Sunday, October 28, 2012

Great Small Works Spaghetti WILL BE ON NOVEMBER 19th!

YES! It's really happening!


Monday, November 19, 2012, 7:30pm
Teatro SEA [new location!] 107 Suffolk St, NYC
tix: $5-15 (sliding scale) | info: 917-319-8104

Join us for a post-storm, post-election, post-Halloween evening of spaghetti, songs, banners, crankies and puppets!

Puppet shows by Great Small Works and friends, Spybird Theater, Rachel Schragis, and Greg Corbino

Music by Villa Delirium

Inspired by eerie traditional folk songs of Germany, Ireland and the Balkans as well as murder ballads of the American South, New York band Villa Delirium writes and performs their own startling compositions, as well as choice covers including "Crystal Ship" by The Doors (sung in German and hailed as "Very Brechtian" by Doors' drummer John Densmore) and Warren Zevon’s classic "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" done up as a haunting Celtic waltz.

Tine Kindermann: Voice, saw and violin. A German chanteuse/ visual artist, Tine’s recent credits include performing in Germany with Iggy Pop and Marc Ribot. John Kruth: Voice, guitar, mandolin, banjo, sitar, harmonica and flutes. Kruth has 9 solo albums, co-leads the world music ensemble TriBeCaStan and has worked with Allen Ginsberg and Violent Femmes. Kenny Margolis: Accordion and keyboards. A member of Cracker and TriBeCaStan, Kenny played in the late great Willy Deville’s band. Christopher Morrow: Trombone. A member of TriBeCaStan and Kokolo Afrobeat Orchestra. (Subbing for Doug Wieselman) Steve Bear: Pots, pans, boxes and assorted batterie. Steve played drums in the legendary Wisconsin band Swamp Thing.

JANA ZELLER, Spybird Theater, excerpts from “Eye of the Storm”
An excerpt of our new full-length piece which will premiere in 2013, involving an elegant woman who is waiting for the return of her sailor son on a shrinking island that faces a storm. She is a rod puppet haunted by shadow visions, and her only neighbors are a set of grotesque hand puppets in their puppet booth. This excerpt features the two hand puppets Kasper and Gretel as they bang around their domestic obstacles.

Full-length piece performed with Zak Grace.
Directed by Kali Quinn and Ines Zeller-Bass.
Hand puppet coach: Alice Boehm
Music: Anna Patton
Created with support from the Jim Henson Foundation and a commission from Sandglass Theater funded by the NEA.

A mini-cranky from the studios of Occupy Wall Street Puppetry Guild
GREG CORBINO, “The Story of Otto Pit-Sling,” a cantastoria
JOHN BELL and TRUDI COHEN, "Living Newspaper" toy theater


An underwater interpretation of hurricane events from the perspective of mermaids, seaweed serenaders, and the rest of us, with Mary Feaster, Lee Frisari, Turtle Garaufis, Meredith Holch, Daniel Lang-Levitsky, Ben Meyers, Jenny Romaine, Alma Sheppard-Matsuo, Hannah Temple, and more!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Great Small Works Spaghetti Dinner

Spooky Season!!

MONDAY, October 29, 2012
7:30 PM
TEATRO SEA, Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center
107 Suffolk Street, New York, NY
Admission:  $15 (sliding scale)
Info:  917-319-8104

Join us for an evening of spaghetti, songs, banners, crankies and puppets!

Inspired by eerie traditional folk songs of Germany, Ireland and the Balkans as well as murder ballads of the American South, New York band Villa Delirium writes and performs their own startling compositions, as well as choice covers.

Tine Kindermann: Voice, saw and violin.
John Kruth: Voice, guitar, mandolin, banjo, sitar, harmonica and flutes.
Kenny Margolis: Accordion and keyboards.
Christopher Morrow: Trombone.
Steve Bear: Pots, pans, boxes and assorted batterie.

YAEL RASOOLY, excerpts from “Paper Cut”
The language of black and white cinema is transformed to the “low–tech” universe of paper cut-outs and object theater, creating a tension that is absurd, painful and humorous.

Born in Jerusalem 1983. Yael was trained primarily as a classical singer, and went on to study theater design at the foundation program at Central St. Martins college of Art and Design, London. She began developing her unique theatrical language at the School of Visual Theater In Jerusalem, where she specialized in direction, puppetry and design during four years, graduating with excellence and awards by the city of Jerusalem.  Since 2006, Yael has been creating independent theater work and performing at International festivals throughout Europe, USA, South America, and the Far East. Her solo production Paper Cut has won several International awards and is currently on an extensive tour in festivals worldwide.

"'Paper Cut' is one of those artfully quirky solo performances that make the New York International Fringe Festival worth checking out. . .»
The NY Times, August 23, 2011

JANA ZELLER, Spybird Theater, excerpts from “Eye of the Storm”
The full-length piece will premiere in 2013, involving an elegant woman who is waiting for the return of her sailor son on a shrinking island that faces a storm. She is a rod puppet haunted by shadow visions, and her only neighbors are a set of grotesque hand puppets in their puppet booth.  This excerpt features the two hand puppets Kasper and Gretel as they bang around their domestic obstacles.

