Thursday, March 26, 2015

finding Trekkie Monster


I'm delighted to get to stay on another semester at Fairfield University! This time to design the puppets for their spring production of Avenue Q, and teach a puppet building class to get them made. This has been one of the most challenging projects I've attempted, but the crew of 9 students are an incredible, dedicated and resilient team. 

I built a new version of Trekkie monster, inspired by the student actor playing him in our show, and based on the Project Puppet Borsa pattern, adapted. Here are some photos of me figuring him out, I'm too tired to add commentary yet. 
























































Saturday, February 21, 2015

Moby Dick




The ever lovely Tori Rysz invited me to march in a Mardi Gras parade through the annual fundraiser party of the New Haven Free Public Library. The grand space, my love of books and parades, and a recent revelation of the beauty of the language of Moby Dick immediately came together in a vision of this costume. Also, I have always, always wanted to wear a boat on my head. For serious. 






Using matte medium to transfer the text enlarged by copier, I sewed the first paragraph of the opening chapter "Loomings" onto a damaged bodice tossed at work. I'd planned for the whole dress to be text, but alas, it was a labor intensive process.






The ship is completely cardboard and chipboard, layered and shaped with wood glue and hot glue. The sails, muslin stained with walnut ink. 






My grandmother's box of lace contributed, especially for the mask I decided I needed an hour before the party. 






I'd dreamed up a rattan whale, but still not having manifested one by Tuesday morning, rigged up a cardboard Moby Dick that bobbed and opened his mouth via string operation. 






Lotta Studio set up a photo booth environment at the Library, and took the top photo with a polaroid. Thank you, guys! This completed the spirit I was going for. 










Wednesday, September 24, 2014

what an artist does all day


I saw a series of video documentaries under this project title and had a revelation-- it is a mystery to even my closest friends what I actually do all day. Often it is to me, too.

So I photo-documented my activities on Instagram during four days of making a new caryatid statue costume for the Hamburg Fair in August... minus the boring things like eating, sleeping and basic hygiene, (though there is precious little of that going on before a deadline anyway, as you can tell from the general decline in my appearances throughout the photos).

It's interesting, even to me, to see in photographic evidence the variety of skills that goes into building a living statue: sewing, painting, sculpting, building, prop shopping, plumbing, weightlifting, acting... there is occasionally a benefit to being a jack-of-all-trades.

Even with all this effort, the statue had some pitfalls the first round through-- the pedestal was to be rigged with a novelty trick that ran into technical difficulties, the dress didn't fall as statue-like as I'd imagined, etc, so there is more to be done. You have to love process to be in the statue arts!

On a side note-- though usually more of an art history major's interest and not mainstream knowledge, caryatids turned up in the news right after the Hamburg Fair debut. What are the odds!




















And the result, thus far:




Many curious and happy tigers!








Thursday, May 22, 2014

puppets in the city

     photo Brian Pounds, Connecticut Post


In a decade of leading workshops for kids and adults I've figured out that though I might teach adults sometimes, kids are really my teachers. I can show them some things they didn't know about, but I always come out of schools having gotten schooled myself. 

Last September I joined the teaching team of After School at the Klein (ASK), a performing arts program free to public high school students in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Brand new, thanks to a grant from the Board of Education, we were building from scratch and I was lucky enough to be invited to create a puppetry class.


Bridgeport is a rough and tumble city. Walking home isn't necessarily safe, much less self expression. Arts classes in public schools are not usual. The ASK program was made to bring students together with artists working in theater, expose them to all aspects of the performing arts, and be a safe environment for artistic and self exploration. 


It was also made to bring life and community connection back to an equally underserved entity, the Klein Memorial Auditorium, a grand 1400 seat theater from the 40's that became neglected when the surrounding neighborhood fell into disarray.

One of the first orders of business was to carve out some teaching spaces with very little budget. We turned an old office into a dance studio with a sprung floor thanks to some materials donations.


It was down to the wire, teachers and interns found themselves in the midst of construction during orientation.


Just in time we got it done. Here, before the paint went on, but the tremendous mirror installation in place.


Puppetry happily made its home in the Trap Room, the basement under the stage. Here we could make every kind of mess possible. We started the first semester with an exploration of materials, all easily found and often discarded, to discredit the notion that you can't make art unless you can afford expensive things from art stores. Then we played with every type of puppet: finger, hand, shadow, rod, bunraku-esque. And then moved into making large papier mache puppet heads.  


With this group I encountered the largest force of self-doubt I'd yet come up against. I had some self-doubt, too, unsure if I had the spark to combat it. So many students arrived each week already defeated, discouraged by their abilities and what was available to them. Even the need for developing basic motor skills was something I hadn't planned for, nor were the distractions from the more than usual challenges of their daily lives. So we borrowed this manifesto from Bread and Puppet which was always posted. Whenever spirits needed raising we would gather round and each shout a line.


There were a couple of natural born puppeteers. Anthony had a love for fabric that surpassed even my own, and could pull a puppet together out of anything. I once found him in a stairwell listening to someone practicing violin. "Brahms," he said. "I really love Brahms." Anthony! This is him discovering his phoenix.


And Tameika, a blossom of ferocious artistic determination. More like myself than any student I've yet met, but a hundred times braver and more sure of herself. She knows what she needs in order to do what she loves, and doesn't put up with anything that gets in the way of it. She came to my class because she had a dream of herself as a puppet. Here she is working on her Ghost Girl head. 


It wasn't always easy-- the concept of sticking through for the long haul was new to many, and no small obstacle to overcome was the keen aversion to cornstarch papier mache paste. 


But by the end of the semester they were looking at junk and puppets in a new way, and we put a foot in the doorway opening to the limitless possibilities in their own hands. 


But true to my theory, the biggest revelation was mine. Somewhere along the way I realized how lucky I had been to have art given to me through my family, and how it empowered me to create a world of my making to be in when the outside world was less than ideal. 


Some of these students are living in a world that is failing them all the time. Art isn't going to sustain all of them, but for the ones which it can, ASK is determined to make a space for them to be able to find it. 


In puppetry, it might just be the introduction of a new tool, or instruction on something as simple as how to angle scissors to get a good point cut.


And in other cases, maybe it was more. But with this work, seeds are planted for trees you don't expect to ever sit under. You just keep planting and planting because someone planted for you.


But puppets were just a fraction of the program which also included acting, stage craft, hip hop, Shakespeare, flash mob, film making, singing, and drumming. A great article about it in the CT Post is here.

We went bigger in the second semester, so big it needs its own post! That's coming next.