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. 

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