Full-length piece performed with Zak Grace.
Directed by Kali Quinn and Ines Zeller-Bass.
Hand puppet coach: Alice Boehm
Music: Anna Patton
Created with support from the Jim Henson Foundation and a commission from Sandglass Theater funded by the NEA.

A mini-cranky from the studios of Occupy Wall Street Puppetry Guild

GREG CORBINO, “The Story of Otto Pit-Sling,” a cantastoria

SAM WILSON, “Ned Talk: A Few Questions About the Newest and Most High-End Technology of the Police State,” a cantastoria

AND—underwater boat rides and creepiness by GREAT SMALL WORKS’ Seaweed Serenaders!!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Why Puppet Slams?

Listen in to leading puppet slam artists and curators who reflect on why puppet slams matter to them and join the conversation on our Facebook Page.

Playhouse Puppetry Slam #Glen Echo, MD - Pointless Theatre Co., 2011, Photo: Bruce Douglas
 I like to laugh at jokes that are on a more adult level of humor, whether it's bawdy, or sophisticated, it's still not for kids. Also I can't write a 45-minute puppet show to save my life, yet. But I can make vignette scenes that are beautiful, touching, funny, creepy, whatever. Short form puppetry happens to be my favorite sort.
- Valerie Meiss, curator

Puppet Slams are the new Vaudeville. I think young people who can be labeled “hipsters” love the new puppet world. I think older folks who always loved theater can enjoy a slam. I think yes - the slam IS important but what needs to be emphasized is that yes - there is a scrappy nature to the show but there MUST be some attempt on the part of the performers to grow, rehearse, develop, refine. It can't always be scrappy- or the audience will turn away.
Performer-At-Large #NYC

I feel like Slams fill a several important roles. It is great way to get your feet wet in the art form [of puppetry].  Other than doing full-length kid shows or doing videos online, there isn’t really another way to get started.  It is a way to try things out in front of audience and see what sticks. 
Beau Brown, curator 
the  Puckin’ Fuppet Show  #Atlanta

It’s been a great place to experiment and network.  Maintaining a space in puppetry for the adult imagination is really important as well. Though anytime I use adult and puppetry in the same sentence people just think sexy puppets. Of course its sexy puppets! (though mostly not).  Mostly I want grown-ups or anyone who feels they are too old for puppets to get excited about a cardboard box versus a Hollywood film, which does all the work for you.
- Gepetta
Performer-At-Large #Philadelphia

I think slams are a great way to introduce audiences to many different styles of puppetry and get them to realize that it's not just kid stuff.  Also, it helps audiences develop their palate.  If there is a short piece that sucks, maybe they'll learn that the piece itself was bad, not that all puppetry is bad.  Does that makes sense?... Also, I think Beau said this before, it is a good kick in the pants for artists.  Having a deadline forces you to work on that idea you've been kicking around in your head.  
- Jessica Simon, curator

Friday, August 3, 2012

History of the Puppet Slam Network

When was the very first puppet slam? Surely there must have been Paleolithic Slams or something like them with cave people projecting shadows onto their walls by torchlight to communicate where all the food was.

But when did the modern day “puppet slam” *actually* evolve from the smelly sounding potpourris of PofA festivals past, or the glitzy Vegas cabarets of short works by one artist? Were they an extension of poetry slams?
There was one person to turn to, so we conferred with John Bell, puppet historian, and founding member of Great Small Works.

UConn Puppet Slam #Storrs - John Bell, 2010, Photo: Bart. P. Roccoberton, Jr.
John believes that Puppet Slams can be traced back to The Ninth Street Theater’s Spaghetti Dinners which started in February, 1978 predating the founding of Great Small Works in 1995, (which shared many of the same members).

They never called their Spaghetti Dinners "puppet slams" - a term, which, seems to have been invented later.

John remembers, “Our spaghetti dinners pretty much always featured puppet shows in an evening of short performances that also included eating spaghetti (an influence, I believe, from the bread sharing in our common Bread and Puppet background).”

The 9th Street Theatre’s Spaghetti Dinners started out as block celebrations located in a storefront on East 9th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, that then drew in audiences from farther afield.
“The Nuyorican Cafe, a few blocks away, started doing poetry slams in 1989 (according to their website) - that's when I first became aware of something called a slam…Ninth Street Theater shifted the spaghetti dinners to P.S. 122 around 1985, with the support of the Learning Alliance and P.S. 122 director Mark Russell.…We were invited by the Henson Foundation to curate the late-night puppet cabarets at P.S. 122 for the 1992 and 1994 Jim Henson International Puppetry Festivals… Great Small Works took over presenting Spaghetti Dinners after forming in 1995, and we continue to present these events at Judson Church, One Arm Red, and other spaces in New York City." - John Bell

Kristen McLean, then artistic director of the Puppet Showplace in Brookline, MA, recalls starting “PuppetSLAM” in late 1995 (which later evolved into the Puppet Showplace Slam that is still happening today).

