What it Is

Welcome to the online development log for the The Puppeteers, an original comedy by the contemporary commedia dell'arte troupe Zuppa del Giorno. Here you will find lots of research, disjointed rambling and spit-balling, all of which has led to the creation of a show.
Want to book it?
The Puppeteers are available for mid-size venues, with sufficient time to remount! It's a show that can be customized to any area, any audience. Simply contact director Jeff Wills on email!

June 24, 2011


Why am I writing here? Show's over. Guess I just needed to contribute this little finding to our once-discussion of pareidolia and simulacra. Found here, this is in reference to Eliza, one of the first "chat-bots" and how people tended to behave with it (her?):
"The phenomenon Weizenbaum was observing was later dubbed "the Eliza effect" by Shelly Turkle, which she defined as the tendency 'to project our feelings onto objects and to treat things as though they were people.' In computer science and new media circles, the Eliza effect has become shorthand for a user's tendency to assume based on its surface properties that a program is much more sophisticated, much more intelligent, than it really is."
And now, an update.

It seems that my online wanderings keep leading me back to a theme here. Reading up (to stave off my unending appetite for to play the game Portal 2) on the trivia for the video game Portal, this little nugget popped up. It's regarding one of the props your character uses in the game, the companion cube:
The Weighted Companion Cube inspiration was from project lead Kim Swift with additional input from Wolpaw from reading some "declassified government interrogation thing" whereby "isolation leads subjects to begin to attach to inanimate objects";[38][41] Swift commented, "We had a long level called Box Marathon; we wanted players to bring this box with them from the beginning to the end. But people would forget about the box, so we added dialogue, applied the heart to the cube, and continued to up the ante until people became attached to the box. Later on, we added the incineration idea. The artistic expression grew from the gameplay."[42] Wolpaw further noted that the need to incinerate the Weighted Companion Cube came as a result of the final boss battle design; they recognized they had not introduced the idea of incineration necessary to complete the boss battle, and by training the player to do it with the Weighted Companion Cube, found the narrative "way stronger" with its "death".[45] Swift noted that reported psychological comparisons to both the Milgram experiment and 2001: A Space Odyssey are happenstance.[42]
I can't say that the world is trying to lead me to something for sure. But it surely is feeling that way.

February 24, 2011

ETC Article: March

And We All Float On...
Tucked into a closet deep in the inner workings of the Electric Theatre Company there are a few things of mine: a pay-as-you-go cellular phone, an old Charlie Chaplin marionette and a new-but-somewhat-used rod puppet named Rudy Lippers (né Kalinowski).  These are of course some of the trappings of The Puppeteers, which performed its last show on February 6.  The fate of the rest of our cast of some thirty puppets, prefabricated and made specifically for this show alike, I don’t know.
          Well, a good many of them went home with Conor, as he provided them and owns them.  With him too, and with Heather and Elizabeth as well, went their respective “doppelgänger” hand puppets - closing gifts from yours truly.  But that leaves quite a few more.  Some, I suppose, may have been scooped up by their makers, or by the amazing Chris Estevez or his brother, who spent hours beautifully and creatively applying color to our creations.  No one could take them all though, and many of them were made of otherwise disposable materials.  So, while some I’m sure got boxed up and shelved somewhere (this is a not-for-profit theatre, after all) many might have had existences as fleeting as a work of theatre.
          That is to say, now many of the puppets probably exist only in our memories.
          Nowadays, there’s a temptation to describe theatre as a uniquely temporal entertainment.  We’re so focused on recorded media that it presents a context for something as fleeting as a theatre production to seem oddly archaic, when in fact the theatre is the more common experience.  Sure, there’s all this stored and saved information - more and more every day.  But life itself is temporal.  The very experience of our day-to-day is a series of moments that can never be relived, no matter how repetitive or familiar they may seem.  It’s commonly held that this is part of what gives life its value, the fact that it ends.  In a way I find very similar, a show exists in the moment and, eventually, only in memory.
          So, some memories, incredibly partial and in no particular order:

  • Almost as soon as we discovered that golf-club covers could be made into wonderfully simple puppets, we fell in love with them and the Veedoots (as they came to be called) seemed to take on a life of their own.  And to think: When we went shopping at the craft store for general supplies, I almost ruled out the little white cardboard circles that became their eyes for being too generic.
  • In Prohibitive Standards, I broke Heather’s toe with a chair.  In The Very Nearly Perfect Comedy of Romeo & Juliet, she tore something in her calf.  In The Puppeteers she re-injured that calf, and in every case she continued on with the show, incorporating her injury.  (Heather may have to be the director next time, for her own safety.)
  • Come to that, we had illnesses and injuries galore during this process, from actors to company managers.  Only Conor escaped unscathed, which seems about right somehow.  We came to refer to ourselves as the Spider-Man of Scranton, in reference to the Broadway show now racking up injury liability left and right.
  • When rehearsal got too overwhelming or we needed time to refocus, we set to work on coming up with puppets.  For a couple of weeks there, the theatre space was an amazing pastiche of trash, and we kept being nervous someone had left the glue gun on.  It was a lovely mess.
  • Before proper rehearsal, when everything was still unformed, we had these amazing improvisations that might even as time goes on become confused in my mind with the show itself.  We might have made three whole shows in our process, if only someone could have had the organizational super-power to gather our scraps.
  • The first night we all went out for a nightcap as a company, to Jack’s, midway through rehearsal.  The warm light, relaxation and an icy snow outside.
  • “We have another interview today.  We have another interview today?!”  I think there was a week or so there where I was continually surprised by strangers in our rehearsal space.  The frenzy of production and the torpor of bedtime, and all that permissible obsession.
  • How worried we grew about technical support as time marched on, and how Jim Langan and Drake Gomez swooped in and performed miracles on the space akin to the ones Chris and his brother performed on our puppets.
  • The many moments in rehearsal when, as we innocently explored the characters’ personal conflicts in this whimsical comedy, I was surprised to find myself deeply moved by the actors’ portrayals.  Leonoria’s never-ending battle with her crippling fear, Tina’s amazing discovery of deep wells of emotion and, of course, Bob’s heart-breaking crisis of confidence.
  • Those first audience laughs.

There’s no shortage of memories with this production and, ultimately, that’s the best I can hope for.
          That sentence proves my assertion from the first of these articles - that I’m an excellent liar.  The fact is, I can hope for more.  I can hope that our show created some memories for those who participated in it with us, behind the scenes and from the audience.  Undoubtedly some of the people who joined in the action of act two will likely remember their roles as either Dorothy, the uniform Ozian or the Wicked Witch of the West.  More than that, however, I hope for a few of the children from our audiences to grow up remembering fondly our unworthy scaffold and its little story.
          One of the messages of The Wizard of Oz is that we each carry a little bit of our home with us, no matter where we find ourselves.  I like that idea.  It’s important that a memory of home lives on in us because, as they say, no matter where you go, there you are.  I look forward to my next visit to Scranton (which I often refer to as my artistic home away from home) to collect my little talismans.  There will be no stories to write, or windows to dress, or crocodiles to construct, but many friends to see. And though things will be different, they will also be new, and that’s a good way for life to be.
          One last thought. (I promise, because if I go on much longer we’ll have gotten WAY too introspective.) There’s another idiom about home that strangely in all my thinking about the themes of the show I never came up with. That is: You can never go home again. I think that one’s true as well, and it terrifies me, and that’s life - nothing stays the same. The trick is in learning to go with the prevailing winds when you can. Like a good balloonist. Don't worry, we'll all float on. Even if things get heavy, we'll all float on, all right...

February 3, 2011

Bill Williams (Elizabeth's dad)

Elizabeth's father maintains his own 'blog, and had some insightful and interesting ideas to share recently that were partly inspired by attending one of our matinées.  Check out his thoughts on education and theatre here: Scranton Sunday.

February 2, 2011

Punxsutawney Puppet

Super Punch had a post today that reminded me of one of the puppets we made from a screen duster found at Staples.  We made ours into more of a googly-eyed-alien-thing, but different strokes, etc.
Final week of shows begins tonight!  Getcher tickets!

January 28, 2011

Marybeth's Show Report: 1/28

Show Notes 1/27/11 

Time:     (6-9)  6-set up/warmup Showtime: 7:10
                Act I – 61 Minutes; intermission –13 Minutes;  Act II-  39 Minutes

             OH MY GOSH a little boy just told Leonoria “That’s YOU!” referring to her doppelganger [puppet].  He’s so cute!  See, little kids ARE great!  And he helped Leonoria build a fort and is now “The small puppet in the front row” -the newest member of our cast!  Also, our cast is taking some different routes and by that I mean experimenting with lines, voices, and ALSO entrances and exits – completely different show!  Hello, Zuppa!  “Love is sometimes like going to Northern Light and getting a fancy coffee with a picture in it and listening to a guitar, and sometimes it’s like the Avian Bird Flu.”  Poor little Rudy lost his legs… The two little kids in the front row were a fabulous combined witch!

