Thursday, February 16, 2012

Jessica Simon Gets Nasty, Brutish & Short (well... sort of)

Jessica's work has been seen at the Austin Puppet Incident, Toy Theatre After Dark Festival in Minneapolis, the National Slam in Atlanta, Puppet Playlist in NYC, and Nasty, Brutish & Short Puppet Cabaret (NB&S) in Chicago.  She co-curates NB&S and serves on the Artistic Direction Committee for PuppetFestival (r)Evolution

2012,  photo: Marielle Solan (at Puppet Playlist)

Marsian: What was your entry into the world of Puppet Slams?

Jessica Simon: I'm pretty new to slams - I've only been involved for about a year.  My friends Dan and Lizi performed my piece The Talleys at the first NB&S in March of last year.  I was excited to revisit my participant piece from the O'Neill Puppetry Conference.

M: What cities have you performed in Puppet Slams in?
JS: Ive performed at slams in Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Austin.  I got a bruise on my head from a flying piece of chocolate at the National Slam in Atlanta...

M: What lead you to become a Slam curator? What would you say is distinctive about Nasty Brutish and Short?
JS: I sort of inherited my spot with Nasty, Brutish & Short.  Seth Bockley and Julia Miller curated the first one and before the second one in the fall Julia asked if I'd like to help out because Seth had a lot of other projects on his plate.  One thing that I've been particularly interested in trying to make happen at each one is having an out of town guest artist.  We've hosted artists from Minneapolis, Indianapolis, and I'm super excited that we have not one, but three visiting artists from Kansas City and Brooklyn for our upcoming show March 5th! I'm grateful to the Puppet Slam Network for helping us make that happen.

M: Where would you say you are in a Puppet Slam Circuit?
JS: I know there are a couple that happen in Minneapolis, but I don't think that constitutes a circuit...

M: Yes! There’s actually two in Minneapolis: Forthe Love of Puppets and Full Moon Puppet Cabaret. I have also recently learned that St. Paul started hosting one as well.
JS: Super!

Why do you think Puppet Slams are important? What gap are they filling that is not filled by other forms of puppetry? Who cares?

JS:  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? 

M: Puppets don’t suck… People do!
JS: 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.

M: Do you have any upcoming slams you plan on performing at or organizing?

JS:  Our next cabaret is March 5th!

M: Well stay tuned to our calendar to find out more details (sign up here)! . . .Jessica, what actually motivates you to create a puppet slam piece?
JS:  I have a little notebook where I jot down ideas and that's where a lot of those ideas die.... having that slam deadline is an excuse try some of them out.

M: So sad when ideas die…  Now who would you say on the circuit is killer?
JS: 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.

M: What pieces do you have in circulation to perform in puppet slams? And where can people reach you if they want to ask you to perform?
JS: The Talleys is a 2 person tabletop piece that follows the changes in the lives of a couple and Mustachioed Pistachio is about a nut that has his mustache stolen. I can be reached at
M: Where do you want to see the Puppet Slam Network in the Future?
JS: Like I said before, I'm grateful to the Slam Network for providing opportunities for artists travel, myself included.  I'd love to see that continue and expand. 
M: What advice do you have for up-and-coming slam performers?
JS: Try and see a lot of stuff, talk to people after shows, ask veterans to do something with you. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Open Call - Beady Little Eyes #Portland

via Katie McClenahan of Beady Little Eyes Puppet Slam #Portland #OR - deadline April 1st

Performance: April 20th

Hi Puppeteers of all shapes and sizes!

Submissions are now open for the next Portland Slam-a-ganza!

WHERE: Funhouse Lounge - 2432 SE 11th (just north of Division)

WHEN: Friday, April 20 @ 8pm AND MAYBE, Saturday April 21st @ 10pm (if interest is strong enough for two nights in a row, great..otherwise, just the Friday night)

THEME: Heroes & Villians

FOR LIVE ACT SUBMISSIONS: Please email your proposed puppet show in a short 2-3 sentence synopsis. It can be a show you've already done or a new piece that you have yet to work on. (Example: I want to perform a piece about a lobster who saves his best friend, Clammy, from a dark, watery death. Hero!) If we are not already familiar with your work, please send pictures of your past work or a website/youtube link. Your past work does not have to be puppets; it can be paintings or collage or sculpture, something to show what you can do.
 All shows must be 2 - 8 minutes in length and must relate to the theme: Heroes and Villians. Tell me which night you can/want to perform! Or both!

