Monday, April 16, 2012

Honolulu Puppet Slams: Enda O. Breadon Interview - Part 1

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.

2008 Photo: Sandra Payne

Marsian: So you are hosting, Kolohe Puppet Slam this month?

Enda Breadon: Honestly, I regularly tell myself, “Holy crap, no one is going to show up to watch or be in this thing.”  I don’t know if paralyzing self-doubt is normally part of the process for other curators, but it is for me. 

M: How do you find acts?
EB: ..After deep philosophical arguments with myself about where to find performers and audience, I email and call everyone I know on Oahu who has any connection to puppetry.  A number see a “slam” as somehow beneath them, but I’ve seen some seriously gnarly folks getting excited and stepping up either to spread the word or enter. 

M: Like?
EB: Jeff Gere is a local puppeteer who deserves serious props (notice my hipster use of 90’s street terms, very “slam” they tell me).  The biggest support the slam has gotten is from Mark Branner, professor of puppetry at UH.  He’s championed the slam to his students and has us connected with the young performers that are the future of the local arts scene.  I’ve been on the UH campus a couple of times badgering his students to take part, with Mark’s support. 

M:  What inspired you to start hosting puppet slams?
EB: I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an expert at puppetry.  I had three really strong motivations for making this happen: 

1. Selfishly as an audience member, I wanted to make sure there were opportunities for me to see more puppetry happening;

2. Through the puppetry classes at UH-Manoa there are a lot of young puppeteers here and I wanted to give all of them an opportunity to get in front of an audience and try out their material in a way that was not based getting a grade and made them feel like this was a community to stay and continue their careers;

3. In Atlanta I saw how great puppet slams in were for encouraging artists to gather and share ideas.   We had a few really great events serving this purpose, but I’d love to see at least 5-10 more. 

M: Have you performed at other slams?
EB: Again, I feel sheepish in answering this one.  Even though I lived in Atlanta for six years and worked there regularly for almost ten years, I never once performed in one of their many slams.  It was always on my to-do list, but a combination of a usually pretty-busy schedule and fear kept me on the sidelines of Atlanta’s slams – mostly the latter. 

M: Well, there’s no time like the present…
EB: I still kick myself in the butt for not using slams as a way to try out the puppets in several shows that I directed.  For example, in 2008 I did a version of Stewart Little that had some two dimensional puppets that allowed us to do some really fun chase scenes.  The prop designer called them “protest signs.”  I thought they worked great and got good feedback, but to this day I wish I’d had an extra 3-ish hours of rehearsal time with them.  I could’ve tried them out at a slam, problem solved.  But I guess my head was in my okole.       

M: So you have been hosting your slam at The Actors’ Group in Kohole..
EB:  First, I think it’s important to say that the slam might not exist if it were not for the support of TAG’s Artistic Director, Brad Powell.  I have directed exactly one show at TAG.  About a year ago, Brad asked me to direct Inspector General, which was my very first interaction with TAG or with BradFrom the beginning it was part of my concept to have a sock puppet Greek chorus in Inspector.  Because Brad and I were talking about Inspector General and about puppets, it was a pretty natural fit to do the first Kolohe Puppet Slam at TAG.  And our sock puppets in Inspector (but not the “head puppets” we also use) got to use the slam as a way to help the puppeteers improve technique and find out what worked and didn’t work. 

M: Will you be having future slams at TAG?
EB: Unfortunately we’ve just had to move the slam out of TAG.  I’m not sure if I’ll direct at TAG again.  Brad hasn’t made a specific offer, but keeps telling me he wants me back.  The hulabaloo I’ll go into later has me wondering if that would be a wise decision.  The great upside of the story is that ARTsmith, a venue and artist-collective, stepped up and in the space of two phone calls was really excited to give our a home to our slam this month.  ARTsmith is about to do some reorganizing and in the shuffle we may be homeless again. I would love to get advice from other curators who have gone through this kind of thing. 

M: What was it like hosting your very first slam just a few weeks ago?
EB: I co-hosted with Judy Doodee (Howdy Doodee’s former trophy wife).  She was there to shill her new biography, Woodies I Have Known.  Apparently, the section on Pinocchio is pretty steamy. 

M: I haven’t seen that title.. I guess it must be too hot for the Puppetry Store. . .
EB: I wore an Aloha shirt, I guess because I believe in reinforcing stereotypes. Before the opening, I was sweating in places the FCC doesn’t like you to talk about. 

M: I hear botox can help with that.
EB: The whole day leading up to it my wife and I were making trophies for the slam.  They turned out appropriately crappy I think.  The winner trophy had a sign on the back that said, “Quit looking at my ass!” The Russian sock puppets from Inspector General took second place.   While not puppeteering, I interacted as part of their performance.  It was later in the evening, so a lot of the nerves had worn off.  But we had judges, so even though I was co-host and curator, I’ve got a little bit of defense against favoritism charges. 

M: Are you working on anything particular for your next slam?
EB: My friend Lani Murray and I have half-written a dirty puppet piece about the Bronte sisters using Barbie puppets.  We’re tentatively going to try out at the third Kolohe Puppet Slam.  I’m hoping when my wife and I bring our new baby to the mainland to meet family I can also go to some slams and enter the Bronte piece.  Just FYI, Lani is the funniest, dirtiest 79-year old I have ever known.  On the day we met she told me, “You know the best thing about my double mastectomy is that I can go topless on Halloween.”  

M: It’s a real gift to be able to make your own cancer hilarious.  What’s the most exotic location you’ve seen a slam?
EB: While Honolulu would probably be pretty exotic to a lot of puppeteers, in comparison to here, I guess the most exotic place I’ve seen a slam/cabaret was in Dublin.  My parents are from there and my cousin has worked the cabaret circuit with a really hilarious character I’ve seen her do twice.  Unfortunately the second time I was watching it with my mom and my cousin’s mom.  When she started her dirty ditties we all tried not to look at each other.  I’m pretty sure she’s taken that character to London and Edinburgh, but not positive.  I also once saw a poetry slam in Cardiff, Wales, that was really fun because the big name poets – the big draws – were mostly plastered and didn’t give a shit.  One of them joked about how he’d lost a slam at a boy’s school earlier in the day because the student judges all voted for the “busty female gym teacher.”

M: What’s the edgiest slam piece you have witnessed?
EB: As for edgiest, it might have been our winner last time.  It was a puppet that manipulated his own puppet, who had just gotten out of prison.  It was really cool.  The judges gave the award to Chucky, the puppet, and not to the puppeteer ultimately working them both.  In the interest of full disclosure, that puppeteer was Nicole Deslauries, who designed my Russian sock puppets that got second.  I only met Nicole when she expressed an interest in the slam.  So you can point out how awesome she is and/or point out how the slam is already drawing people together 

M: Done! What was the worst slam you’ve been to?
EB: Nothing jumps to mind as far as puppet slams.  However, I was once a judge for a high school acting slam/competition that was beyond painful. 

M: What made it a disaster, beyond the obvious?
EB: It was the complete level of bullshit from the parents and teachers.  They were hostile to the judges, all of whom were professional actors doing it as a favor to the host school.  Just thinking about that now is a reminder how important it is for me to keep the slam here all about having a good time.  If people are getting angry emails a week later because of the results and it isn’t fun, nothing else probably matters. I won’t say the name, but it was pretty prestigious private school in Atlanta.  I hope for the students’ sake the drama teacher there has grown up a little and it has rubbed off on the parents.   

M: Join us for part 2 of our interview with Enda O. Breadon where we talk more about the Honolulu puppet slam scene

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