January 27, 2011

Marybeth's Show Report: 1/26

Our esteemed stage manager emailed me the show report after last night's performance, and I thought her color commentary too endearing not to include on the 'blog.  And so, for your edification, ladies and gentlemen, Marybeth Langdon's show notes:

Show Notes 1/26/11 

Time:     (6-9)  6-set up/warmup Showtime: 7:11pm

Act I – 59 Minutes; intermission – 13 Minutes;  Act II-  39 Minutes Minutes

                The audience is eating the show like CANDY!  There were a bunch of college students and a few kids.  Oh my gosh and they CLAPPED when Bob found his voice!  One of the best audiences ever!  And now a little child has one of her puppets on a string of garland… and Bob used it to threaten Leonoria… This is insanity!!!!  I LOVE IT!  Best responses to kisses and roaring!  So… the veedoot basket got caught on the clock sign????  Luckily it went along with the sound[; by] Jimminy Crickets these veedots know how to cause problems.  So I had to throw two airplanes because the first got caught on the lights and took a nose dive.  Le sigh. VERY interactive second act.  Lots of energy!!!

January 26, 2011

ETC Article: February

The Other Side
I am back home, in Queens.  I still have a spot of crocodile-green (actually “chalkboard spray paint”) on my right forearm, and a warm glow in my heart from the way things came together opening week.  The director’s process, you see, is done.  I have given the show over to two very influential creative types now: the actors, and you - the audience.  Most of the time shows are merely handed over to the actors after the director has left, but in the case of a show that has no script and is as dependent on audience interaction as ours is, it’s as much (if not more) the audience’s as it is the actors’.
    So what is of the utmost import now, is that we have an audience.  I have some hopes for this, even going into what is routinely the toughest sell - the second week.  The second week is the awkward middle child of the run.  It gets none of the torrential press of opening (see the ‘blog for coverage from no less than six sources) and none of the last-minute dash of closing.  The second week is the one during which people literally forget that there are performances.  Yet, as I say, I have some hopes.  We’ve worked hard to promote the show from even before the articles, even before the rehearsals began.  If you are reading this in the newsletter, you probably received one of our unique holiday postcards, and if you’ve been by the theatre you may have lost in a coat pocket somewhere a fabricated stick puppet, or even a bag puppet you made yourself.
    At the end of my time in Scranton, I got to be an audience member a few times.  Preview performances don’t count (I could still [and did, very much so] take notes then) and opening is far too high-pressure for any sensible appreciation of a show.  That left two performances before I had to cross back over the Delaware Water Gap and of those one had a highly responsive audience, and the other less so.  This is extremely important, and I and the rest of the troupe were lucky to have this contrast.  It meant we were tested against both high-energy audiences - a boon for comedies such as this - and lower-energy ones, which can show some unfortunate failings in a given show.
    I’m very pleased to report that our show succeeds both as an interactive, zany comedy, and as a tender and intelligent little story about bravery and friendship.
    I am, of course, a little biased.  At least I’m basing my evaluation in part on audience reaction.  Even the quieter audience was all smiles, and leaned forward in their seats.  At its heart, our play is a story about how confronting personal challenges can bring people together, and I think that’s the kind of story a broad range of people can appreciate.  Especially when it’s funny to boot.
    And it is funny.  I’ve heard directors say, and occasionally as an actor believed, that a comedy lives only once it’s left the director’s hands.  I can now claim that theory to be definitive.  All our little experiments for audience participation have had their tweaks now, and they work beautifully.  Even the big gamble: text messages from the audience to the players!  At the eleventh hour, literally when I was feeling past all hope, we acquired a new performer in the form of a Mr. Cory Brim.  Cory took up all the offstage duties of ancillary puppeteering, and he is like the epoxy of our strange little world.  Most of all, however, the actors have found their show.  They know how to play it, and when to let it play them, and there’s a sense of satisfaction to that like I’ve never known.
    It was for me, however, slightly bitter-sweet to watch the show from the other side rather than participate in it.  I’ve been grappling with this in little ways even as I sat in an empty audience in rehearsals, but it really hit home as I watched the actors riff on and ride out all-new jokes while friends and strangers laughed around me.  While the audience gets to experience inclusion for the first time, and even participation, I have had to acknowledge that my involvement is waning.  And when I return to watch the final shows, They’ll be something completely different from what I helped make.  They’ll be your performances.  And that’s going to be amazing.