FOR FILM SUBMISSIONS: Please send a youtube/vimeo link to You may also mail a DVD.

Send all submissions to: and PLEASE specify which night you are available or if you are interested in both nights! You do NOT have to have two different shows to perform on both nights.

Please submit your shows by April 1st to be considered.

If you travel from outside of Portland, let's talk about a travel stipend!

Thank you and have a heroic day

Soiree in Great Small Works studio 2/19/12

Next in our series for the sharing of developing work. Come share a story or a drink. It's entirely free!

Sunday, February 19, 2012 at 7:30 PM
20 Jay Street, Room 214, DUMBO, Brooklyn, NY

Committed presenters are:

ERIN BELL, musician/performer/philosopher
Do Right Belly Fire, Do Right Monkey Brain
An exploration of desire and love -- based on texts by Deleuze and Guattari, P. Chodron, and various neuroscientists and psychoanalysts, including Golden Retriever love affairs, babies, and a cockroach opera.

Extracts from the film Paradise Ends Here, and ode to totemistic creatures who trek to the beach and two friends that tramp with them. As they trek the desolate winter landscape their cameras capture images of the shadows of last summer and the sounds of the spirit of the cyclone ripping through tarps. Coney Island, before we even met you held me captive.

Scenes from a developing one-man show about the life and work of Walt Whitman.

Madame Schnuckenack - This puppet piece in progress is the story of an elegant woman--a rod puppet--who waits by the sea side for the return of her sailor son. She is haunted by shadows of his life. She has to put up with two obnoxious hand puppets who inhabit the same pier where she camps out. The excerpt is a scene out of the life of the two hand puppets, Kasper and Schatzie.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valeska Populoh serves Baltimore flavor with Puppet Slamwich!

PSN dishes it up with German-born curator, Valeska Populoh, who serves up Baltimore flavor with Puppet Slamwich! When Valeska isn’t curating Slamwich or teaching in the Fiber Department at the MICA, she is busy as a cultural organizer and performing artist, herself. In 2011, Valeska co-curated Transmodern Festival. She has also collaborated with Black Cherry Puppet Theater, Nanaprojects, Bread and Puppet Theater and GreatSmall Works

Marsian: How did you enter the world of Puppet Slams?
VP: I have performed at a couple of slams and puppet cabarets, beginning as a human puppet host back in 2006. I have performed at Black Cherry slams in Baltimore and at the Puppet Pandemic when it came to the Puppet Co. in Glen Echo. I am more so involved in the curation of the Slamwich! at Black Cherry Puppet Theater now, trying to build the puppet community (performers and audience) here.

M: Where did you get the idea to host Puppet Slamwich?
Marsian talked me into it.

M: Flattery will get you everywhere with me, but seriously..
VP: No - Seriously. We have a great little puppet theater in Baltimore. There were some folks organizing cabarets and events featuring puppetry for a while in Baltimore - including Maestro Sensational, a kind of puppet variety show that was a big hit.  After some of the artists left town, the shows were no longer happening and people really seemed to miss these puppet performance events, since there was really nothing quite like it in Baltimore.   I was making performances myself that were related to puppetry and had friends in the art community that were equally interested in puppetry.

M: You had mentioned that you traveled a lot and saw the puppet scenes in other cities…
VP: New York, but I had a much smaller community to draw on in Baltimore, so organizing regular shows was tough.  Over the years, I had built relationships with puppeteers along the East Coast through my involvement with Black Cherry, The Puppet Company, Nanaprojects, Great Small Works and Bread and Puppet. Occasionally, a couple of out-of-towners would come through Baltimore - like RPM Puppet Conspiracy from VT and Austin, and we started to build shows around these touring performers.

M: It seemed like when we met at the O’Neill Puppetry Conference in 2010, you  were starting to go in a new direction with puppetry..
VP: We spoke about the scene in Baltimore. You encouraged us to apply [for a Slam Grant] - which we did. And so, by committing to a certain number of dates each year, we really needed to get on the ball with recruiting performers. The first few were tough, since our pool was small. But with time, more and more people who may not even have worked in 'puppetry' before started making work for the slams, inspired by the work they saw. More and more people have gotten wind of the slams, and have approached us about performing here, which is GREAT!

