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.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Couples Counseling - Partnering with a Fiscal Recipient

Slam Survey time will be coming up in September and to qualify for a Slam Grant, a Fiscal Recipient is essential. If you are unclear on the role of Fiscal Recipient, Fractured Atlas is a terrific organization that has a wealth of information, and can even act as a fiscal recipient for your project in some cases.  Occasionally, Puppet Slams have run into some bumps in the road with their fiscal recipients and ask for advice that is beyond my scope. When I am at a loss, I turn to my lifeline at IBEX Puppetry, Hannah Miller, who is also a  performer and former producer at Action Puppet Force #Orlando. 

Action Puppet Force #Orlando,  Jamie Donmoyer & Sarah Skinner-Probst, 2011, Photo: Benjamin Thompson

Here's what Hannah has to say about Fiscal Recipient agreements: "When choosing a fiscal recipient, select your partner organization carefully. Ensure that your ideals and tastes are in alignment. Consider signing a contract together that defines the role of the curator and the role of the Fiscal Recipient to ensure that all parties are clear on the extent of their involvement with the financial and creative processes of producing a slam (see below). Disputes about curatorial decisions, what happens to money generated by slams or questions about prop, equipment, or other goods/services supplied by curators, venues, or fiscal recipients are outside the scope of the Puppet Slam Network's control. We cannot provide mediation or legal advice. But we do encourage you to talk to your fellows in the slam community to learn about previous experiences with fiscal recipients, both good and bad." 

Hannah passed on a sample Fiscal Recipient Agreement that she created (with help from an entertainment lawyer) that you can look at as a reference. She added, "You can explain to your Fiscal Recipient that all the simple legalease boils down to is this: Let the curators curate without interference, unless the goings-on actually endanger your 501c status; give the slam organizers reasonable notice if your 501c status is going to change due to other reasons; our money agreement is exactly (fill in the blank), and we're all happy to be working together to do cool things."

Here is Hannah's sample Fiscal Recipient Agreement (note I have substituted the term "Fiscal Recipient" for "Fiscal Sponsor", which is consistent with the terms we use):
Sample Fiscal Recipient Agreement

This is an agreement made between ____________ (the Fiscal Recipient) and ______________ (the Project).

The Fiscal
Recipient: (the fiscal recipient) is a nonprofit organization, exempt from federal tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, as amended. It is formed for the purpose(s) of: (list charitable/educational purposes relevant to Project)

The Project: (the project = your slam) is an unincorporated organization formed for the purposes of:
(slam description, including goals)
The Agreement

The Fiscal  R
ecipient is willing to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions for the benefit and use of implementing the Project. The Project, with the administrative assistance of the Fiscal Recipient, desires to use these funds in order to implement the Project’s purposes.

Responsibilities of the Fiscal Recipient:
  • The Fiscal Recipient agrees to receive grants and contributions to be used for the Project, and to make those funds available exclusively and freely to the Project, minus a fee of (fee%) from each gross total of pledged grant monies or contributions received. (the fee addendum can be removed if not applicable)
  • The Fiscal Recipient’s Executive Director or authorized representative must sign the grant proposal, grant agreement, and all grant reports.
  • The Fiscal Recipient agrees to notify the Project of any change or potential change in its tax-exempt status in a timely fashion.
  • Fiscal Recipient shall permit the Project to operate freely within the guidelines of the Project’s purposes and shall not interfere with such purposes.
  • The Fiscal Recipient will maintain books and financial records for the Project in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles.  The Fiscal Sponsor will provide reports reflecting receipts, expenditures, and balances of the Project on a regular basis.
Responsibilities of the Project:
  • The Project agrees to use any and all Funds received from the Fiscal Recipient solely for legitimate expenses on the Project and to account fully to the Fiscal Recipient for the disbursement of all funds received.
  • The Project must act within the financial policies outlined by the Fiscal Recipient and agrees not to use funds received from the Fiscal Recipient in any way that would jeopardize the tax-exempt status of the Fiscal Recipient.  The Fiscal Recipient retains the right, should the Project jeopardize the Fiscal Recipient’s legal or tax status, to withhold,  withdraw, or demand immediate return of grant funds.
  • The Project shall prepare reports as needed by the grant funder and submit to the Fiscal Recipient for review, approval, and submission.

Signature of Fiscal Recipient: ______________________________________ (name / title / date)
Signature of Project Coordinator: _________________________________ (name / title / date)
Witness and/or Notary: __________________________________________


Saturday, June 2, 2012

2013 Slam Surveys - Due 9/3/12

 Welcome to the 2013 SLAM SURVEY!  2013 PUPPET SLAM GRANTS in the amount of $2,000 are available to qualified puppet slams through the Puppet Slam Network (PSN), administered by Heather Henson’s IBEX Puppetry.
Nasty, Brutish & Short: A Puppet Cabaret #Chicago, Manual Cinema, 2011, Photo: Joe Riina-Ferrie

 To qualify for a 2013 Puppet Slam Grant, you must submit a completed 2013 SLAM SURVEY and the 2013 PHOTO SUBMISSION form, along with three photographs from your Puppet Slam.  First time applicants, and applicants who have switched Fiscal Recipients within the past year, must also provide a letter from their Fiscal Recipient. Please read through this document as some guidelines have changed since last year. 


If you have received a 2012 SLAM GRANT and do not intend to apply for a 2013 SLAM GRANT, please treat the SLAM SURVEY as a FINAL REPORT. If for some reason, you have not used previous grant monies, please use the SLAM SURVEY as a PROGRESS REPORT.

