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!

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Sharing Stories of SAUDADE in Winnipeg

This is a guest post from Genna Davidson about our visit in May to Winnipeg, Canada. You can see more photos from the trip here.

This bentwood box by Luke Marston was commissioned by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Photo is from TRC website.

This bentwood box by Coast Salish artist Luke Marston was commissioned by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It is a tribute to all Indian Residential school survivors. Photo is from TRC website.

At the beginning of May, Cecilia and I were warmly welcomed to Winnipeg, Manitoba for the 10th Annual International Storytelling Festival. Our days were spent touring Saudade, our shadow puppet and crankie show, about the immigrant experience in DC. We met a range of artists, storytellers and advocates of conflict resolution and peace, and we learned a lot about the local issues. We performed for college students, child and adult refugees, and staff at several community centers, places which help newly arrived refugees and immigrants to Canada. The children, particularly the Muslim girls, were excited to see a character in our show wearing a headscarf. One girl remarked “I liked the last character the best because she looks like me.” It was affirming and reassuring to hear the members of our audiences relate to the show and identify with the characters.

Many of the local issues facing Canadians in Winnipeg surround the dark legacy of what they call residential schools. These were boarding schools for First Nations children, used until the 1990s to attempt assimilation of the indigenous Canadians into the mainstream white Canadian culture. Many of these places had rampant incidences of abuse. The victims are now sharing their stories through a truth and reconciliation process. It’s a hard reality to look at, but from what I could see it was clearly important that people are heard. So many families were broken up and destroyed by the practices of assimilation. As one could guess, there are higher levels of alcohol and drug abuse in the indigenous population too.

It was particularly interesting to me that we repeatedly encountered stories of First Nations people (Inuit, Crees and Metis to name a few groups) and at the same time heard stories of refugees from countries like Ethiopia, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia among others. For many immigrants it is a struggle to keep family together. As I was talking to a friend recently about the juxtaposition of these stories, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what struck me as so apropos about the parallel stories. He pointed out that it is striking because the indigenous Canadians are refugees in their own home. “Yes! That’s exactly it!” I remarked. Their land was taken from them as well as their culture and many were forced to take on the culture of European immigrants. It’s a story that I don’t like looking at, but again, it’s important we give voice to these stories and give these storytellers room and space in which to be heard.

When I think about our region’s own history of the American Indian genocide, I feel sad. I also think that most of us don’t get to hear those stories much because the people are gone, scattered or simply not given enough space to share their stories. These stories are an important part of our history, however shameful and horrifying, and like in Canada, they should be part of our national conversation in art.

~Genna Davidson

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has been working for many years to gather statements on the residential schools. They published their findings and held closing events this month. For more information on this important work, please visit their website

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.

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.