M: What other Puppet Slam Artists are you inspired by?
VP: RPM Puppet Conspiracy from VT and TX is great. Their shows are usually a little bit longer than the average slam performance. They just have a great sense of timing. Their shows tackle serious topics but are always  a riot.  

KathyFahey is a lovely performer, too. So different. She creates very short pieces - crankies with paper cut shadows that she unscrolls as she sings.

Porch Puppets (C. Ryan Patterson, Rachel Valsing and Mary Pulcinella) just started here in Baltimore. They are artists and were regulars at our slams and were really inspired by the work they saw and started to make shows. Their most recent overhead projector shadow show was based on the children's story Millions of Cats. The puppets were gorgeous, and the story sweet and funny. 

M: What pieces do you have in circulation to perform in puppet slams?
VP: I have a piece called Professor Bluegill and His Harbor School of Fish. I perform dressed in a giant fish head and suit, as Professor Bluegill, and read a cautionary tale to my pupils about the perils of the Chesapeake Bay. The piece is mobile, since the School of Fish is mounted on the back of a bike. 

M: Where can people contact you to perform?
VP: or

M: Where do you see the future of Puppet Slams?
VP: 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!

What advice do you have for Puppet Slam Artists who are just starting out?

VP: Go watch a lot of performers. See what makes people laugh and respond. See what works and what doesn't. Don't be discouraged if your first performances flop or have flaws. Keep performing and making more work and seeing more work and talking to other performers in order to learn and grow!

Geeking out on Puppet Slams with Beau Brown

In our latest Lives of the Slam Artists series, PSN interviews Beau Brown, curator of Atlanta’s Puckin’ Fuppet Show, The Puppet Slam at DragonCon and the National Puppet Slam

Beau has been involved in Puppet Slams for the past decade. The Puckin’ Fuppet Show is one of PSN's more prolific slams, clocking in at eight slams per year. Recently, Beau curated the very first National Puppet Slam, showcasing some of the best Slam pieces from the PSN, at the National Puppetry Festival. The next National Slam will be August 3rd – 5th , 2012 at the Center for Puppetry Arts.
photo courtesy of Beau Brown
Marsian: So, when did you start performing at Puppet Slams?

Beau Brown: My first puppet slam piece was when I fresh out of college and had just moved back to atlanta from Dallas in 2002. It was at the Puppet Slam at Dad’sGarage Theatre. It was called Beef and it was about a small army of steaks liberating some other steaks from a cow.

M: Sounds like a serious political piece... And what are some other Puppet Slams you have performed at? 
BB: We do some many slams here in Atlanta.  I have no idea how many I have done now. I have performed in Slams in Atlanta, Asheville, New York City, and New Jersey. I have had some of my videos and films screen in other cities. I suppose New York City is the furthest I have physically gone. I think the most rewarding was the first National Slam at the Puppet Festival last year. I have received such great feedback from both other puppeteers being inspired to start their own slams back in their cities because of it, and from the older generation of puppeteers who had never really understood what Puppet Slams were about, thinking it was just a bunch of cussing puppets with no real artistic merit. I think they got a better understanding of the short form puppetry format and that Slams aren’t just “Potpourris.”Just being able to bring together some of the most talented puppeteers out there and get them all on stage together was a real honor.    

M: Where did you get the idea to host Puppet Slams?
BB: Lucky Yates at Dad’s Garage Theatre in Atlanta started one of the oldest slams in the country [after Great Small Work's Spaghetti Dinners - running since 1985]. That and another show at that theatre called Late Night Creepy Horror, which was more of a variety show that was heavy on puppets.  I had never had any real formal puppetry training and sort of cut my chops at his shows for many years. It was a really supportive fun environment that focused more on comedy rather than “high puppet art.” That slam was four times a year and it really gave me a deadline and a reason to write shows.

It was at the slam that I created the piece that would later become my web series The Sci-Fi Janitors. About three years ago, Caroline Masclet started The Puckin’ Fuppet Show, which was a competitive slam with cash prizes.  After a few shows she moved to France and asked if anyone wanted to take over and keep the show going.  I volunteered.  At first I didn’t host the show.  I just organized it and had local actors, puppeteers, and stand up comics host it.  It was after hosting at the National Festival, where I had such a good time that I started hosting my own slam.  The Slam at Dad’s Garage was a sort of best of Atlanta’s puppeteers getting together to put on a show.  The Puckin’ Fuppet Show is much more like a loose open mic amateur hour type event where new people are encouraged to give it a shot.  Like I say at the show, “Atlanta has a lot of really incredible puppet art, this isn’t it” I usually have no idea what the show is even going to look like until about an hour before it starts and everybody who is going to perform has shown up. Which is really stressful and nerve wracking but I just try and remind myself that it always works out.