January 25, 2011

Mark Dennebaum Jr. & that Thing called Theatre

Every so often, the collaboration involved in a creative endeavor (like theatre) goes beyond simple reciprocation, and there are unexpected rewards.  When Mark and 25/8 Productions Inc. came by and then created a fantastic promotional video for us, I thought that was the end-all, be-all of results.  I was gratifyingly wrong.  A whole heap of 25/8ers came to the show opening night, and apparently enjoyed themselves and - much to my surprise - Mark ended up writing a really wonderful response to what turned out to be among his first encounters with live theatre.  Your can read that here.

I like this about theatre, that it can have a direct effect on someone and you get to be there to witness it happen.  I also love this about information technology, that it gives us the opportunity to communicate about that kind of experience not just in the room, but more at large.  Lastly, we like Mark.  Somebody out there make him rich and famous, stat.

January 24, 2011

The Abington Journal

Photo by Ryan D. Beardsley
Ryan Beardsley came by a couple of weeks ago and did a great write-up on us for the Abington Journal.  You can check it out here: The Abington Journal write-up of The Puppeteers.  I really enjoyed speaking with Ryan, and he seemed to really understand what we are about, to the extent that he considered quoting the actors in his article a priority.

The best part, of course, may be that it's now in print that Conor has promised to wear deodorant for the run of the show.  That's binding and in the record, McGuigan!

Is This a Puppet? 7

Found here.

January 22, 2011

Go Lackawanna

Photo by Niko J. Kallianiotis
Rich Howells did an extensive interview with me a couple of weeks ago - my first for this show - and on the 18th the article went to press.  Read it here: Go Lackawanna on The Puppeteers.

Rich really impressed me with his insights into what we are doing, and he's expressed some interest in following up with a visit to explore more of the inner workings of a contemporary commedia troupe.  I hope we can work that out, because he's one honorary cast member I'd love to personally introduce to our lovely land of Oz.

January 20, 2011

First Preview

First of all, thanks to everyone who made it out for our first preview performance!  It goes for all theatre - but especially the commedia dell'arte sort - that the final cast member to join is the audience.  We had about 35 daring folks join us for our very first foray with that "cast member," and we learned a lot from the experience.  Primarily, we learned that including the audience as much as possible is going to be key to this show's success.  We had a lot of enthusiasm from last night's crowd, and that was incredibly exciting.

We also had a lot of gaffs.  That's what preview performances are about, after all.  Pleasingly, all the gaffs were technical ones, which is the aspect of the show that's had the least rehearsal.  One sock puppet got put on upside down (the next puppet show I direct may feature exclusively sock puppets with eyes on their bellies), a giant bag puppet needed about a minute to find its way to the stage and we were flat-out missing a plot-central sound cue.  What was rather inspiring about the whole thing was that because the show is semi-improvised, all these gaffs brought us to exciting and useful discoveries about the show.

And our stage manager, Marybeth Langdon, deserves a Tony for delivering the missing sound cue verbally in her inimitable style.

I'm very much looking forward to tonight's second preview, and can only hope it brings in an audience as varied and generous as last night's.  Official opening is this Friday, and I actually feel a little bad for the folks planning on attending then.  The show will be so slick by then, they'll miss some of the developmental fun...

January 17, 2011

25/8 Productions Inc.

This, dear friends, is exciting.  Mark Dennebaum Jr. came by with his production company, 25/8 Productions Inc., and not only interviewed us all but produced a video from it to boot.  I love the set-ups and editing on this - it makes me feel far more professional than I have any right to, and portrays the performers in all their effortless glory.  Enjoy!

January 15, 2011

The Weekender

Photo by Jason Riedmiller
Michael Lello did an unbelievably great article on our show for The Weekender, one which included interviews with the actors and photos of their acrobalance practice.  You can read the two-page spread online here:  The Puppeteers write-up in The Weekender.  Be sure to scroll down for the acro-photos!

