Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Aargh!: The Alexander Winfield Story #London Part 2

Alexander Winfield is a Bermudian-born puppeteer and theatre maker who worked as a freelance puppeteer for six years in Canada. He recently made the move to London to complete an MA at the Central School of Speech and Drama and continues to perform at festivals, theatres, and puppet slams around Europe. With Cryptid Theatre he recently helped host the first Pirate Puppet Cabaret at the Battersea Barge. He has a fondness for dreams, nightmares, the surreal and the stranger corners of human life.

Continued from Part 1 . . .

Marsian: What is the funniest, freakiest, edgiest, or weirdest  piece you have seen?
AW: The Left Hand of Frank by Frank Meschkuleit, a fellow Canadian: it’s essentially a one-man cabaret show and is alternatively hilarious and thoughtful. I’d also have to mention Famous Puppet Death Scenes, by the Old Trout Theatre in Calgary.

M: I love the Trouts! I performed with them at the Dolly Wiggler Cabaret..
AW: No one seems to have heard of them here, but the show is a tour-de-force of puppetry styles, full of variety and humour, as well as several truly moving pieces. With lots of Puppet Death.

M: What was the worst puppet slam you’ve been to?
AW: I can’t say I’ve ever been to a disastrous Puppet Slam, sorry! One slam I did attend was a bit awkward: it emphasized audience participation, insisting space be left for the public to contribute to the work. Unfortunately it underestimated the audience’s bravery, leading to long passages of awkward silence!

M: Is there a slam circuit around London?
AW: One of the advantages of London is that it is so very close to so many places. Europe is full of puppet festivals (not quite slams, but still), and with a bit of planning you could fill a year with touring. Little Angel does host puppet slams, though it calls it a scratch night: the Hatch festival. Everything is a festival over here, makes it sound proper. The Tara Arts Studio, in the south of London, has hosted Puppetry Snax, a slam/scratch night produced in collaboration with the Puppet Centre. The Puppet Centre and the Battersea Arts Centre is also known to host slams/festivals that are puppet friendly.

M: Interesting that they call them “scratch” nights in London - sounds itchy. We have have Pandemics here.. Tell us about a fabulous failure and what you've learned from it.
AW: I’ve learned to be wary of improv, and of audience participation. You can meet an audience, bring a puppet to them, but relying on them to supply half a story is dangerous, and in any case it’s probably unfair to charge a person a ticket price if they’re doing half the work.  I saw an improv act kept asking the audience questions about where to proceed next – it was difficult, and the audience were getting tired of it. I learned that while improv with puppets can be exciting, it’s always important to present ‘something’ to an audience, and to make the interaction feel like part of the show rather than work asked of them.

M: What pieces do you have in circulation to perform in slams?
AW: I have All Hail Ye Mighty Lords of Nowhere,  a post-apocalyptic puppet show that I’ve described as William Blake meets Punch and Judy. Two demons are all that remain on the earth, and realize that by wiping out the human race they annihilated all chance they have of ever having fun again. There is The Man Who Lived in the Road about a man who wakes up in the middle of a road with no memory of who he is or how he got there. With no other humans about, he learns to live a life of loneliness. 

M: That kinda hits close to home. Anything else? 
AW: Then there is Horus the God, about the Egyptian god Horus, now retired and living in a council flat.

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

AW:  In Malaysia they call artistic inspiration ‘agin’, meaning, literally, ‘the wind’ It can drive a man to make miracles, but if neglected it can drive an artist mad, it can eat him alive from the inside. So perhaps that’s the answer: I don’t want to be eaten alive.

M: Why do you think Puppet Slams are important?
AW: Puppet slams provide a space where beginning puppeteers can suck with permission. No live performance can have its kinks ironed out without test trials before a live audience, and slams allow puppeteers a space to hurl themselves at the public, and feel what parts of a show work and what parts do not. Puppet Cabarets will continue parallel to the rising popularity of live puppetry – and help to spread a love of puppetry to new audiences.  

M: That's lovely! And what advice do you have for up and coming slam artists?
AW: Don’t be afraid of failing miserably, or looking like an idiot. There is nothing so dangerous, nor full of potential, as a man unafraid of looking like an idiot.  Try not to make a habit of it, is all.

M: Anything else we should know?
AW: I have a strange fascination with Cephalopods, and would love to do a show featuring a giant squid (one of the great marionette performances on film belongs to the giant squid in 20,000 leagues under the sea!). Other than that, expect the unexpected, and always bring an umbrella wherever you go.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Aargh!: The Alexander Winfield Story #London Part 1

Alexander Winfield is a Bermudian-born puppeteer and theatre maker who worked as a freelance puppeteer for six years in Canada. He recently made the move to London to complete an MA at the Central School of Speech and Drama and continues to perform at festivals, theatres, and puppet slams around Europe. With Cryptid Theatre he recently helped host the first Pirate Puppet Cabaret at the Battersea Barge. He has a fondness for dreams, nightmares, the surreal and the stranger corners of human life.