M: When do Puppet Slams go wrong? 
BB: I have been at some slams that have done a great job of pushing the envelope only to have been criticized for it. The idea of censoring a puppet slam goes against every bone in my body. No one ever got sued for doing a puppet show. That is a really unhealthy and unsupportive artistic environment and not what the Slam Network grant is for at all. I am very fortunate to be my own boss with my Slam and I don’t have to answer to anyone else with it. Some other slams are tied up in the politics of their local puppet community and don’t have the kind of freedom.   

M: Tell us about a fabulous failure and what you've learned from it.
BB: Never try and simulate the sound of someone’s pelvis cracking by breaking celery into a microphone. It won’t work.

M: The more you know! Now why are Puppet Slams important to you? What gap do they fill that is not filled by other forms of puppetry? 
BB: 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.  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.   

M: Do you have any upcoming slams you plan on performing at or organizing?
BB: The 2012 National Puppet Slam is coming up August 3rd, 4th, and 5th at the Center for Puppetry Arts. All of the slams in the network will be nominating their best pieces. The Puckin’ Fuppet Show will continue to chug along with its eight or so slams per year. I plan on performing in the new Spork in Hand Puppet Slam in Columbia, SC, and I am going to try and make to the Wham Bam Puppet Slam in Asheville NC. Then there is the Puppetry Track at DragonCon, which is a beast unto itself. It will be like a mini puppet festival inside a 50,000-person convention. I am really excited about that.  

M: Where do you find the impetus to do a Puppet Slam piece? 

BB: A deadline, a song, a pun, a visual gag, half-awake/half-asleep thoughts, wanting to experiment with a new style.

M: Which Puppet Slam artists inspire you?
I really love Madison J. Cripps - we have a bromance. His process is so completely different than mine. He makes a puppet first and then writes the show around the character and I start with the story first and make the puppets from that.  I think I would really like to try start from a character place first.  I would also like to try my hand at marionettes, which I have never done.  I really love Honey Goodenough’s work. I would love to get some tears out of the audience sometime.  Dr. Gregg vanLanningham is an incredibly witty dialogue writer. I would love to write with him sometime. 

M: What pieces do you have in circulation to perform in puppet slams?
BB: The Moon is about the real transmissions from NASA’s first touch down on the moon. In Doris and the Orifices, Doris and her a cappella band cover Don’t Stop Believin. In A Man and his Gay Horse, a cowboy helps his faithful horse understand himself and they both learn about friendship.

M: I’ve seen that! It’s very Broke-back-I’m-not-sure-what… Anywho, what are you looking forward to?
BB: As a performer I really like traveling and performing at other slams and would like to do more of that. As a producer I really look forward to discovering new talent out there and giving artists opportunities to perform and get recognition.

M: Where would you like to see the Puppet Slam Network in the near future?
I would really love to see the tour show idea come together, but I can see why it is hard to get together. I defiantly want to continue with the National Puppet Slam. I think it is really awesome and important for the best of the Puppet Slam Network to get recognized and to put all of those people together in the same room.

M: What advice do you have for puppet slam performers just starting out?
BB: DO IT! Start a slam! Crash an open mic night with your puppets! Make videos! Keep throwing stuff at the wall till it sticks! Something will and it will be awesome!

Beau has a degree in Theatrical Design and works at the Center for Puppetry Arts. He has a taste for Buffalo wings, He-man, and comics. His dislikes include: throw pillows, listening to people chewing, and people using his birthday as an excuse to eat cake. 
As a puppet filmmaker, Beau created the web series, The Sci-Fi Janitors  and also collaborates with The New Puppet Order, which produces puppet shorts seen at several film festivals. Beau’s Puppet Slam at the DragonCon convention in Atlanta was such a success that the convention asked him to program the Puppetry Track, a full range of puppetry events including a slam at the 2012 convention. Stay tuned for details!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lives of the Slam Artists: An Interview with Valerie Meiss

In our latest profile of Puppet Slam Artists, PSN chats it up with Valerie Meiss, curator of the Wham Bam! PuppetSlam in Asheville. When not hosting Puppet Slams, Valerie tours the country with a band of musicians and puppet shows. Valerie plays accordion and novelty instruments such as the saw, ukulele, or toy piano. She lives and works in her studio known as “The Vaudeville House” in downtown Asheville.