Nancy Smith of the Great Arizona Puppet Theatre, which hosts an Adult Puppet Slam (a slam that changes its name based on theme) in Phoenix, remembers hosting her first puppet slam with Karen Larsen at the National PofA Festival at the first St. Paul festival.

According to Nancy,
“The argument could be made that Puppet Slams, if you're defining it as short form puppetry for adults, grew out of the late night tradition of Potpourris at Puppeteer of America Festivals.”

“We came up with the name about the same time but independently of the Slams at Brookline. At that time, Great Arizona Puppet Theater was renting space from Playwrights Workshop Theater in an old church complex in central Phoenix. I was inspired by the poets who were performing across the hall from us with Poetry Slams. Having puppets always on my mind, I said something like, 'We should have Puppet Slams', and people responded to the name. I'm horrible of keeping track of times but I think our first evening of short form puppetry occurred at our present theater in the evening of a National Day of Puppetry. (1999?) I think we called it something like, "Sex, Drugs and Puppets." It was well attended but we were co-producing the whole National Day of Puppetry with the Phoenix Guild of Puppetry and some of them were horrified by the name and some even that puppetry would be adult entertainment”
It was soon after that that Vanessa Gilbert and Jeremy Woodward started Blood From A Turnip in February 1997

Blood from a Turnip poster designed by Marsian, 2005
In 2002, when Marsian moved to Providence, he saw that Perishable Theatre (now 95 Empire Street Space) was presenting Blood from a Turnip, a late night puppetry salon. Marsian saw an array of short puppet acts from students at Rhode Island School of Design, Big Nazzo, and artists affiliated with Brown and Trinity Repretoir Theatre, along with some traveling acts from Boston and New York City. Marsian had recently graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, studying performance art and then puppetry with Blair Thomas, a founding member of Red Moon Theatre and now Blair Thomas and Company. Blood from a Turnip seemed to Marsian like it would be a promising outlet to develop new work – At the time, he had only performed a handful of short puppet shows, so he contacted the host, Vanessa Gilbert to see if he could perform. After a couple times performing there, Marsian offered to help, and ended up curating and hosting 2 seasons with Vanessa until 2006 when he moved to Los Angeles to further study at Puppetry at CalArts. 

Blood from a Turnip #Providnece - Marsian & Vanessa Gilbert, 2004,  Photo: Tony Yang

Marsian and Vanessa would invite artists to perform, have tech in the early evening, cook a meal for them during one of the main stage shows at Perishable and then go on to host Blood from a Turnip from ten until about midnight. They would pay artists a cut of the door (which did not amount to very much monetarily) and would frequently host out of town performers in their living rooms. It was around that time, in 2005 that Marsian met Heather Henson, who had previously lived in Providence when she attended RISD. She had been an early supporter of Blood from a Turnip soon after it started in 1997.

“The Puppet Slam Network came out of my love for short form puppet works…” - Heather
Marsian met Heather again at the National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center (a breeding ground for puppet slam acts - if anyone is interested in refining their work, please check out the National Puppetry Conference) and then worked together during a puppet residency with Janie Geiser at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida. Heather had been quietly supporting a handful of Puppet Slams throughout the country, mostly concentrated in the Northeast with modest slam grants.
“They were giving people opportunities… and they were selling out! They were popular. They were hitting a new audience.” - Heather

She asked Marsian to design a website to help link up the puppet slams with puppet artists and the people who love them and so Marsian started By 2009, Marsian recognized that was more than just a website, it was a community, a movement, and in 2009 renamed it the Puppet Slam Network. The Puppet Slam Network now follows over 70 Puppet Slams in North America (including the US, Canada and Puerto Rico), Europe, and Austalia.
In 2009 Honey Goodenough started the wildly infectious Puppet Pandemic, a touring slam based in New York City, which raises scholarship money for the National Puppet Conferency at the O'Neill Theatre Center. In 2011 Beau Brown started hosting the National Puppet Slam. 
And so started the contemporary Puppet Slam Movement...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

National Puppet Slam #ATL

Beau Brown hosts The 2012 National Puppet Slam at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta Friday August 3rd at 8:00PM and Saturday, August 4th at 8PM.  For more information, call 404-873-3391 or visit