Marsian: I'm so glad our mutual friend Andrew Young from the Puppet Vision Blog put us in touch and told us about your Pirate Puppet Cabaret!

Alexander Winfield:  Andrew is definitely one to watch.

M: How did you go from Bermuda to London?

AW: Via a long, twisting road. I lived and worked as a puppeteer in Toronto for several years, before heading to the UK to take an MA in theatre studies at the Central School of Speech and Drama. Intrigued by the explosion in puppet theatre that spreading across Europe at the moment, I decided to stick around.

M: How did you enter the world of puppetry what was it like to start hosting puppet cabarets?  What other cities have you performed at puppet slams in?
AW: I’ve always had a fascination for puppets. I remember putting on impromptu puppet shows with my brother, using our bunk bed as a stage.

M: How Bromantic..
AW: I re-entered the world of puppetry as an adult shortly after seeing some Hun Lakhon Lek - a form of Thai Puppetry – enacting the story of the Ramayana.  It was absurdly entertaining.  I then made several short films that featured puppetry, including Christ in Wood, which featured a wooden Christ coming to life and being a general nuisance.  

M: Yes, we have a contingent of Bible-puppeteers in the States, but your puppet flick sounds way cooler.
AW: That all got me thinking about puppetry again, and eventually I was inspired to start working with puppets by any means necessary. I didn’t really care for the hows of it – I started with street shows performed in a stage made of burlap. I was very poor at the time, and could afford little else. I was finally making money off my art, a fine thing, and that was the start.

M: I love burlap to riches stories! So after you got street cred, then you got kidnapped by pirates?
AW: The Pirate Puppet Cabaret was the first puppet slam I helped produce.  It was a lot of work!  There are many puppeteers in London, though they tend to be a scattered and insular breed, like all puppeteers. As a newcomer to the city, and unattached to any larger organizations or theatres whose name might be recognized, it was a challenge to get puppeteers to perform with little unknown me.  Keeping the event profit-share, ensuring the puppeteers aren’t working for free, helped a lot.

M: Have you performed at other puppet slams?
AW: As for when I’ve performed at Puppet Slams, I don’t know I’ve performed at many outside of London (they seem to be, still, somewhat rare creatures). I’ve performed my own shows at festivals and theatres in Montreal, Toronto, Waterloo (Ontario), London (UK), Oxford (UK), Charleville-Mezieres (France), Tolouse (France) and Hamilton (Bermuda) among others.

M: Damn!  And you after all that, you hosted the Pirate Puppet Cabaret.
AW: My slam was undoubtedly smaller than most other slams I’ve seen, not surprising as it was the first I hosted. The space was quite unique – the Battersea Barge, a barge outfitted as a bar/restaurant, at dock on the southern banks of the Thames. To access it you had to walk through about a half mile of alleyways and lamp-lit construction sites. That provided much of our atmosphere.

“At no other slam I’ve attended were the acts interrupted by the actions of waves against the barge. Our sea-legs were sorely tested.”

M: And how did the pirates get involved?
AW: I’ve always been interested in pirates as icons. Scabbish and unruly, the pirate ship was one of the first functioning democracies in western society, with captains elected by popular vote. Ruthless and violent, they were also known as ‘free men’, men (and women) who had made a break with society and large, and sailed under their own flags. These seeming contradictions have a particular resonance now, when there is much talk of society growing colder and harder, and where there seem to be no free seas left to sail in.

M: Tell me about it! No, really, tell me about some of the acts..
AW: What we had was very strong – an excellent, atmospheric piece carved out of lights and cardboard, a puppet strip-tease, and a commentary on humankind by demonic puppets. The cardboard piece was by Max McBride, a San Francisco artist and puppeteer whose specialty is making miracles out of ‘mundane’ materials. The strip tease was by Aya Nakamura, a member of Rouge 28 theatre, whose work can be seen at

M: Join us for part 2 of our very special interview with Andrew Winfield...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Kat Pleviak is having a Puppet Meltdown! #Chicago

Kat Pleviak, curator of Puppet Meltdown, lives in Chicago where she is also the founder and artistic director of Sea Beast Puppet Company.  Under Kat's direction, Sea Beast has initiated a number of exciting puppetry projects including a series of touring family friendly puppet productions, the Gorilla Puppetry Project, and Puppet Meltdown Puppet Slam. Kat has an MFA In Youth Theatre and Puppetry from the University of Hawaii Manoa.