2011, Photo: Zen Southerland

Marsian: What was your very first Puppet Slam experience?
Valerie Meiss: I've been performing in puppet slams for a little over two years. My first slam experience was one I was not puppeteering in, my band was asked to perform our strange puppet musical stage show, The Hellblinki and Cripps Puppet Spectacular (with Madison J. Cripps of Cripps' Puppets), for the South Eastern Puppetry Festival in Wilmington, NC. It was my first exposure to the Puppeteers of America, The Puppet Slam Network, UNIMA, and nearly every professional puppeteer I know. There, Madison and I took full advantage of our complementary puppet festival badges and became immersed in the festival. The rest of my band, I do believe, went to the beach. At the regional festival, we met Beau Brown, who became not only a fast friend, but also our biggest supporter and colleague in putting on puppet slams - which we would be doing in the near future.

M: In all the slams you have performed at, what was the freakiest show you have seen?
VM: I've performed or been involved with five or so puppet slams, mostly in the Asheville area, and Atlanta. The freakiest show I've ever seen would probably have been Keith Shubert's “Chair” piece. It was in the 2011 Wham, Bam! Puppet Slam, it was 4 seconds long, and consisted of: Returning from Intermission. A scream. Lights up. Keith, still screaming is naked, strapped to chair, and a puppet, that is where his unmentionables ought to be, is waving around a collapsible lock blade knife. Lights out. It was sensational, and caused some controversy, but the audience loved it! And it served its purpose beautifully.

M: What was the worst puppet slam you’ve been to?  
VM: I have been lucky to have not been in any disastrous puppet slams. Though the worst slam I've been at was probably a couple years ago, it was a fine slam with many wonderful pieces, but it was too long, and the audience seemed to have been misinformed that it was an adult show with adult content. We discovered later that many of them had come to see a specific piece and didn't understand the nature of the show as a whole. This was a fantastic learning opportunity and now I feel when promoting a slam, nearly half of my publicity is putting out a disclaimer.

M: What is the Wham Bam! Puppet Slam like?
VM: I am one of the coordinators, along with Madison J. Cripps and Keith Shubert (Toy Box Theatre). Wham, Bam! is not so much unique as it is ours. It's in Asheville, a thriving arts community that needed it, and has embraced us. We are trying out various formats for the slam as well, we've done fancy multiple show runs with it, but on National Day of Puppetry, we'll be trying to do a one-off quick and dirty, low tech show, to see if we can involve more people in Asheville who are not professional puppeteers, per say.

M: Are you part of a slam circuit of nearby cities to perform at?
VM: The closest city that has a regular slam is Atlanta's Puckin' Fuppet Show, and we're about to be a part of the first puppet slam in Columbia, SC, Spork in HandPuppet Slam. I feel more and more a part of the Puppet Slam network since the first National Puppet Slam at last year's Puppet Festival in Atlanta, also the Slam Symposium workshop let slam coordinators, participants, and potential colleagues meet and share ideas, strategies, and just network and make new friends.

M: What was it like hosting your first Puppet Slam?
VM: The first slam I was a major driving force in was last year's Wham, Bam! Puppet Slam. It was thrilling, challenging, fun, teetering on the edge of chaos, but just coming round to be a spectacular show. I loved it, I learned from it, and I am ready to do it over and over again.

M: Tell us about a fabulous failure and what you've learned from it.
VM: Oh wow... maybe my reluctance to say means that the wound is still fresh? . . Lets just say, technical requirements and Murphy's Law make wretched bedfellows. I have learned to cope with technical disasters in fun and friendly ways, to curb egos in a non-defamatory manner, and to (most importantly) take control of a situation (which is easier said than done), but I have certainly learned its importance.  

Oh, also, don't ever ever use a smoke machine!

M: Why are Puppet Slams important? What gap do they fill? Who cares?
VM: Well I care, for one. 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.

M: Are you hosting any upcoming slams?
VM: On April 28th, The Wham Bam! Puppet Slam presents The National Day of Puppetry: Quick & Dirty Puppet Slam! It's a lengthy title, but there was so much information to get out.

