Friday, February 10, 2012

Cathy Shaw in Conversation

Thinking of starting a  Puppet Slam in your area but want to know more? Looking for tips on running a puppet cabaret smoothly? Join the conversation between Jane Catherine (Cathy) Shaw and Conrad Bishop. Enter the mind of slam organizers as Conrad, who has a slam north of San Francisco in the works interviews Cathy, curator of the now biennial Voice4Vision Festival, which hosts the wildly successful Puppet Art Attacks Slam and HellzaPoppinPuppets in New York City.

Puppet Art Attacks Slam & HellzaPoppinPuppets
Puppet Junction's Dali with Sophia Remolde Šime Viduka and Serra Hirsch, 2009
Conrad Bishop: How many events per year do you have?

Cathy Shaw: The Voice 4 Vision Puppet Festival is now a biennial event and we historically hosted one Puppet Slam as part of the Festival, and that was the “Closing Celebratory Slam” – “The Puppet Art Attacks Slam."

This year we added a second event called HellzaPoppinPuppets (Slam) that experimented by inviting artists who may be working in other genres, but who are now doing things with puppetry (like clowns or nightclub singers, etc.) to see how what they are doing could inform us.

CB: How "curated" are you?  Is it totally open-mike, or selected?

CS:  Initially when I curated [Puppet Art Attacks] alone, I sent out an open call, but I did make it clear that this event was seeking "short works of genius."  I think a place for artists to learn their chops is good, but for the Puppet Art Attacks Slam, I wanted the event to be one that challenged artists to make their best short form work-and to bring the many puppetry forms to the attention of audiences.

I hoped that performing in the Slam would feel like a great compliment to the investment they had made in their work, so all of the work needed to be of high caliber to set the bar high!  It isn't that I wanted the atmosphere to be competitive, but that the artists should feel self competitive-to stretch as far as they can.

This year Honey Goodenough [curator of Puppet Pandemic] joined me as a co-curator and I believe she was more actively seeking certain artists to bring their work to the slam.

CB: Are there time limits on pieces?

CS: I say that pieces have to be between 3 and 7 minutes.  It is short form. Get to the point. Don't belabor it. Don't be precious. Make your statement in a limited amount of time!

CB: What type of performing venue do you use?

CS: We are in a black box theater with slightly raked seating. The theater is wider than it is deep. All of the equipment and soft goods are old or non-existent. We rent pretty much everything-from lighting instruments, to boards, to cables.
CB: What is the admission price? 

CS: We charge $12.00 a ticket.

CB:  How much tech (sound, lights, video) is available?

CS:  Because the Slam is one event in the V4V Festival, all of the equipment I rent to run the main stage shows is available for the slam.  Though we can't do special focus for the acts, we plan in advance a few specials that are likely to be needed, and then other light cues from the main stage shows usually end up being useful to the slam acts. I hire a Festival Lighting designer, Stage Manager, Sound Engineer, and board Ops. They come in and work the last minute rehearsal and have 2 or 3 hours to devise light and sound cues and record them.

CB: What is the average size of the audience?

CS: The Puppet Art Attacks Slam is always standing room only. This year the first HellzaPoppinPuppets had a pretty small house.

CB:  Are there any other elements to the evening? (Refreshments?  Spaghetti dinner?  Other types of performance?)

CS:  Mainly I' have been doing the Festival as my way of paying it forward for support I have had over the years, so my emphasis has been on getting information about the artists out on our web page, Facebook page, in the programs and as the host during the event, I would try to really make sure the audience knew who the artists were and what they were up to (It's a hard hard life to get support and audience....)

This year for kicks I tried serving popcorn and having a bar in the audience.  Though once the show started, no one would get up to get anything....

Carla Rhodes, 2011

CB:  What are some problems you have encountered?

CS: The messiest parts are the changeovers. You need someone who will run and organize the changeovers. I like it when all of the participating artists are part of making the event work - it really establishes a community fast.  They should each have a part to do in the changeovers.
Then you need someone to carefully go through the pieces with each artist, setting cues in a cue-to-cue fashion, building light and sound cues only - NO RUN THROUGHS! We are able to do 10 or 12 acts in 2 hours and all the cues are executed near perfect in the show. I do that, facilitating communications between the designers and the Stage Manager and the Board Ops and keeping things moving forward.

The artists may not be used to writing out a script (or they might say there isn't any dialogue, or that their piece is easy, just lights up lights down) - but still they have to write out a narrative in advance that the stage manager can use to record her cues (if he/she will be calling the show.) Otherwise the Board Ops need something that they can refer to during the show to jog their memory for the cues. All of the pieces might be easy separately, but put together it is an hour or more show with a lot going on. So, the artists must write a script that the crew can use to record what they need to record to run the cues as efficiently as possible. Even knowing if they will be onstage behind the host frozen to start, or if they will enter in darkness after the host has introduced them - all of this must be written in a script - its all part of how their piece resonates--so they should take care of every single detail and write it in a script they can give people who will execute cues for their piece.  They should get it to you in advance. Digital is best because the Stage Manager can format it just the way they like to write in cues.

P.S. Don't use iPods for sound cues! If anything, get a MAC with Qlab on it - all sound cues can be loaded into the computer as MP4 and it runs easily.

CB: Any other questions we should be asking?

CS: Its important to me that artists earn something for their work. Its important that it be part of what we know bout ourselves as artists, and that we begin to make it a part of what audiences know too. We contribute something important to culture and society. We earn our living doing it. Puppet Art Attacks receives a Puppet Slam Network grant and a good portion of it pays the artists for participating. We also give them a percentage of the door (the theater takes its cut first). This is real important to me, so I share that with you.

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