Experience the beauty, ingenuity, and hilarity of short-form puppet theater in this showcase of puppet slam acts from across the United States. Nominated by their respective slams, then curated by The Puppet Slam Network and the Center for Puppetry Arts, the nation’s best slam performances will be presented for two nights only!  
The lineup includes: Travis Lope #Auburn #NY,  Katie McClenahan #Portland #OR,  Gregg van Lanningham  #Atlanta, Therese Schorn #Ossining #NJ, Carla Rhodes #Brooklyn, Leila Ghaznavi #Philadelphia, Gwendolyn Bonar #Phoenix, Lyon Hill #Columbia #SC, Honey Goodenough #Brooklyn, and Spencer Lott #Kansas City 

Marsian: Why are you excited about the National Puppet Slam?
Beau Brown: I am excited to have so many talented slam artists all in place for the public to see. It was great doing it at the Nationals Festival last year for the puppeteer community and this year we get to share it with the public. I think that having it at a important puppet institution like the Center for Puppetry Arts is a wonderful way to continue to legitimize short form puppetry. People who would come and see adult programming at the Center might not go to a smaller local slam.

Marsian:  Why have a National Puppet Slam?
Beau Brown: I think it important to recognize excellence in our field. Right now UNIMA and PofA don’t really take much notice of short form and it is my hope that, as the tradition of the National Slam continues, acceptance into the show is considered an honor and something that the artists should feel extremely proud of. It is the Oscars of puppet slam! Also doing it at the Center gives these artists a chance to perform on the main stage of the Center for Puppetry Arts which without doing a full length show is not an opportunity that these artists might otherwise get.

Marsian: How do you see this selection showcasing where this movement going?
BB: I think that the lineup truly reflects the diversity in slam performances and puppetry styles. Just like the National Slam last year it shows that puppets slams aren’t just “naughty puppets”.

Marsian: It sounds like people are coming from all over the country...
BB: I have! It is so exciting to see members of the puppetry community making the trip. I am putting up some of them at my place and other members of the Atlanta puppet community have stepped forward to host some out of town guests.
Lets take a closer look at the performers...

Travis Lope #Auburn #NY
Travis Lope is a performer, puppet designer, and a costume designer and technician. Favorite credits include working with Dr. Cosby on Cosby, Lewis Black in Black Humor and Lorenzo Lamos in Dracula. Travis particularly enjoys building larger than life puppets. Ranging from dragon heads and dinosaurs to a 31-foot tall, cable controlled Giant for Ronald Dahl’s BFG. Travis’s work has been featured in commercials for the Connecticut State Lottery and Bob's Discount Furniture.  He recently finished graduate school at the University of Connecticut. The Enchanted Vanity Set has been performed in four different states.

Katie McClenahan #Portland #OR
Katie's love affair with puppets was sparked by a certain green, Balinese sea captain puppet named Captain Clamp. He and Katie were part of a roving pirate, puppet rock opera band consortium called Jollyship the Whiz-bang. After years of touring, Katie departed the high seas to find her land-lubbing ways were far more productive. Currently residing in Portland, Oregon, Katie runs Beady Little Eyes, a puppet event company that specializes in keeping adult short-form puppetry alive in the Pacific Northwest. 

Gregg van Lanningham #Atlanta
Gregg Van Laningham is a puppeteer who got his start in the world of puppet slams. He has written and performed dozens of shows over the course of the past two years, and currently works as a freelance puppeteer in Atlanta with a specialty in science education. Gregg often collaborates with his best friend and creative partner Qate Bean, and together the two of them have performed for audiences ranging from a 4-year-old's birthday party to a crowd of hundreds at Dragon*Con. Gregg earned a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Georgia Tech.

Therese Schorn #Ossining #NJ
Therese Schorn is a NY based puppeteer, clown and designer. She most recently performed in Puppet Art Attacks. She also performed and taught at the 2011 International Yunlin Puppet Festival in Taiwan. She is a 23 year veteran of the Big Apple Circus Clown Care bringing puppetry music and clowning to hospitalized children. Shows include A Village of Fools (Theater for the New City) and Peaceable Kingdom ,a puppet and physical theater play with a cast of 2.4 children. She also constructs and performs with giant puppets for Nyack’s Halloween Parade.
Carla Rhodes #Brooklyn
Carla Rhodes has been practicing the art of ventriloquism since the age of 9, after seeing Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop on television and to her absolute delight, was later mentored by her hero. Throughout her teens, Carla performed all over her hometown of Louisville. She has been living and performing in New York City since 2004, at such legendary venues such as Joe's Pub. Recently, Carla performed a full-length rock'n'roll ventriloquism show, The Continuing Story of Carla Rhodes. Time Out New York proclaims the show “is an idiosyncratic neo-retro blend of ventriloquism, rock music and comic storytelling" and she “throws her voice like a curveball, bringing old-school ventriloquism skills to new-school puppets (including one of Keith Richards).”  