Marsian: So Kat, When did you start performing at puppet slams? 
Kat Pleviak: The first slam I performed in was in 2007 at Puppet Rampage at the National festival. The piece was called Naughty Nursery Rhymes and told the story of Jack and Jill as nasty little rag doll children. If you have the Puppet Rampage DVD there is a very short clip of that performance. 

M: How do your puppet slam pieces tie into the other kinds of puppetry,
performance or your art-life at large? 
KP: They are a great outlet for us to experiment with technique and subject matter. My company, Sea Beast Puppet Company, primarily does family friendly touring shows, so doing short and adult pieces allows us to grow and explore our creativity.

M: What cities have you performed in puppet slams or cabarets in? Which was the furthest or most exotic? 
KP: I have performed at slams, in Chicago IL, Skokie IL, Norridge IL, Minneapolis MN, Wilmington NC

M: What is the funniest, freakiest, edgiest, or weirdest show you have seen? 
KP: The first slam I ever went to was at a nation festival in 2005. A woman there did a shadow piece about the holocaust that was amazing and gave me a lot to think about in terms of what you can do with a short puppet piece.

M: What was the worst puppet slam you performed at and why? What made it disastrous?

KP: I was in a slam at a puppet festival and we were asked to bring 2 pieces, one of which was cut because the slam went to long. The piece we did show was too small for the space to be seen by anyone in the venue so no one got to enjoy it.  
"A note to producers: Your slam performers are your guests and it should be your number one goal to help them succeed and have a great experience. A note to performers: be true to your work. If you walk into an event and can see your piece won't work, pull it. It does not help you to do a piece that disappoints based on a technicality. Know your work and show it to it's best."

M: If you were to form a puppet slam circuit near you for touring, what slams/cities would this include? 
KP: Chicago, Champaign, Bloomington, Evanston, Madison, Minneapolis

M: Tell us about a fabulous failure (at a slam) and what you've learned from it. 
KP: The first slam we ever did had strict guidelines in terms of time and when a few acts went long, we ran over and did not get a curtain call. I think it is so important to recognize your performers. To fix this, we now always plan to have our company represented with a few pieces, some of which are scheduled to go last. This way, if we run long we can cut our own work, to enable recognition of the invited performers.

M: Why are Puppet Slams important to you?
KP: They give us a chance to experiment and grow as artists, while connecting with like minded individuals.

M: What inspires you to create a puppet slam piece? 
KP: Usually things that make me laugh

M: Who are some other artists on the puppet slam circuit that you are inspired by? 
KP: Carole D'Agostino does "Object Theater Time" which is puppet improv, always amazing and my brother Tom. He has performed in a number of slam pieces and his characters are always amazing.

M: What pieces do you have in circulation to perform in puppet slams?
KP: I have a bunch but two of my favorites are Another Man Treasure. This piece is in miniature and tells the story of a mouse and a robot living in a trash heap - I love this piece because we film it live and project it live as a film. The other is called Road Rage and is a shadow piece about an angry driver. I made Road Rage while studying with Richard Bradshaw at the O'Neill Puppetry Conference.

M: Where can people contact you to perform?
KP: Email me at, Facebook, or our website -

M: Where would you like to see the Puppet Slam Network in the future? 
KP: Everywhere!

M: What advice do you have for up and coming slam artists?
KP: Make each performance the very best it can be on the day you do it and take pride in your work! Have fun, share work, learn and grow and live!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Great Small Works Spaghetti May Day Dinner

Tuesday, May 1, 2012, 8PM
One Arm Red
10 Jay Street, 9th floor
DUMBO, Brooklyn
Sliding scale, $5-$15
Info: 917-319-8104


Come celebrate after a day of great displays of common interest and shared physical expression. Contemplate the power that arises from collectively withdrawing cooperation and consent, however you do it...

1. Stagger Back Brass Band
Celebrating the 6th annual Stagger Back Brass Band May Day concert/singalong/
extravaganza, featuring Don Godwin, Quince Marcum, Joe Keady, Brian Drye, JR Hankins, Ben Holmes, Jessica Lurie, Greg Squared, Michael Winograd, and Patty Farrell, with singers Eva Primack and Michele Hardesty.

2. Great Small Works' improvised living newspaper shadow show about the events of this May Day 2012.

3. "We Shall Not Be Moved: The Musical Story of the 1937 Woolworth’s Sit-Down Strikes"
Written, Directed and Arranged by Phil Andrews,
featuring Cara Francis, Josh Lerner, Xavier, Sully Ross and Jessie Reilly, with Ava Farkas, Naomi Podber and Judy Shatsky Music by Apocalypse Five and Dime: Joe Keady, Phil Andrews, Rebecca Heinegg, Michele Hardesty, Quince Marcum, Cassandra Burrows, Adam Katzman and Heather Cole.

