Saturday, April 6, 2013

Nick Hubbard and the Fussy Cloud Puppet Slam #Seattle

Nick Hubbard is a performance and visual artist currently based in Seattle. His work springs from the intersection of shadow theater and other art forms including puppetry, music, poetry, and actor's theater. He has been performing short-form puppetry since 2008, at venues like On the Boards, Theatre-Off-Jackson, and the Frye Art Museum. He is a co-founder of the Fussy Cloud Puppet Slam, a puppetry festival organizer, and the President of the Board of Trustees of the Puppeteers of America.

Photo by Greta Wilson, 2011

Marsian: How long have you been performing at Puppet Slams?
Nick Hubbard: It hasn't been very long for me at official puppet slams. My first slam experience was in 2011, and I was wearing a suit, a bow-tie, and a fedora. I was performing a piece that's built out of a suitcase, where I'm a bit of a traveling salesman, I had found a poem that I would transform into an object theater of shadows for the audience. I was under a bit of duress, because I couldn't get my light to turn on. It came together in the end.

M: What slams have you performed at?
NH: A total of four events that were technically slams, all in the epic setting of the Pacific Northwest (Seattle and Portland). Prior to that, I had performed short-form puppetry around Seattle, mostly in collaboration with a storyteller named Wes Andrews.

M: What is the weirdest show you have seen?
NH: In Olympia, WA, I saw a bare-chested guy perform a ballet of strength with a six by one foot square wooden column he'd fashioned himself. It was somewhere between The Passion of Christ and the opening sequence of the recent Les Miserables.

M: What inspired you to start hosting a puppet slam?
NH: Witnessing the National Puppet Slam at the 2011 National Puppetry Festival in Atlanta, GA, motivated a group of us from Seattle to make something happen in our city. We wanted to promote the same caliber of bold, experimental work from West Coast puppeteers.

M: Are you part of a slam circuit?
NH: Portland and Vancouver, BC, are both holding slams now. I'd say we are starting to develop a circuit -- with San Francisco and Los Angeles as distant links on the Southern end. Rather than being unique from the others around, I think we all share a common energy and, with that in mind, have been seeking ways to share acts and support each other's events.

M: Tell us about a fabulous failure and what you've learned from it.
NH: I once had to do a show in a space that didn't give us much tech beforehand, and I wasn't able to verify that I'd have complete darkness. My piece required complete darkness, and so once I started, it was clear the audience wouldn't be able to see anything. I had to pull the plug, essentially, and I came out of it feeling that great. I learned both the need to have something flexible for slam pieces (or be very clear about what my tech requirements are), and also that you and the audience can come out OK if you just relax and laugh a bit.

M: Why are Puppet Slams important to you?

NH: I think slams are shaking up the conventions of puppetry, in particular around who can make work. They are making the form more accessible to interested people who want an opportunity to test out their own ideas somewhere besides their garage, but may not be at a university or other venue that's open to broad experimentation. Slams are generating energy and connecting puppeteers across state and international boundaries.

M: What inspires you to create a puppet slam piece?
NH: I'm especially inspired by works of literature that feel too short to expand into a larger show, but contain enough in them that they are worth adapting. Poems seem to often fit in this category, and so do picture books.

M: Who are some other artists you are inspired by?
NH: I'm impressed with the savvy of Carole D'Agostino, especially the way she released three parts of her "Hoarding Show" through various slam appearances. It was a smart way to get feedback on the development of the show and generate interest in the larger work.

M: Where can people contact you to perform?

M: Where do you see the Puppet Slam Network in 5 years?
NH: I see the Puppet Slam Network as a place where many burgeoning puppeteers find their footing. I see it as a hub for touring artists who are, through the slam community and with the support of the PSN, able to compliment and promote larger projects. I see growing audience for puppetry thanks to the PSN; I think people will develop their taste for the art from slams and this will make them more open to all of puppetry's manifestations.

M: Any advice for up and coming slam artists?
NH: Be bold and be invested -- try new things, let yourself make mistakes, and take the time to develop your pieces with rehearsals and reiterations of puppets.

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