Leila Ghaznavi #Philadelphia
Leila Ghaznavi is an actor, puppeteer and playwright currently based in Philadelphia. She has been featured as an emerging artist at The National Puppetry Conference at The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center and her original multi-media puppet work, Silken Veils, received five stars and was nominated for best new work at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Silken Veils has been featured on the Leonard Lopate Show, BBC Persia, and Voice of America. Her featured work, Remembrances was presented at 2011 Puppetry Festival, UNIMA Day in NYC, and the Puppet Pandemic Slam in Philadelphia. Leila Ghaznavi has an M.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts.

Gwendolyn Bonar #Phoenix
Gwen is a second generation puppeteer who started puppetry as soon as she was able to walk and talk. A professional puppeteer from the Great Arizona Puppet Theater, she has performed all around the state of Arizona as well as numerous guest performances at theaters around the country. She has also had the pleasure to perform internationally, including Kazahkstan this Fall. 

Lyon Hill #Columbia #SC
Lyon takes his inspiration from comics, animation, pop up books, view master reels, and other graphic arts. In his work, he combines these diverse mediums to create new hybrids.  Supine is a nightmare experienced by his wife. Small paper puppets are projected large scale to tell the surreal story of a woman being chased through a desolate city by a shadowy figure.
Honey Goodenough #Brooklyn
Honey Goodenough is a New York City based puppeteer, producer, costume designer, educator, clown, and magician. She earned her MA in Educational Theater from NYU. She has produced many puppetry related events including the premiere of Puppet Rampage (Puppeteers of America Festival Documentary film). Honey has co-curated Emerging Artist Theater's Laugh Out Loud: Clown and Puppetry Festival in 2009, the Voice 4 Vision Puppet Slams hosted at The Theater for the New City in 2011, as well as the UNIMA USA: Celebration of World Puppetry, hosted by Teatro Sea. She is a three-time recipient of the Puppet Slam Network grant to produce Puppet Pandemic, a showcase of puppetry works developed during The National Puppetry Conference at The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, which supports the Alumni Scholarship, to help artists create more short form puppetry. Honey has been touring from Brooklyn to Brookline, Austin to Boston and throughout the Puppet Slam Network for the past four years. 

Spencer Lott is a freelance puppeteer. He develops and produces commercials and online video content as well as live stage productions. This summer his work was on display at the Springfield Art Association and his original puppet shows The Bicycle Brothers from Ohio and Bigfoot’s Magical Moped are now in development. Recently Spencer has performed in Puppet Slams in Kansas City, New York City and Chicago. After the National Puppet Slam, Spencer will return to Kansas City where he will act in Theatre Gym’s adaptation of The Miser by Moliere.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Tommy Cannon on the Yanky Panky Puppet Slam #Phoenix

Tommy Cannon has hosted and performed in many of the puppet slams at the Great Arizona Puppet Theater in downtown Phoenix, telling dirty jokes downloaded from the internet with his sock puppet, Hector. He will be performing in the Yanky Panky Puppet Slam at Great Arizona Puppet Theatre July 6th & 7th. 

2010, photo: Diana Welsch

Marsian: How long have you performed at Puppet Slams. Tell us about the first one.?

Tommy Cannon: I have performed in GAPT's puppet slams since April of 2002. The first slam was nuts and funny. We had no idea what we were doing. My friends and I did a piece that I wrote called "Finger War" it was about a magical land where all of the disembodied fingers of shop teachers go. It was very fun and our puppets and props fell apart as we performed with them.

M: How do your puppet slam pieces tie into the other kinds of puppetry, performance or your art-life at large?
TC: ...I have had opportunities to perform slam pieces at other venues in different contexts. I've performed slam pieces in art show openings, concerts, and variety shows at Space 55, the Eye Lounge, and The Trunk Space. The improv community here in Phoenix has seen anumber of improvised puppet shows as well... all because of GAPT's slams.

M: What cities have you performed in puppet slams or cabarets in?
TC: I've only performed in slams in Phoenix, Tucson, and St. Paul, MN. So, the furthest and most exotic for me would be St. Paul. It's totally not a desert there and it's so... it's so.... GREEN!

M: What's the funniest, freakiest, edgiest, or weirdest show you have seen?
TC: One time I saw a character named Oscar the Otter describe the etymology of the word c*nt.

M: Sounds edutaining What was the worst puppet slam you performed?
TC:  One time a certain troupe from a certain town two hours from Phoenix sent up some very rookie/ unprofessional performers. Thankfully they were on last because 75% of the audience left during their set.

M: If you were to form a puppet slam circuit near you for touring, what slams/cities would this include?
TC: I am grotesquely unfamiliar with what the other cities are doing. So, route would be uninformed. I guess I'd like to visit San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Austin... does that sound good to you?

M: Sure, there is Adult Puppet Cabaret hosted by Animal Cracker Conspiracy in San Diego, Puppetzilla in Los Angeles and soon Cabaret Automata in LA as well. Tell us about a fabulous failure (at a slam) and what you've learned from it.
TC: One time I hosted a slam wearing a banana mask and told an Aristocrats joke. It was horrible. It taught me to keep the crazy at bay. People just want things to be a little bit naughty and a little bit weird. They didn't pay their admission to go to the asylum with me.