4. A May Day Crankie by Vermont puppeteer and filmmaker Meredith Holch

5. "Bloomberg’s Fifth Largest Army in the World: Puppet Study #1"
Puppeteer Maura Gahan teams up with Brookyn-based Jacobs/Campbell Dance for a brand new work. Dancers shout, spit, and high kick in cardboard masks with movement references from the 1930s Workers Dance League, Mayor Bloomberg, and N.Y.C.’s finest dancers: the NYPD.

Food and drink will be available throughout the night.
Please come by and share stories of how you occupied your May Day!

Is this Résumé Goodenough?

Recently Puppet Pandemic Slam mogul, Honey Goodenough, posed the following question on our Facebook Page:

"PSN Friends - was wondering how you cite your work as a Slam Performer and/or Producer on your resume?"
What started out as a discussion on résumé advice, quickly turned into a broader conversation on how we value our work and interface with the rest of the performing arts world.  A number of slam organizers and performers weighed in and here are some highlights. Note: If you have anything to add, please join the conversation on our Facebook Page or start your own conversation.
* * *
If it's performance-based - "Puppeteer", "Puppet Showplace Slam", or if administrative, "Producer/Curator","Puppet Showplace Slam". I have never really seen a resume that successfully integrates performance and production responsibilities, other than making one or the other just a brief footnote (i.e. my production admin resume includes "puppetry" in the "miscellaneous skills" section)
As a performer, I don't like to take up more than one line for puppet slams even though I've performed in roughly 8 a year. but as a producer should it be listed by slam title?
Eric Brooks - Playhouse Puppet Slam #GlenEcho: 
Have you produced more than one slam? It should definitely be on your resume. 

"Slam producers put a whole lot of work in than what everyone sees. It deserves attention on your resume."

Describe what you did, but offer quantitative info such as how many performers you brought in, how much money you raised, how many people saw it, etc. 
It does depend on what job you're applying for. What type of job do you think would be most interested in hearing about producing work? If you are auditioning for a role, do they want to know you produce as well?
Carole D'Agostino - performer-at-large #NYC #NJ:  
I have a separate section in my resume about "Personal Productions" - my own work. I simply state the title, the subject and the genre so: Flirty Birdie/Cabaret Style Peacock/Marionette". Or: "The Hoarding Show/Satirical History of Hoarding/Tabletop and Shadows", "Object Theater".   Anyone who is asking for my resume doesn't care about what the venue is - slams or not. If they are asking me for my resume then they don't know me - all they care about is - can she do the specific thing I need for this job - so - can she do marionettes? Fine. Can she do green screen? Black light/ Whatever. No one actually cares what you did- they care who you know and if you have that one thing they need. . . That said - if you perform at a National Festival- or a major venue - you might say you performed there 