January 14, 2011

The Times-Leader

Photo by Niko J. Kallianiotis
Mary Therese Biebel interviewed me about The Puppeteers for the Times-Leader, and you can view the polished results of my disjointed rambling here: Puppeteers write-up in the Times-Leader.  I really appreciated Mary Therese's emphasis on the characters in her article.  It seems in keeping with our process, and how the foundation for all the zaniness is grounded, recognizable and original characterization.

January 13, 2011

The Times-Tribune

Photo by David Zarko.
Patrice Wilding wrote an article on our show, and it was a pleasant (albeit somewhat overwhelming) surprise to find it in a central, red-bordered location on the front page of the arts section of the Times-Tribune this morning. Talking to Patrice was a joy - the experience was more like a conversation between friends than an interview.  You can read the result here: Times-Tribune write-up on The Puppeteers.

January 5, 2011

Rich Howells

I don't like to pick favorites, but this interview Rich Howells did with me would be it, if I did such things. His style lent itself to a more conversational approach, and we really got into a discussion of what the ideas behind the show were. I didn't think of it as a significant moment at the time, but reading back over it I realize it was some of my clearest thinking about the show prior to its opening.

ETC Article: January

Window Dressing
I was working on the window display along Spruce Street for the theatre yesterday - this is exactly the sort of thing I get obsessed with when there’s something actually important to get done - when I got to thinking about how to summarize everything that’s happened with the development of The Puppeteers since my last article.  I spent several hours dismantling Christmas decorations, searching for raw material for our display and setting it up (and re-setting it up), and in that time I realized something important.
    It can’t be done.
    I could tell you about the two weekends spent in Scranton prior to the holidays, and all the plot and concept developed out of that.  I could emphasize that we are all here in Scranton now, through the end of things; that in the past six rehearsals that we’ve had we’ve constructed some two dozen puppets, created an entire play, thrown out half of it and condensed the rest into a first act.  I could go on to let you in on the fact that I structured a scenario for act two last night which, with any luck, the brilliant actors will improvise around tonight and find inspiration in.  There’s a lot of detail I could relate to you about what we’ve been up to.
    The trouble is, none of it would fully relate the strange place in the development process we’ve now entered.  It’s not dissimilar to travelling to a magical land of color and song, in fact.  Everything is predicated on instinct now.  Ideas are realized fast and without thinking, and most discarded just as quickly based on sheer non-verbal responses.  Improvisations are as likely to be created during break time as they are during stage time.  There’s sheer glee and utter terror, more questions than what we know to do with, and two craft tables in a TOTAL CHAOS of paper, glue, foam, dowel rods and googly eyes.
    It’s wonderful.
    The aspect that probably sets this show apart from our previous collaborations is the sheer number of cast members.  We are vastly outnumbered by performers made of felt and cardboard, and often upstaged by them at that.  The ideas for a transforming set are coming together nicely as well, and we will soon be playing with a replica Punch-n-Judy box and a human-sized puppet stage.  Conor and I will soon be recording sound cues for a psychedelic travel sequence, musical themes for our main characters and even a ferocious, threatening crocodile’s bark.  But all of that, even the joy-infusing, scene-stealing puppets, is just window dressing.
    The key to a good show under any circumstances, but particularly when said show is going to be semi-improvised comedy, is a strong ensemble.  It seems to me that is one of the things audiences really come to the theatre, and few places else, to see.  Real people in having true interactions in real time.  It should be like watching an encapsulated family - dysfunctional, perhaps; hilarious, hopefully - and recognizing all the ways in which they push one another’s buttons.  The actors have found that in the past week.  Continue to find it, in fact, in new and surprising ways, and this is what gives the show its substance.  Every day it has more heart, smarts, and bravery.  In a word, more ensemble.
    So since I can’t summarize where we are (who after all can define the boundaries of Oz?), you’ll just have to come down and experience it for yourself.  The development log is still up and running, and soon will have backstage video: http://thepuppeteersproduction.blogspot.com/.  And if you find yourself strolling down Spruce Street and are suddenly blinded by the glare of golden streamers from a window display, don’t fear for your eyes and run!  Come inside, past the window dressing and up to the second floor, and pop in to see what sort of anarchy we’re up to. 