M: Why are Puppet Slams important to you? What gap do they fill? 

"Puppet Slams provide a short form of visual theater that is satisfying in a way that no other entertainment is. They fill the gap of giving grown up audiences the same fun visuals you can get with children's TV or an art museum visit in a live show."

M:  What inspires you to create a puppet slam piece?
TC: Deadlines.

M: Any other slam artists you are inspired by? 
TC: Gwen Bonar with her Oscar the Otter pieces inspire me because they are so damn funny. She does those pieces with perfect timing. It's her timing with that character that blows me away.

P.S. The Oscar the Otter pieces involve a 5 year old otter boy teaching us grown up lessons on things that would be inappropriate for a 5 year old (or anyone) to talk about.

M: What pieces do you have in circulation?
TC: Oh I have five Mount Rushmore pieces that I do. As you've probably gathered, I have the Presidents of Mount Rushmore talk to each other to comedic effect. I also do a number of Bible related shows with Dain Gore. Also, with Dain Gore, I do a piece called "Tristan's Tale" which is about zombie art school.

M: Wow, zombie art school - that hits close to home. Where can people contact you to perform?
TC: If you wish to perform in GAPT's slams give the staff a call at (602)262-2050 or write to them at

M: Where would you like to see the Puppet Slam Network in the future?
TC: Still going strong.

M: What advice do you have for up and coming slam artists?
TC: Go to the Phoenix Guild of Puppetry to get connected with people. Make a video of yourself working and send it to GAPT. If they like it they may put you on. Find your thing. I'm not much of a puppet builder or manipulator, but I'm pretty funny. So, I sell that.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Nancy Smith on the Yanky Panky Puppet Slam #Phoenix

Nancy Smith is the curator of Adult Puppet Slam in Phoenix and director of the Great Arizona Puppet Theater where she is a writer and performer.

Prakash Bhatt performs at Adult Puppet Slam #Phoenix, 2011, Photo: Nancy Smith

Marsian: So you are hosting the Yankee Panky Puppet Slam in July? 

Nancy Smith: Yes, we are. It will be July 6 and 7 (1st Friday and Saturday of July). That's about all we know right now. It will probably have an Independence Day kind of theme.

M: You change the name of the Adult Puppet Slam based on a theme, correct? What are some of the more memorable slam names?
NS: We change our name generally based on the season or current events.  This past December it was The Naughty List Puppet Slam. We had a pirate themed slam called The Pillage and Plunder Pirate Puppet Slam.  In the summer we've used, Steamy Sticky, Hot and Sweaty, and Sweaty Butt Puppet Slam. When the world didn't end last year, we had the Left Behind Puppet Slam. Seeing as this is Arizona, we've also had a Are Your Papers In Order Puppet Slam

M: What inspired you to start hosting puppet slams?
NS: We had ideas for puppet pieces for adults. We stole the name Slam from the poets, although our Slams are not structured like a Poetry Slam. We just liked the name. Coincidentally, it was about the same time that the people in Brookline came up with the same name and general concept.

M: Have you performed at other slams?
NS: Karen Larson and I organized the first Puppet Slam at a National PofA Festival at the first St. Paul festival and I performed at it as well. I also performed at the first Atlanta Festival slam.

Editor Note: There have been a number of claims to the very first puppet slam. We have been talking with all of parties and puppet historian John Bell. It appears that Great Small Works Spaghetti Dinners have been happening since 1985, The Puppet Showplace Puppet Slam since 1995, and Blood From a Turnip since 1996  This is a developing story and we hope to have more of an answer in an upcoming blog post.

M: How does what you do at the puppet slam tie into the other kinds of performance you do at the theater?
NS: Some of the audience comes from the regular shows at the theater. We often use puppets in the slam that we have for our other shows, and occasionally will do an adult take-off of one of our shows.

M: How did you get the Great Arizona Puppet Theater?
NS: We were renting an old fire station that we had fixed up to be a theater. Then the landlord wanted it back so we started looking for a place we could buy. We wanted a central location, high ceilings so we could do our large rod puppet shows, adequate parking and we thought it'd be great to have a historic building near a park. Driving around, we saw just that - but it was owned by the highway department and they were renting it to the historic society for storage for only $350 a year. I said we'd like that deal and we'd fix it up and open it to the public. They said it was leased until 2020 unless someone wanted to buy it so I swallowed hard and said we wanted to buy it. They said put it in writing, which I did, and 4 years later they declared it excess property. In the meantime, we continued to perform year-round at various rented spaces.

M: Full disclosure: I've stayed there when I performed at the slam in 2009. Its the only time I have slept overnight in a church and its quite a lovely space.
NS: Once they had the appraisal they gave us about 5 months to put together a deal. The building had to be sold to a public entity (such as a city) at the appraised value or it would go up for public auction. The Parks Department wanted us there as an anchor to the park, as did the Preservation Commission, since they knew we were serious about renovation. So Phoenix Historic Preservation bought it at the appraised value and immediately resold it to us. We had to get permission from City Council to do the deal. Then it took us 3 years of renovation to get the building open.