M: What inspires you to create a puppet slam piece?
VM: beauty, chaos, unfinished stories in my head, songs, friends of mine, relationships, odd facts I recall from history class... anything and everything!

M: What other Puppet Slam artists are you are inspired by?
VM: Lyon Hill did a piece for us last year called Supine. It was very technical, but worked fluidly and an audience member even said, that it was “worth the price of admission.. The rest was icing on the cake”, I am all right with being icing on that cake. It was like live animation, paper puppets painted in watercolor, filmed and simultaneously projected onto a screen, it was stunningly beautiful. I work with watercolor and paper puppets, but not like this, it was inspiring and I am trying to think of ways to learn from it.

M: What pieces do you have in circulation to perform in puppet slams?
VM: Thirty Centimetres, is about a controversial preserved penis in a Russian museum. It is rumored to belong to Gregori Rasputin. It was an odd bit of trivia that I've known about since grade school, so I made a puppet show out of it. Finding a small pink party favor novelty penis at a thrift store didn't hurt either.

Doom & Gloom is about the end of the world, it's a self-contained suitcase show, where Madison J. Cripps and I try to sell “Doom and Gloom” insurance. It was inspired by a song we made up walking down the street about zombies and other doomy gloomy things.

I'm Just a Fish (and nobody loves me) is a cute bit about a fish (a head puppet) that is looking for love. It is the most pathetic song I could write about fish and play on the ukulele. It was supposed to just be a short distraction piece (so puppet shows could set up or tear down behind me) but it has developed a life of its own.

M: Where would you like to see the Puppet Slam Network in the future?
VM: 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?

M: What advice do you have for up and coming slam artists who are just starting out?
VM: Do it! Do it now! And promote it, and promote it as an adult show, so you don't have to deal with upset people. (It shouldn't be a big deal, but sometimes it is.) And have fun with it! And send me an email if you have questions, I feel like I'm able to help out sometimes! And I've asked a bunch of questions myself, so I know whom to recommend.

M: One last question, what’s the story with your photo?!?
VM: Its a still from street performing with Thomas Butler as a can of Beef Ravioli, and Madison J. Cripps in his Walking Theatre Project - a day in the life.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lives of the Slam Artists: An Interview with Carole D'Agostino

CaroleD’Agostino is a seasoned Puppet Slam Artist, who has performed at over 50 puppet slams in 20 venues since 1999 and has worked in various forms of puppetry since 1986. Join PSN as we talk to her about hoarding, puppets and her life on the small stage...

photo by Bill Wadman

Marsian: How long have you been performing at Puppet Slams? What was your very first slam experience? Were you under duress? What kind of piece did you perform?

Carole: I have been performing in slams since 1997. My first slam experience was in Boston at an event called Pan9 hosted by Evan O'Television. It was a cabaret type night and I was called up as a volunteer from the audience to do an object theater improv scene with a woman named Kristen. I suppose some might call it “duress” but I thought it looked like fun! I was fresh out of college.

Someone in the audience that night thought I was funny and asked if I had other stuff. I did- I had a marionette. They asked if I'd do an event at MIT called MITERs, an open mic type event. I ended up hosting that for 2 years doing Object Theater Time and whatever new experiments I had been developing.

Puppet Showplace Slam in Boston and Blood From A Turnip (BfaT) in Providence, RI were also starting to present slams. I did those - Pan9, BfaT, MITERs and Showplace as often as they'd have me.

M: How many Puppet Slams have you performed at?
C: As of 2012, I have been in over 56 puppet slams in at least 20 venues.

M: Damn! Thats a lot! So what was the most exotic puppet slam you have performed at?
C: The greatest distance I've traveled for a slam is 600 miles. I used to go from Boston to NY for shows all the time. Now I live in NJ and going to Atlanta or Chicago is not out of the question. Portland, OR is far, but I've sent them videos instead. I'd love to be there in person.

M: Tell us about some memorable experiences at puppet slams or cabarets? What is the funniest, freakiest, edgiest, or weirdest show you have seen?
C: I will say it's not fair to judge “freaks” at these events. The whole point is freaky, I suppose. I am usually the most “conservative” type at these things. Marsian- YOU are probably the weirdest performer I've worked with. Let's be honest. But that's why we love you.