Honey Goodenough in “Sweet Dreams”, 2011, photo: Frankie Cordero
Personal productions. . ..I like it. . . But I wonder if there's another way to phrase it. Self produced? or Independent Projects? Carole - you deserve a producer credit for all the work you've created. . . it's hard to sum up in one title.
Carole D'Agostino - performer-at-large #NYC #NJ:  
Well everyone's resume is individualized- and I will customize my own resumes to suit the client- some people don't care if I can build. I have a show resume. Some people don't care if I can make puppets- I have a costume resume. I am not sure who to define "producer' but I do know if I put THAT on a resume an "actual" producer will think he can't afford me and I won't get hired.
It's complicated. . . "Producer" can encompass so many duties. It's hard to know when it's a useful to post on a resume. . . I wonder what Katie McClenahan of Beady Little Eye Puppet Slam thinks of all this. .. She also helps produce photo shoots. . . Do the same skills apply to other fields?
Keith Shubert - Wham Bam Puppet Slam #Asheville: 
i am dirt handed, under the table, and ghetto. i have never made a resume. i am sure if you live in NYC or LA a resume for a big puppet job is proper but here in north carolina, you just have to tell em you do and puppet show and most the time, yer in....
Hannah Miller - Action Puppet Force #Orlando:  
No one has mentioned it yet, but I think calling slam production "event management" is a nice, palatable alternative when you think "producer" might complicate things... As for a performance resume: I do a similar thing to Carole; I have a section for Personal Productions, and I give a one-sentence overview of the scope of each {ex: "Original 30m marionette production with troupe of 3 performers, production sponsored by CFL ArtsFest"}. If the job calls for skills that are specific, like hand/rod work, I also put a list of bullet point summaries at the top of the resume describing jobs I've done with the most relevant skills called "Recent Achievements" or something bilious thing like that, where I list 3-4 specific challenges or performance triumphs that relate.
Marsian - Puppet Slam Network Coordinator #LosAngeles:  
Keith, what about when you lived in Chicago? 
Keith Shubert - Wham Bam Puppet Slam #Asheville:  
pretty much the same. for a decade i opened for rock bands in bars and clubs. i had a couple good booking guys who would basically call me up whenever they had a "weird" or "art rock " band. and 80% of the time i was a fan of the band. needless to say, i have never been able to completely support myself with my art and have always had some sort of shit job that eats up most of my time. 
Amy Rush - Performer-at-Large #Atlanta:  
You need a resume in Atlanta. Or should. I've noticed that local people list puppet slam or Xperimental Puppetry Theater (at the Center for Puppetry Arts - which is like a large-scale slam/workshop) pieces that they've performed in (not produced) and that's weird to me. Seems like a desperate move. They are listed alongside large-scale work. Or, as though they ARE large scale because the performer hasn't really done anything but little slams.  I mean, if you PRODUCE a slam production/night - list it. If you've PRODUCED/DIRECTED/PAID FOR a piece in XPT at the CforPA, list it. Mine are listed under "self-produced." Some of those pieces at XPT have gone beyond XPT - to the National Festival and a local fringe festival, for example. Gotta list that.  As far as listing individual, one-or-two-time puppet slam pieces in my performance resume goes, I never would, but our slams are pretty loose and fun/drunk/easy down here. And they're like 5 minutes long. It's not the same as a marionette piece you developed at the O'Neill and have traveled the country with (I can name a few folks who have done this, of course and they rock!). That's different. List that - a small cabaret piece. 
I like Carole D'Agostino's idea of having a section about "Personal Projects" or "Self Produced" section. Would that work?... I think that's important, but it's hard to list on a resume. I find most Puppet Slam artists are self starters.
I wonder, then, if a resume is the right document for showing your work? It might be that the resume should highlight and point to certain things, and a portfolio or a "list of original pieces" or "current repertory" is what you need in addition. Or a website? What is this for?
Eric Brooks - Playhouse Puppet Slam #GlenEcho: 
Honey, your right about the "self starters" and if I had $1 for every time The Puppet Co. Playhouse positioned that I "was not a producer," well, we know how that would end ha. The PuppetCo Playhouse is more "the producer," per se, with their amazing puppet-ready venue, classy theatre/backstage and all those beautiful, full-sized velour curtains. My job is to find the right collection of pieces among the small pool of willing and/or able & available puppet artists that live here in the D.C. area.

For one of my resumes - the " arts professional" version, here is an example:

Curator, Playhouse Puppetry SLAM!, 2009 - present.
A showcase of vignettes aimed at mature audiences. Assembled and communicated with puppeteers, musicians, backstage crews and the Puppet Co. staff in months prior to slam as well as during the event. Sold playbill advertising. Designed posters and press graphics. Arranged and selected live music setlists. Coordinated, choreographed and co-wrote opening and closing numbers. Performed as a puppeteer and musician. 
• Founded slam program at the Puppet Co., curating six slams to date 
• Established and maintained relationships with puppetry networks throughout the East Coast 
• Introduced playbill advertising, generating approximately $_ per event 
• Organized and oversaw _ performers and crew during each event 
• Attracted an average of 100 audience members for each performance 
• Coordinated directly with The Puppet Slam Network for puppet slam grants to receive a total of _
• Managed staff assistant in press-related matters, as well as in garnering, over two slams, $_ in in-kind donations 
• Slams reviewed and featured by DC Theatre Scene and The Gazette and The Washington Post

... to agree with many of the above comments, if you are an "event manager," a "showcase coordinator" or a "curator," list that wholeheartedly. 
Carole D'Agostino - performer-at-large #NYC #NJ:  
For the record- nobody reads that. I've asked tons of hiring types- they scan for key words- they need a rod puppeteer- they scan for "rod" and "puppet". At least in NY. And It's true- most of my jobs come from recommendations and referrals. If they re asking for my resume at all, I know they have little interest in who I am as an artist- they just need to have a placeholder for me in the cattle call. More often than not, I get hired to the job- THEN they see my credientials and go- oh! You've done a lot of work! yeah- so maybe how 'bout paying me what i'm worth.