M: Tell us about a fabulous failure (at a slam) and what you've learned from it. 
NS: We have regular performers at our slams and I got a call from a member of a group who had not performed for some time that they had a new piece and would we be interested. I said yes, and agreed to pay travel expenses for a new piece. When they showed up, NONE of the original performers were with the group. They were TERRIBLE. The piece was long, obviously unrehearsed and pretty much pornographic and tasteless. The audience left in droves and a couple of people posted very negative reviews on-line. Aaaaagh!  What did I learn? Ask who will be performing and what they're doing if I haven't seen them in awhile.

M: Why do you think Puppet Slams are relevant in today's world?
NS: There is so much high tech available today that the very low tech world of live puppetry is refreshingly spontaneous and real.

M: What inspires you to create a puppet slam piece?
NS: Sometimes current events inspire. Sometimes I realize there's a back story for a puppet in a children's show that could be explored.
M: What pieces do you have in circulation to perform in puppet slams?
NS: A lot of my pieces have a short shelf life since I do a lot of political pieces and many of these are about Arizona - we have ample material here.
M: Someone really *has* to make a puppet of Jan Brewer.
NS: The pieces that would translate to other locales or times are monologues by characters, such as Fairytale Mother in which Rapunzel's mother reflects on losing her child and how fairy tale mothers are overlooked. Turtle Talk is about an angst ridden turtle who talks about sexual identity and loneliness.

M: Where can people contact you to perform? 
NS: 602-262-2050 or

M:  What are you looking forward to?
NS: We greatly appreciate the funding and use it to bring in performers from afar. We'd like to have more performers coming in. The weather's great here in the winter and unforgettable in the summer!

M: What advice do you have for up and coming slam artists or performers who are just starting out?

 "Be good, have a reasonable set-up, and be easy to get along with."

M: Anything else we should know?
NS: We have a guest room in the theater and a limited budget for travel expenses. We especially like to book guest artists who can perform a children's show and an adult piece for our slams. We hold our slams most first Fridays and Saturdays

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Future of Puppet Slams

Leading Puppet Slam Artists reflect on where they see the Puppet Slam movement in the future. Where do you see the Puppet Slam movement in the future? Join the conversation on our Facebook Page.

Dolly Wiggler Cabaret #Calgary, The Wind Up Arsenal, 2011, Photo: Sean Dennie

Roxie Myhrum, curator of Puppet Showplace Slam #Brookline
I see more collaboration between puppeteers and musicians. Puppet Playlist did this successfully, and many of our regular performers are musicians themselves or are tapped into the musician community. And puppet shows are infinitely better with live music.

Honey Goodenough, curator of PuppetPandemic
 I’m constantly surprised by the support this movement has inspired. With the help of many friends from the PSN, I have partnered with other Slams to tour Puppet Pandemic:

I would really love to see some of our young puppeteers get to work the circuit nationally and bring back here what they learn.  And now that I’ve produced a slam I’d love to return to Atlanta where I was at best a fringe meteor to the puppet scene and watch the slams there with a whole new perspective.  As for the future of the Puppet Slam Network, I’ll probably look like an idiot if I make any predictions.

Beau Brow, curator of the  Puckin’ Fuppet Show
The Puppet Slam at DragonCon and the National Puppet Slam  #Atlanta 
I would love to see a puppet slam tour, it would be a feat to find time when enough people were available to do it, but a week or so touring up a coast or the Midwest, or somewhere, putting on puppet shows and maybe workshopping in cities to help them start puppet slams would be a really lovely endeavor.

I also like the idea of encouraging slams to get video projectors and screens and have a system where slams can show other slam's work, either as filler, if it's needed, or to show some brilliant show that just happened in Seattle to the fine folks of Asheville, because how else will they get to see it?

Alissa Hunnicut, guest curator of New Brew #Brooklyn
 I really appreciate what the Puppet Slam Network does with financial granting for the people who produce slams on a regular basis.  I found out the hard way with my first producing experience how much money it costs to do a full slam in a theater space out of pocket when you pay your puppeteers, lighting designer, sound designer, publicity, programs, host, etc.  If we want people to produce evenings of high quality theater, the financial help that the network is doing is so important.

I love the communication that has opened up between slams cultivated by the Slam Network. It's a great resource for a new performer to find performance opportunities if they aren't tapped into those in their area.  I hope the network continues to grow its support of the individual performer along with the producers.  Offering ways to showcase their work (maybe individual pages with a simple CMS performers can use to generate a profile), and perhaps offering financial support for developing new short form puppetry is an area that could be considered.