M: This is about you, not me!
C: But I have performed in spaces where I had to climb down ladders to get to the dressing room, hide in dank basements, wait literally OUTSIDE to be off stage, I've had to clean banana and wood chips off my velvet covered table from the previous act before I could perform. I have stood on my own tables as a platform because people need to see marionettes off the floor and there was no platform. Risky? Sure.

But you know- the show must go on and I survived all of it. The audience doesn't care what you have to do to make the show happen - they just want to see puppets.

M: What was the worst puppet slam you performed at?
C: My own personal worst was 12 years ago at a venue in NYC that is now closed. I had a shadow puppet piece that used a clip lamp as the light source - I usually clipped it to a table. The venue had CUBES (not tables), so I clipped it to my pants. It popped off mid-sketch and I fumbled to make it through. I had a savior who helped me and we finished. Interestingly- mine was not the worst thing to be seen that night.

M: I noticed you have developed short puppet slam pieces into full-length shows..
C: Actually, yes! My newest show The Hoarding Show has 3 acts, each one appropriate lengths for Puppet Slams. I did this so I could travel and promote the show as well as develop it incrementally. It worked out well. I have 4 shows out of it- 3 sections and the whole. It's better as an evening but I don't want to miss an opportunity. Flexibility is key.

M: Tell us about a fabulous failure and what you've learned from it!
C: I succeed and fail at each event. I now always travel with my own tables, tape, extension cords, light bulb replacements, shadow screen replacements, scissors, sharpies, wipes, etc etc etc, because at each and every venue there has been something wrong or missing and I don't want my performance to suffer because the venue or I am ill prepared. Professionalism can only come by learning from failures.  

photo: Bruce from Puppet Co Playhouse

M: Why do you think Puppet Slams are important? What gap are they filling that is not filled by other forms of puppetry? Who cares?
C: Who cares is an excellent question. I'll tell you- 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.

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

M: Who you are inspired by on the Puppet Slam circuit?  
C: I admire people who come prepared, rehearsed and behave professionally. I like shows that tell some story and are not just pretty floating objects treated as precious babies. Every slam has one person who I can learn from by positive or negative example.

My work is inspired by people not in the slam circuit, actually: Paul Zaloom, Phillip Huber, Rick Lyon - these guys know how to research, prepare and put on a quality show.

M: What pieces do you have in circulation to perform in puppet slams?
C: She Blinded Me With Science is a table-top shadow piece to the song of the same title that is both funny and creepy. Flirty Birdie  is a fun and sassy cabaret-style piece featuring a peacock marionette. ShapeShifter is an unusual Baird style table-top abstract puppet, also inspired by Buckminster Fuller. Object Theater Time! Is an improv act, where I get random objects from the audience and whip up comedy! My latest piece, The Hoarding Show is a 3-part comedy with table top, shadows and object theater- all about hoarding!  You'll laugh, cry and then go home and clean!

My shows are for general audiences- they can work for most ages though I suggest teens and up because they are not geared specifically for kids.  All pieces are less than 10 minutes. The Hoarding Show has three 10-minute acts.

M: What are you looking forward to?
C: The next Puppeteers of AmericaNational Festival in August 2013 should be amazing.  

M: Where would you like to see the Puppet Slam Network in the future?
C: That's a hard question because the puppet community is evolving so fast. I'd like the PSN to be a source for bookings, idea sharing, tours, and financing. I guess that's what it is now. So- great job! I do think Slams should be a better source of income. If the PSN could provide funding to individuals as well as hosts, then the cost of travel and performances would be more effectively off-set.

M: What advice do you have for slam performers who are just starting out?
C: Go see shows, take notes. Make your own shows and rehearse the heck out of them. When you travel, bring your own tape and extension cords. You have something to learn from everyone- and it's a good idea to be aware. Also, save all your receipts- these events are tax write-offs. This is your career!

M: Anything else we should know?
C: I teach workshops on scale model making and can also custom gear a puppet workshop for your needs. Yes, I travel. No, I won't do it for free. You won't be disappointed. I value my work and will give you my very best every time.

Carole has performed on television in shows like SeeMore's Playhouse and has fabricated puppets and costumes for Broadway shows like Avenue Q and Shrek! The Musical. Recently, Carole was a puppeteer in John Tartaglia's ImaginOcean Off Broadway. Carole can be seen on the web in The Weekly Daily News, a puppet news parody show, on Her work has been seen on Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, PBS, IFC, Noggin and MTV2.