I was thrilled about Beau Brown's proposal of the National Puppet Slam - I think it validates the work of the Slam Artist. And the success of his Slams a the POA Festival spoke voluminous about the type of work that can be produced in 7 mins of stage time (or less).
Bridget Rountree - Adult Puppet Cabaret #SanDiego:  
I list selected ones on my resume, especially ones that are in a well known venue like the Museum of Photographic Arts
Marsian - Puppet Slam Network Coordinator #LosAngeles:  
.. I think its hard to represent all the things that puppet and generative artists do in one document for all purposes and I would love to see how other people address that. I am curious what other categories people include in their puppet artist resumes. Personally, I list "Major Performance Works" (shows that usually they had a premiere and little pieces had been workshopped at slams - I write a short one line description). Then I also include "Other Performance Works" - this category could be one-off shows, shows where I performed for somebody else in a role, and occasionally a slam piece that was performed more than once that I feel was important or at a fabulous venue that I am proud of  
Katie McClenahan - Beady Little Eyes Puppet Slam #Portland #OR:
I agree with Marsian, you have to tailor your resume depending on the job you are applying for. I have several different resumes and would revise for each position applied to. I'll include notes harkening to producer-like qualities, but I wouldn't list every slam I'm produced on a resume for an audition. Producer = professional organizer. 
Hannah Miller - Action Puppet Force #Orlando: 
I want to second Carole's comment about jobs coming from referrals... I don't think I've actually USED my resume for anything except grant, workshop, or award applications in over 4 years. Before I began working in the arts, I worked in project management, and reviewed many resumes to fill positions on my teams. I didn't care about long boring descriptions of jobs at all... like Carole says, in general, people know what the basic responsibilities of a job are; what they're interested in are things that relate to what they need you to do or crazy, amazing success that you could possibly repeat for them.
Key words and brevity were what I appreciated; not only did it tell me what I needed to know quickly, it also told me that the person applying was an effective communicator and not filled with a sense of self-importance (or have low self esteem and overcompensate for it) that might make them difficult to work with. No matter what the field you're applying for, I think that a resume with a brief section at top (3-4 bullets) that summarize your biggest accomplishments OR a short summary of your career paragraph followed by 2 lines of 3 bulleted "area of expertise" key words AND fits your career history & relevant training/education onto one page is the absolute most effective, particularly if sent with a strong cover letter.
Keep in mind: you DO NOT have to explain what your responsibilities were at a previous job. A title is really, truly enough. The resume is just to get you in the door: the interview is the time to elaborate on unusual challenges you took on under those titles. Okay, super long commenting done now.

Eric Brooks - Playhouse Puppet Slam #GlenEcho:  
I agree with Marsian, Carole and Hannah here, but the biggest snag that I run in to is that different organizations in D.C. have separate expectations of what they want to see or know about a possible candidate. Puppetry is not viewed the same way here as it is in NYC, LA, Boston and Orlando. I have found that people here WANT to know a fair amount of the minutia, even though I think that its unnecessary, too. Few people here have two clues what a puppet slam event coordinator, producer or curator is, let alone a puppet slam!

Of the 6 or 7 actual puppet operations in the DC area, they generally keep to themselves, rarely collaborate with one another (if they ever do) and are not very often placed in positions to vouch for another puppeteer or help find them work, unless they are offering work themselves...

Then there are the DC area theatres, a different puppet market. They want to include puppetry in their productions, as they should, but they "just want to find someone to build their puppets." They are not often searching for the professionals out there who know what they are doing rather, they would be content to expect a general props artisan or costumer with no prior puppet construction experience to make beautiful figures that work even more beautifully. Sometimes they succeed but then again, they often fail and in so doing, they perpetuate more bad puppetry. So it can be a challenge in this area to shine above in an area of mostly non-puppeteers in order to land steady puppet work.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Deborah Hunt Interview #SanJuan

Deborah Hunt, curator of Sobre La Mesa Puppet Slam and co-curator of Noches de Cabaret has been performing with masks and puppets for the last 35 years. Originally from New Zealand, she has had the privilege of performing and leading workshops in many parts of the world. For the last two decades she has lived in Puerto Rico.

Marsian: How long have you performed at Puppet Slams?

Deborah Hunt: In 2008 I created a project called “Sobre la mesa”, a small format puppet challenge of tiny scenes inside a labyrinth of cloth. I gave each puppeteer the same object and suggested that we each create a 4 minute scene using the object as a point of departure. Each puppeteer has his/her kiosk and space for 6 people to observe the performance. At the end of the specified time music plays and the public move to the next kiosk.  As they are moving the puppeteer resets his/her piece to repeat it to the new audience entering the kiosk. This was my first slam.

M: How do your puppet slam pieces tie into the other kinds of puppetry, performance or your art-life at large?
DH: Sometimes I create pieces that then become part of other larger works….so in a way the slams are “breeding grounds” for further work. They give me a chance to experiment with a new technique, mechanism, or  personal challenge.

