the website Etsy; take a look at his amazing paper creations!

2. The animated short Paperman by Disney won an Academy Award, proving that paper airplanes are the route you should take to find love! This is the same award won by Shaun Tan in 2010 for his short based on the picture book The Lost Thing. See the trailer for Paperman here.

3. Another spectacular combination of paper and video is the music video of this song by Josh Ritter. 12,000 pieces of construction paper were used!

4. Richard Sweeney is an artist from the UK whose paper sculptures have greatly influenced our designs for the environment and creatures for Paper World. You can take a look at his amazing creations on his Flickr page.

5. We were excited to see the dates announced for Figment DC 2013! After our fantastic experience last year, which you can read about in this blog post, we are starting to think about what we can offer audiences at this year’s event. Maybe it will involve paper! Who knows?

Under the (Artistic) Influence

A shadow box by Joseph Cornell.

A shadow box by Joseph Cornell.

Shaun Tan is clearly our biggest influence in creating The Amazing and Marvelous Cabinets of Kismet. However, now that we have been working on this story and these characters for a year and a half, we are recognizing other artistic influences that have lingered in our minds and imaginations. Here are a few of them:

Joseph Cornell: Mainly an influence on me and Nikki; Genna doesn’t particularly like Cornell. For me though, his boxes evoke cabinets, the building blocks for Kismet’s world. His combinations of paper scraps, photographs and found objects are by turns whimsical, lonely, mysterious and chaotic, all moods that I hope to evoke at one point or another in Cabinets of Kismet. 

One of the dresses that inspired Genna.

One of the dresses that inspired Genna.

Alexander McQueen: When we first started discussing this story and the aesthetic we were hoping to create, everyone brought in art books and catalogues to page through, in hopes of discovering images that would inspire the look or sensibility of a puppet. I had the exhibit catalogue for Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty lying around and Genna was inspired by several of the outfits pictured. His use of materials such as animal bones and skulls as well as layers of translucent fabric is echoed in a couple of Genna’s puppets use similar treatments. She says she was drawn to McQueen’s work because “…I like the gothic and the macabre. I find darkness to be fascinating.” Look for puppets with those qualities when you come to see Cabinets of Kismet!

Figures by Kandinsky.

Figures by Kandinsky.

Wassily Kandinsky: By the time we started re-thinking Paper World this winter, the look had moved further away from reality and into the realm of the abstract. I started looking at the shapes in paper cutouts by Matisse, but soon focused on the work of Kandinsky. While his work is much more colorful than, well, anything really in Paper World, his lines and shapes have an energy and rhythm to them that I hope to emulate in the shadow puppets that appear and disappear in our show. Keep an eye out for similar creatures when you come see Cabinets of Kismet in April!

February Grab Bag

PUPPET STANDUP! See #3 for all info.

PUPPET STANDUP! See #3 for all info.

1. An interview with Shaun Tan that made me slightly less grumpy that I missed his Keynote Address at the SCBWI Winter Conference earlier in the month. Favorite quote: “…we have to make sense of ourselves within a world that can shift and change radically…” That’s the story of Cabinets of Kismet in a nutshell!

2. Basil Twist, who is one of the most well-known contemporary puppeteers in the US, is creating a lobby installation as part of The Rambler by the Joe Good Performance Group. At the American Dance Institute, March 2 and 3; more info here.

3. Standup is a tough business, particularly when you’re a puppet. THIS Saturday, February 23 at 8 & 10pm, come support local puppets in Puppet Standup, a showcase of the best puppet comics working today. Get tickets here and if you use the code GRABBAG, you’ll get 20% off General Admission tickets to the 10pm show! Don’t miss this unique event (no ventriloquists here!) at the Warehouse Theater, 645 New York Ave, NW.

4. If you’re searching for a fun night out this week or next week, look no further than the Mead Theater Lab at Flashpoint and the show Canterbury, produced by our friends at the Pointless Theatre Company.

5. Our friends at Puppets in Prague still have a few spaces left in their March workshops on making marionettes, for anyone lucky enough to be in Prague this spring.

Shaun Tan & Paul Klee

The Bird KingIn the introduction to his latest book The Bird King, Shaun Tan quotes the artist Paul Klee, who once said something along the lines of “Drawing is taking a line for a walk.” Klee, if you aren’t familiar with his work, was an Swiss painter who lived from 1879-1940, taught at the Bauhaus school, and was part of the Expressionist and Surrealist movements. I love that Tan references him, because Klee was also interested in puppets. Using a rich combination of color and texture, he created a set of hand puppets for his son, many of which can be seen in these excellent photos on Flickr.

Tan also quotes a second Klee metaphor, imagining the artist “…as a tree, drawing from a rich compost of experience–tihngs seen, read, told and dreamt–in order to grow leaves, flowers and fruit. Art, following the laws of horticulture, can only make something out of something else; artist do not create so much as transform.” Both of these quotations strike me as being entirely appropriate to The Amazing and Marvelous Cabinets of Kismet. Many times during this building process, I feel like I have been ‘taking my materials for a walk’–arranging and rearranging and seeing what shapes and characters emerge. So many of these characters have been created without a real design in mind, that it has felt both terrifying and liberating all at once. As a piece of theater, this is very much an example of Klee’s tree; it is art that draws from many different sources in visual art, story and film, and combines them into something new. This is reflected in the hodge-podge of materials we have been using to create our puppets and set, from paper scraps, to bottle caps to empty wooden spools.

Tan comments in the same introduction that he is often “…wary of using the word ‘inspiration’…” and that “…it sounds too much like a sun shower from the heavens, absorbed by a passive individual enjoying an especially receptive moment.” I understand his hesitation, but for me, inspiration is less like a sun shower and more like a flash of lightning or a moment of recognition; something that makes me go YES. That is TRUE. Now DO something with it. Inspiration for me isn’t passive, it is active, a call to act and create. Tan’s books give me that moment of recognition often; so do Klee’s paintings. I feel so fortunate that I get to spend my time turning the inspiration they give me into my own art.