December 28, 2010

A Smattering

 Is this a puppet?  (Assuming the captives are the ones responsible for moving the appendages.)
 I always admired these when I was a kid...
 ...they are really, really difficult.

December 26, 2010

Kim W. on Object Theatre

This kind of thing is seen more often in Europe right now, but there's a subset of puppetry which turns various found objects into puppets. Aficionados and practitioners call this "Object Theatre" most often, but it's also been called "object puppetry".  We all sometimes do this kind of puppetry on a small scale: when trying to describe a complicated event to a friend, we spontaneously may have reached for a couple of random things on the table to help illustrate our point: "okay, let's say this salt shaker is me, and the ketchup is the car I saw -- and the pepper mill is the bike.  So if I was standing HERE, then the bike swerved out of the way of the car like THIS, and then..."

I found a blog maintained by one Richard Allen, who's pursuing a PhD in this very discipline; or, in his words, "on the practice and research of objects in performance."  He's got an exhaustive, if somewhat opinionated, definition of "object theater" on his blog:
"Object Theatre is a term that has been ghettoised as a sub-category of puppetry, often used to describe a performance style that contains the animation of tilitarian, or pre-existing 'found' objects rather than those constructed for theatrical effect (such as the puppet). As a result, practitioners of 'object theatre' commonly share what I consider to be the key principle of puppetry: the transformation of an object into a subjectified character (a box of spoons becomes a village, a sieve the head of a girl). Puppeteers often claim that it is precisely the puppet/object's lack of a programme of acting or conscious ego (it's very object-ness) that makes it such a potent tool for the theatre, yet paradoxically, the process of puppetry often imposes it's own programme of acting propelled by the will of the performer. The objects are rarely allowed to act for themselves; the subject is forcibly imposed onto them, as they become a medium for the performers and audiences subjectifcation. The object adopts the role that character performs conventionally  for the actor.  I would argue that this ghettoisation misrepresents what thinking through a theatre of 'objects' might mean."

There are a handful of people here in the U.S. who work with Object Theater; one company, LorenKahn, is based in New Mexico, and is a two-woman company, offering shows incorporating not just traditional puppets, but feathers, life rafts, glasses of water, and themselves.  LorenKahn's site has a collection of videos of some of their works:


Closer to home, New York is home to Tiny Ninja Theater, a company born when founder Dov Weinstein -- who's studied puppetry -- became fascinated with little ninja toys that started turning up in vending machines in New York in 1999.  Something prompted him to get a bunch and use them to perform a rendition of Shakespeare's MACBETH; that debuted at the Fringe Festival in 2000.  Tiny Ninja has since gone on to do adaptations of ROMEO AND JULIET as well as three original works, all
using tiny dime-store plastic toys as puppets.


December 24, 2010

Here is a beautiful video that reminded me of some things we talked about last weekend:

December 22, 2010

In Which Kim W. Has An Epiphany

I was contemplating the response viewers had to Cookie Monster's puppeteers being visible at show's end; most viewers said that they honestly hadn't noticed the puppeteers, because they were too busy looking at Cookie Monster. Could it be, I wondered, that we've somehow internalized the idea that you're "not supposed to see them" that even when you do see puppeteers, you don't "see" them? This is how it's done with Japanese bunraku, after all -- the puppeteers manipulate the puppets in full view of the audience, but they dress in black so they sort of "fade into the background." Originally, bunraku used this technique because the low lighting in most performance spaces really did let a dark-dressed puppeteer fade into the background; and audiences just were used to the convention even as lighting improved.

But then I realized that it is very likely that a blue furry monster is simply just more attention-getting than a human. Any puppet is probably going to be more attention-getting than an actual human, even the very realistic ones -- because with a realistic puppet, audiences would be watching to see just how "lifelike" it is. So audiences may have simply tuned out the puppeteers because of "ooh, it's Cookie Monster, that's different!"

Anyway. Speaking of bunraku, here's another clip -- this made the rounds of youtube a few years back, where a team uses puppetry techniques not just on puppets, but on people, to do a sort of Matrix "bullet-time" sketch about a ping pong game.