M: What inspired you to start hosting Sobre la Mesa and Noches de Cabaret?
DH: Well, I have talked about “Sobre la mesa”…which is now in its 9th edition. Generally it happens twice a year. Noches de Cabaret is an adult slam that is part of the Titeretada, which is our celebration of World Puppetry Day…we usually have events over a 2-6 week time period. We invite other puppeteers to present short pieces for adults.

M: Who exactly is “We”?
DH: ”We” is a committee made up of individuals or representatives of distinct groups interested in broadening the horizons for adult puppetry work (Papel Machete, Mary Anne Hopgood, Teatro Aspaviento, Y No Habia Luz and myself.)

M: How did you end up living in SanJuan?
DH: My ex husband.

M: I see… And what is the puppet scene like there?
The puppet scene is pretty much divided into 2 groups…companies that have been working a long time through within the education system and for children’s/family audiences,…and us…a coalition of individuals and companies dedicated to performing for largely adult audiences… we host the only puppet slams in town.

M: If you were to form a puppet slam circuit near you for touring, what slams/cities would this include?
DH: We live on an island in the Caribbean. So the closest place would be the Dominican Republic. We would love to create a Caribbean circuit…

M: I can think a lot of people would love that.. Please keep us posted! Why are Puppet Slams important to you?
DH: Here in Puerto Rico, the development of adult audiences has been extremely important to me and to my fellow collaborators. So the puppet slams are definitely a way of attracting both puppeteers and public interested in adult work. The slams give us a grand opportunity to experiment.

M: What inspires you to create a puppet slam piece?
DH: The shortness of time inspires me. To create a succinct piece that adds to an evening’s intrigue gets my juices going.

M: What pieces do you have in circulation at puppet slams?
DH: Personally, each year in the Noches de Cabaret Puppet slam, I perform as “Mission Educativa”, a character that basically forces everyone in the audience to make a puppet.

M: Where can people contact you to perform?

M: Where would you like to see the Puppet Slam Network in the future?
DH: All over….the world

M: What advice do you have for up and coming slam artists just starting out?
DH: Just do it!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Honolulu Puppet Slams: Enda O. Breadon Interview - Part 2

Enda O. Breadon curates the Kolohe Puppet Slam in Honolulu and has worked as an actor, director, movement coach and playwright across the United States and Europe.  As a teaching artist in creative drama, Enda employs both clowning and puppetry.  His lifelong love of puppets has led him to include them in a number of shows that he’s written and directed.  While living in Atlanta, he was mentored by Clint Thornton and Spencer Stephens, who he met at the Center for Puppetry Arts. Enda briefly studied puppetry at the University of Hawai’i.  

M: Is Honolulu part of a slam circuit?
EB: For all practical purposes, the answer to all of that is “no.”  There’s a really great, fairly new burlesque troupe here in Honolulu, Cherry Blossom Cabaret.  Last October Chinatown hosted Hawai’i’s first ever fringe festival and there’s a new, unnamed clown/physical theatre workshop that is about two months old, so there’s a young art scene with a lot of chance for overlap that hasn’t fully materialized as strongly as I feel it is about to.  And in fact, it was a connection through Cherry Blossom that we were able to get a new location for the slam this month.  I’m told some of the Cherry Blossom dancers will make appearances in slams/cabarets on the west coast, particularly the Bay area.  But most local artists don’t think in terms of circuit because this is an expensive rock fly on and off of - San Diego is as close to New York as it is to Honolulu. 
M: Dang!
EB: And while our economy depends on it, the idea that this is place is some kind of theme park in the middle of the ocean, doesn’t encourage artistic interaction.  We’ve seen a lot of people come out here, give a half-ass performance because they really just want to be on vacation and then book it out of here.  Because of what we get from national performers some people here really believe we are a “less-than” destination artistically and there are others that look at what we get from the outside and have a really low aesthetic bar – it’s a cycle.  That said, there have been some really great performers who have come through and some promoters doing yeoman’s work, but they are in the minority.   I hope both Kolohe Puppet Slam and our fringe festival become a destination for West Coast artists and are part of encouraging local artists to start thinking in terms of a circuit and getting their work out there.  But if it happens it’ll probably take some time. 

M: Tell us about a fabulous failure and what you've learned from it.
Well, just this week I feel like I’ve experienced one of my biggest failures to date.  Between what felt like the great success of the first slam in February, I ran into some problems.  As I’ve said, I just directed Inspector General for TAG, a show with live actors and two different kinds of puppets that play minor characters.  Literally, the night Inspector opened several of TAG’s board members complained that sock puppets have no place on the TAG stage and are “not to the quality of what we do.”  The poster and all the promotional material used had the sock puppets to promote the show, but apparently that somehow got past the attention of some board members.  And they apparently hadn’t talked to the Artistic Director, who’d been talking excitedly about the puppets for around six months before the show ever went into rehearsal. At this point, I must take pains to again thank Brad Powell, TAG’s Artistic Director.  He went to the mat to defend both the puppets in Inspector and to defend the slam to his board.  But after some of the longest days I’ve ever experienced, it was clear that it was not in the best interest of the slam or of TAG to hold a puppet slam at a theatre where there were hostile board members.   

