By Genna Beth Davidson
When I took on the endeavor to organize and produce a puppet slam (our first Puppet SlamNation!) this September, I was feeling ambitious and motivated in a way that I haven’t felt before in my life. It was a new and exhilarating leadership experience for me. You see, I was always the kid who took on leadership roles begrudgingly because no one else would step up to the plate. I think my peers have thought of me as a leader, but I’ve never really wanted to be one. I’ve also always felt crippling anxiety when it comes to the responsibilities of running the show. I think several factors helped me take on this recent endeavor and get beyond the anxiety.
First off, and this is the biggest thing, my mental health is finally under control. I thought for years that I just wasn’t as capable as others seem to be at getting projects underway and seeing them through to a successful end. I blamed myself and thought “I’m just not good enough.” But I now see that depression and anxiety were the problem, and those disorders are not really me. Planning the SlamNation, I still had anxiety, but it came and went and most days I felt positive and motivated, and thus I could send emails that needed to be sent and thought through logistics that needed thinking through.
The second factor pushing me to take on the role of producer was the relative invisibility of puppet artists in DC. I know so many fabulous, creative and inspiring artists who do puppetry not just for kids but for adults! I want their work to be shared because I know it will be valued, and it’s mind bending for adults to realize what puppetry offers adults. I want there to be a vibrant puppetry arts scene in the DC region. So I guess there was a little bit of the same thing I experienced as a kid: no one else is doing this, so I’m going to take it on. Only this time I didn’t do it begrudgingly.
Finally, I’ve always loved the way Black Cherry Puppet Theatre in Baltimore has given space to all sorts of puppet performance artists at various levels and stages of production. They put on their Puppet Slamwich shows pretty regularly (look out for the next one on November 11, 2017), and it’s always a wonderful and supportive environment for artists to join. The great thing about their puppet slams is that the audience gets a huge variety of skill, talent, vision and story to digest. If an artist is trying out a new piece, and parts of it don’t work, it’s okay. Some people have complete, solid, winning shows, and some people are just starting out. The novices among us are supported and encouraged. It’s all a chance to play and grow. So I wanted to bring this style to the Wit’s End Puppet SlamNation.
Now that I’ve organized one slam, I can’t wait to do another one. There are many things I’ve learned from the experience. Here are some of them. 1.) Always have a stage manager. Our very own Amy Kellett took on the role for me this time. I mistakenly thought I could do that, but it’s not my skill set AND I had too many other things to take care of. I thank her a thousand times for realizing I was in need of her skills and for stepping into that role without me having to ask. Next time, I’m booking a stage manager from the get-go. 2.) Trust that people will commit. So much of my anxiety was from this nagging thought at the back of my mind saying performers will back out at the last minute. No one did! I will have more faith next time. 3.) Always ask questions to the venue manager and don’t worry about if you’re being a bother (again – the anxiety disorder). The We Are Takoma series who gave us a space and time for the slam handled things beautifully, but I could have asked more questions upfront to lessen my anxiety. 4.) Delegate as the event date draws near. This happened naturally because I work with awesome people who realized where they could help. Pat took care of programs. Cecilia and Nina managed front of house. Krista was back stage with me managing transitions between shows, and she brought snacks for everyone! And finally, 5.) People will underestimate how long their performances take. This was the only area that I really messed up. The show went on an hour longer than it was supposed to! How did I let that happen?!?! Well 5 mins extra here, 10 mins extra there…it all adds up. Next time I need to think that through more and have wiggle room.
There were also many things that we did right including booking an awesome band (check out Petty Indulgences), having a reception after the show, getting DVD footage of the shows, getting an awesome turn out, putting the more kid friendly shows in the first half of the program, having multiple ways of getting donations, and the list goes on. If you weren’t able to make it to our Puppet SlamNation this time, don’t worry. We’re sure to have another one in 2018. Not sure where. Not sure when. But I’m excited to figure that out early next year. So stay tuned!