December 20, 2010

Kim W. on Puppet Current Events 2

I'm finding that puppets are turning up in some arguably unusual places lately.  Cookie Monster showing up suddenly on SNL last weekend was just one example.  But I've found some others:
  • Triumph the Insult Comic Dog is old hat by now, but probably raised a couple eyebrows when he first debuted in 1997.  He's arguably enough of a hit that NBC made sure he was one of the "intellectual property" items that Conan O'Brien couldn't take with him when he left the TONIGHT show.
  • The Sci-Fi show "Farscape" was an Australian/American show that ran in the early 2000's.  The Henson company was associated with some of the special effects -- and two of the regular characters, "Rygel" and "Pilot," were Henson-company designed puppets.
  • Craig Ferguson's LATE SHOW has been traditionally doing very, very silly things with the show's opening; before they run the opening credits, they usually have a musical production number, featuring Craig Ferguson and his cast either singing or lip-syncing and dancing to a particular song.  Sometimes the song has something to do with the show (they wrote lyrics for the DOCTOR WHO theme song when the show's star, Matt Smith, was on recently), and sometimes, it...doesn't.  And just to cap off the silliness, these segments are often introduced by a bunny puppet, named "Sid", and sometimes they feature shark or camel puppets to join in the action.
My own favorite clips are below: Craig and his cast -- including three puppets wearing fezes -- lip-synching to They Might Be Giants' cover of "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"...

...and Sid the Bunny introducing Adam Savage and Jaime Hyneman when they joined in on a rendition of Modern English's song "Melt With You".

December 19, 2010

Kim W. on Puppet Current Events

Don't know if anyone noticed, but a Muppet made it back on Saturday Night Live again this past weekend.  The host for the night of December 18th was Jeff Bridges -- and in his opening monologue, he brought out...Cookie Monster.  There was some flannel about how Cookie Monster had "always wanted to host the show," and he and Jeff Bridges sang an alternative version of the song "Silver Bells."

Today's NEW YORK TIMES arts blog pointed out something else interesting about the event, though.  At the show's end, when the cast was assembled onstage for their final bows and goodnights, they also brought out Cookie Monster -- and the two puppeteers who were working him, who were letting themselves "be visible."  The TIMES blog made a big deal of that -- they hadn't ever remembered a Henson puppeteer let themselves be SEEN working a puppet.  However, most of the readers comments on the blog all said the same thing -- "...honestly, I didn't really notice the puppeteers, I was just looking at Cookie Monster."

[EDITOR'S NOTE:  Most people are calling this a random sort of appearance, but in point of fact the Sesame Street folk created a parody "petition" video a few weeks back - a la Betty White - for C.M. to host SNL.  I suppose this was the closest he was allowed to get.]

December 17, 2010


I have a problem with letting people learn. I feel I run things best by myself. On the show I did most of the puppeteering and voices. It's just easier that way. It takes too much time to sit somebody down and go through the steps. And they'd probably do it wrong anyway. Soooooo.

Here come these 2 girls that are bothersome to the point of me actually getting off my keister and helping them with some crap they were harping about. We've gotten to a point where I am actually incapable of manipulating the puppets. Physically immobile. I have to step by step get these girls to do my work with the puppets. It goes horribly wrong at first but I find they're actually better than I first thought. In fact they're great.

Now I'm mobile again. We come to another "test". This time it's 3 puppeteers versus the world.

Also I think it'd be cool if I show off some of my old characters to the girls and it turns out all my voices just end up being my same yonko voice. The girls shyly have to tell me that my characters all sound the same. I get mad but end up realizing they are right and have to invent new voices. OHHHhhhh the layers of interpretation!

Character Arc: Elizabeth

I start off a little too brash, loud, and fast for my own good. I am a young woman who is so "inter-connected" that I don't know how to actually connect or relate to people on a 'human' level. However, that is all I want. The whole reason why I am as "inter-connected" as I am is that it is a safe way connect, while still protecting my heart. It allows be to be one step out of myself while I connect to 'people' via the web, technology, etc. What I want is to open my heart, slow down, and make a real human connection.

I think perhaps early on in the show, having an interaction with a puppet starts to slow me down and open me up to the open heart and humanity that I am lacking. The fact that it is one step removed from a 'real' human, allows me to feel safe around it, and I start to soften, slow, open.

From this place, as I open up more through the puppets and my heart begins to feel life again, I realize that I am absolutely completely in love with Bob. Pitter patter pitter patter pitter patter . . . ga-gunk, ga-gunk, ga-gunk.

Now, if I could only get the damn puppets to help me get him to love me back . . . or have the puppets been him all along . . .