M: So I guess we won’t be seeing the Lion King or Warhorse at TAG any time soon…
EB: The stress and potential for unhealthy resentment abounded.  But I’m trying to stay positive, I went to a hippy-ish Franciscan-nun-run elementary school.  I wish TAG nothing but success in their puppet-less future.

M: ::Sigh::
EB: A friend and fellow artist here in Honolulu gave me a “buck up” talk the other day saying that this was a lesson about focusing on the kind of work you want to do and making your own opportunities.  I guess that’s as good as a lesson as any.  This is all just in the last week, maybe after a few months of reflection I’ll have a real good perspective about what the moral of this tale is.  

Again, if there are other curators who have walked through similar experiences please, please, please email or call me.   I’d love to hear how others handled it so I can properly reflect and learn from the situation.

M: Please post that on our Facebook page, a great place to dialogue with other slam organizers… Why do you think Puppet Slams are important 
EB: For me, puppet slams are all about 2 things: 1) getting a chance to workshop your material and 2) experiencing the other puppeteers in your community/circuit.  We all know that not every idea we have is worth pushing to a full piece, that some of the best pieces need a lot of work to get good, and that pieces are awesome as short pieces. 

We also all know that getting to interact with other artists fills-the-well and motivates us to do more and better work.  The proverbial rising tide raises all the proverbial boats until the sailors puke over the proverbial sides.  

And to a much lesser degree, it gives people a chance to see artists grow through their career in the same way music fans like to talk about the difference between an early album/show and what a band is doing in their 40s.  I think what Patton Oswalt is doing with the Comedians of Comedy is pretty much the same thing we’re trying to do with slams. 

M: What motivates you to create a puppet slam piece?
EB: The same sick thing in my soul that got me kicked out of class almost every single day of my elementary, middle and high school career. 

M: Which slam artists you are inspired by?
EB: I’ve already mentioned Nicole earlier.  Her ideas and enthusiasm are inspiring.  My friends Gregg Van Laningham and Qate Bean have some characters they’ve been working on the Atlanta puppet slam circuit that are apparently illicit in the slams and yet they get requests to do them at the kid’s birthday parties too.  So while I haven’t seen them live, the fact they have dirty puppets also performing kids’ parties is among the funniest things I’ve ever heard.   They’re great writers, even though I suspect they wouldn’t use the word “writer” to describe themselves. 

Speaking of writers, while not puppeteers, there are two writing partners that constantly inspire me and the ideas we bounce around are starting to make it into some of my pieces.  First is Joe Goltz, the funniest human being, period.  He’s a musician and part of the comedy scene in Chicago.  But Joe and I have been friends since elementary school and it was scripts we wrote in radio and TV class in high school that not only got me suspended but made me really want to create for life.  Second is Lani Murray, who first came up with the idea of a dirty Bronte puppet piece.  I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy a relationship with someone 45 years older than me that is more raunchy or fulfilling. 

M: What pieces do you have in circulation to perform in puppet slams? 
EB: Hopefully the Bronte piece soon.  I think I’m going to retire the Russian sock puppets, at least for a while.  It might just bring up stressful memories of the TAG situation. I’m thinking of bringing back the dog chases from Stewart Little and making a new piece with them that has nothing to do with the book.  I’d like to remount and tour a puppet version I did of Marki Shalloe’s One Hand Clapping.  It’s a great short script about masturbating. And I’ve got a puppet I love that is a blue monster, with a cool way of working the hands.  But I just can’t make any material stick.  Maybe some day.   Also, it’s not my piece, but I’d love to see Nicole’s Chucky piece get a little longer and go on tour.  It is so well done.      

M: Where can people contact you to perform?
EB: The best thing they can do is call or email me. or (808)457-9324.  I’ll probably screen the calls, so make sure to leave a message. 

M: What is the future of puppet slams?
EB: 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. 

M: What advice do you have for up and coming slam artists just starting out?
EB: I’d tell them to give me advice.  I am making this shit up as I go and I really have no idea what I’m doing. 

M: Anything else we should know?
EB: Don’t sleep with a raccoon in your bed.  You are always welcome to come here and perform, I’ll do whatever I can with my meager resources to help (also contact promoter Tim Bostock).  But don’t come here with a lame-ass I’m on vacation attitude.  Don’t bring rabies to the islands.