1. 2013 SLAM SURVEY (Download)
2. 2013 PSN PHOTO SUBMISSION form (Download)
3. A letter from your FISCAL RECIPIENT
(if you are a first time applicant, or your fiscal recipient has changed)

 2013 SLAM SURVEYS are due by email no later than MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 3rd, 2012 (There will be no exceptions).

The 2013 PSN PHOTO SUBMISSION form is due by September 3rd, 2012. However, if you have not held your slam by September 3rd, you have up to one week after you hold your slam and no later than December 15th to send the actual  photos, but the form will still be due.

For the purposes of the SLAM GRANT, the SLAM SURVEY, and the Puppet Slam Network (PSN), we define a “Puppet Slam” as:

 “A live puppet slam, cabaret, or evening of short-form puppetry and/or object theatre for adult audiences from a variety of artists.”

-       Puppet film screenings
-       Long-Form work / Full-length productions, Evenings of 1 artist or company
-       Shows for children, or shows advertised as “all ages” or “family friendly”
-       Workshops or Educational activities
-       Entire festivals (which happen to contain Puppet Slams)
-       Festival, Organization, Theatre Company, Puppetry Department overhead
-       Variety evenings that are not predominantly live puppet and/or object theatre
-       Parades or outdoor events
The purpose of the SLAM GRANT is to support Puppet Slams to help pay for costs directly related to puppet slams, including but not limited to: publicity materials, programs, flyers, domain name registration, equipment rental, essential technician fees, small stipends for performers, or a cast meal the night of the show.  

For clarification, if your Puppet Slam is part of a larger festival, organization, or educational institution, the SLAM GRANT will only be funding the Puppet Slam and not the larger festival, organization, or educational institution. If your slam is part of a larger festival, organization, or educational institution, please make a clear delineation where the money is spent.  Use these funds directly on costs of your puppet slam and not for the overall operation of your organization, festival, or institution.

To qualify for a 2013 SLAM GRANT, your Puppet Slam must be working with a FISCAL RECIPIENT in the United States. Your FISCAL RECIPIENT must agree to receive the Slam Grant and distribute the funds to your Puppet Slam as to the terms of your particular arrangement.  If you are a first time applicant, did not receive a grant last year, or have recently changed your FISCAL RECIPIENT, we ask that your FISCAL RECIPIENT send us a brief email that documents your agreement to work together.

 If accepted, funding will be sent to your FISCAL RECIPIENT during the first quarter of 2013. We also recommend that you look for additional sources of funding, good will, and sponsorship to help support your Puppet Slam.

  Email back the 2013 SLAM SURVEY to along with 2013 PHOTO SUBMISSION, by Monday, September 3rd, 2012.  We will only be accepting SLAM SURVEYS returned by email in Word .doc file format with photos under 1MB sent as Jpegs in 3 separate emails.  Please know that we will not be accepting late SLAM SURVEYS or materials in any other form besides an emailed Word .doc and .jpg Photo Documentation.

We will not be accepting printed Surveys, handwritten Surveys, or Surveys completed in other file formats.  If you do not have Word, you can download a demo version to fill out the Survey with. If you are not familiar with Word, please make time in advance of the deadline to familiarize yourself with it, look at online tutorials, or get help from somebody in your area if needed. 

Do not leave any fields blank. If something does not apply to you, please enter “N/A” and add any additional details, so we know that you didn’t just decide to leave it blank.  If there are any questions, we will follow up by email and expect a prompt response. Please pick someone to be the main contact (“PRIMARY CURATOR”), who is responsive by email and who can be responsible for sending us CALENDAR SUBMISSIONS.
When you save the SLAM SURVEY, please title it The Name of your Slam (abbreviated)-2013-Survey.doc”. In the Subject line of the email you send it in, include “Name of your Slam - 2013 Survey. For example, Nasty, Brutish & Short Puppet Slam would be sending us “Nasty-2013-Survey.doc” in an email with the Subject line: “Nasty Brutish & Short Puppet Slam 2013 Survey”

Your promptness, completeness of answers, and returned correspondences are greatly appreciated and help us to serve the roughly 70 slams we are currently following.

We require you to have an online presence specific to your slam that is distinct from your larger organization, festival, or educational institution.  Please consider making a website specific to your slam. PUNCH (NYC), hosted by Drama of Works, is a great example. Gretchen has a website for Drama of Works at and a separate website for PUNCH at  If you do not have a website (or the resources to make a new one), there are a number of social networks that will allow you to make a page or online identity for free. When we send out our MONTHLY SLAM CALENDAR or post other marketing information, we want to be able to link back to a page that is specifically just for your slam. We like to know that you are also making your own efforts to publicize your Puppet Slam.

We send out our MONTHLY SLAM CALENDAR directly to roughly 2,000 recipients and repost it on social media to a much wider audience.  Sending us your CALENDAR SUBMISSIONS for our MONTHLY SLAM CALENDAR is a requirement.  A pattern of lateness or failure to send us complete information can and has resulted in SLAM GRANTS not being awarded to Puppet Slams.  In General, submission due dates are 1 week before the month of the event. Do not submit your organization’s non-puppet slam events. Please refer to the following Submission Due Dates for the remainder of 2012 and for 2013.  

We hope you will choose to participate in the greater PSN this year by using the resources of our website and by interacting with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger with upcoming events, photos, videos, calls for entry, and invitations.  We hope you will take advantage of the larger Puppet Slam Network

Puppet Slam Network Coordinator