Valeska Populoh, curator of Puppet Slamwich! #Baltimore:
More slams in more cities so that it is easier for people to tour from one site to another. We still need to get better at coordinating our dates with other slam sites, though! This can be tough, since many slams are organized by a volunteer crew of folks with other jobs.  The Puppet Slam Network really helps us get a bigger picture of what is happening along the East Coast in the coming few months!

Evan O'Television, host of Blood from a Turnip #Providence
I would like to see the Puppet Slam Network continuing it's current trajectory.  It's pretty inspiring to see it grow.  And I would like to see more and more of the Puppet Slam Network in person.  Namely, I would absolutely love to have a majority of the shows I do in 2013 to be at Slams around the country.  Puppet shows and puppet audiences have always been my favorite crowds.

Special thanks to Paul Eide from Puppetry Journal for helping to edit this entry.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Where Do You Find Inspiration?

If genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, what makes these leading slam artists sweat?
Nasty, Brutish & Short: a Puppet Cabaret #Chicago - Davey K, Ian Fullerton, Stephen Lieto, 2011 Photo: Links Hall
Deborah Hunt, curator of Sobre la Mesa #SanJuan
The shortness of time inspires me. To create a succinct piece that adds to an evening’s intrigue gets my juices going.

Valerie Meiss, curator of the Wham Bam Puppet Slam #Asheville
beauty, chaos, unfinished stories in my head, songs, friends of mine, relationships, odd facts I recall from history class... anything and everything!

Alissa Hunnicut, guest curator of New Brew #Brooklyn
For me it almost always starts with a song.  Something that when I hear the song I "see" something, usually a moment, a single image that becomes the jumping off point visually.

Lana Schwarcz, curator of Slam Noir #Melbourne
I was inspired by attending the National Puppet Slam in Atlanta when I visited in 2011. I saw the great work that was created by the themed slams in the US and the strong community that it created, and I started to feel upset that we didn't have that same sense of community here in Australia. 

Alexander Winfield, curator of the Pirate Puppet Cabaret #London
Inspiration can come from many sources: a banal occurrence seen while walking home, a dream, a piece from a history book. Who knows? Inspiration is a funny beast.

Carole D’Agostino, performer-at-large #NYC
Different things. One of the most common questions I get is “What style do you work in?” This depends on the story I need to tell. I have a peacock marionette that was inspired by a trip to a sculpture garden. My shadow show about science was developed at the Puppet Playlist, so music inspired that one. My old show about Icarus was inspired by my father's death. It's all life based, like anything. I won't just throw a piece together for nothing though. All of my shows are storyboarded, well rehearsed and have something valuable to offer the audience.

Beau Brow, curator of the  Puckin’ Fuppet Show  #Atlanta 
For me it was crucial to have a deadline. I would love to be the kind of artist who is inspired to build puppets and write shows because it just came to me, but I’m not.  I have to sit down, usually with someone else and say, “Okay we need a show.”  The structure of the slams gives me the kick in the pants and I need to write something.  Since puppetry is the synthesis of all art forms (visual art, voice, and movement), it opens so many doors to so many different kinds of artists.  Puppetry allows us to tell any story we can imagine… ANY. The possibilities are truly endless. The only other art form that I think allows that is animation.  I would love to have the patience to do animation, but I don’t.  So puppetry allows me to tell those stories. However most of those stories aren’t an hour long.  So how else can I get them front of a live audience? Puppet Slam. 

Evan O'Television, host of Blood from A Turnip #Providence
I wish I knew where my ideas came from so that I might burn a fire under them and become magically way more prolific.   Most of my ideas are about situations I can imagine the TV and I struggling with onstage.  If you have seen any of my performances, it's pretty clear that they are all built around a some performance goal that is thwarted or that the TV and I ultimately become distracted from in some way, or ultimately fail at. 

I also always like to play with breaking the audience boundaries and pursuing new ways to interact with the audience, because the more I do that, the less restricted and trapped I feel by the fact that I am performing with a recording.  Finally, in recent years, I have looked for new ways that circumstantially or plot-wise my live-performer character can sometimes get the upper hand or grab some power from the TV, because the Evan on the television is so often the more charismatic comedic star of my show.   I like to occasionally have the straight-man win one

Jessica Simon, curator of Nasty, Brutish & Short: A Puppet Cabaret #Chicago
I'm inspired by (and a bit jealous of) Connor Hopkins and Carolin Reck down in Austin [hosts of Austin Puppet Incident].  Not only are they creating awesome long-form work, but they've created a great little puppetry community that works together creating short pieces for their slams.  From what I understand they host regular open shop nights and anyone who wants to can come in try something out.  I'd love to have a regular workshop time for people to collaborate.  There is somewhat of a community here in Chicago, and it's growing [with Puppet Meltdown], but I'd love to mix it up even more and have a dedicated time and place for people to come together.  

Special thanks to Paul Eide from Puppetry Journal for helping to edit this entry.