Through my journey, I find my heart, my humanity, my presence. (Sounds a lot like acting, huh?)

December 15, 2010

Character Arc - Leonoria

I think my overriding problem is letting my fears get the better of me. I want to find my courage. I discover my courage and that I need the other two to help me do that.

We've played around with me discovering a ferocious voice through a puppet. I think it should take me a bit (3 beats?) to understand that this voice came from me and that I can say what I need though that.

I think I can get carried away with that and pick a fight or the like with Conor that is more than I can handle, but only realize it way to late and have to back peddle.

I also see me inappropriately taking charge, letting the strength go to my head.

I want to end up with balance and friends.....

Need to elaborate on this but to hungry. Going to eat. Will be back later.

December 11, 2010

December 10, 2010

Assignment photo thing about whos awhat now

So the first image was found by googling "children's show 1958" it's Captain Pugot or something. #2 is from googling "mash potatoes on a plate". #3 is from googling "lots of stuff".
So Bob was a local kid show host from the days when stuff was always broken and not polished. One take from one camera and you can hear the camera man coughing.
The tv dinner is how he lives. Nothing depressing about it just that he is a survivalist and doesn't need much. He also seems to be the only person who can still get Tv dinners that ;look like this. The basement is top to bottom with the collection-boulder of his life.

Images of Leonoria

Image of me: I think this is a rather impish photo and I like the glasses for Leonoria. It's playful, yet current.
Yarn: Leonoria’s hair and brain.
Lion/Kitten – what lurks behind the soft exterior. www.merchantcircle.com

Running Gag: Threshold Conflict

This is a running gag between Leonoria and Elizabeth. It happens when Elizabeth gets frustrated with Leonoria because she is too scared to enter the super's apartment, or go in another room, or "step it up." After trying to convince the scared Leonoria to take the step, Elizabeth tries a) pulling her into the space b) moving her legs for her (this reminds me of puppeteers with their puppets) and then finally c) pushing her into the space which causes them to both go tumbling in towards the super in a loud and roly-poly way eventually landing at his feet. Harumpf!

The Shalimar

"'I believe the theater can be a metaphor,' Messick concludes, 'for the wonderful life experiences and stories that many people have that — if you take the time to listen — you'll be able to discover.'"

David sent me something he was reminded of when I sent him our show description.  The concrete details of this are not a direction we're necessarily heading in but - Conor - you may find some interesting parallels in building Bob up.

December 9, 2010

Our Zone

Cropped from image found here.
This is wildly divergent thematically, but I read a quote recently about The Twilight Zone that seems to me to contain some important wisdom for us in shaping this show.  To wit:

The Twilight Zone was shaped by Rod Serling. His instincts led him to a pattern he & I agreed upon as the bottom-line basis for buying stories for adaptation and for his own originals:
"Find an interesting character, or a group, at a moment in crisis in life, and get there quickly; then lay on some magic. That magic must be devilishly appropriate and capable of providing a whiplash kickback at the tag. The character(s) must be ordinary and average and modern, and the problem facing him (her, them) must be commonplace.
"The Twilight Zone always struck people as identifiable as to whom it was about, and the story hang-ups as resonant as their own fears, dreams, and wishes. Allow only one miracle or special talent or imaginative circumstance per episode. More than one and the audience grows impatient with your calls on their credibility. The story must be impossible in the real world. A request at some point to suspend disbelief is a trademark of the series. Mere scare tactics will not fill the bill. A clever bit of advanced scientific hardware is not enough to support a story. The Twilight Zone was not a sci-fi show.”
-Twilight Zone producer Buck Houghton (via Dimensions Behind the Twilight Zone)
Special thanks to Old Hollywood for the inspiration.

Lest the myriad readers of our 'blog (Hi mom! [My Mom: "What's a 'blog?"]) think I'm trying very hard to make Zuppa's first horror play, let me clarify that I'm not interested in exploring madness or weirdness for the sake of weirdness.  That's not the connection I make with this.  The connection I make has to do with fantasy.  We are leaning in some respects toward building a fantasy, and when I use that word, I do not mean the bookstore section.

The first thing this quote reminded me of is another favorite of mine from Mr. Buster Keaton: "You could write the whole plot on a postcard. We do the rest."  In other words, it's more important that the plot be simple and straight-forward so that we can build elaborate structures off of it.  That's what the grounded nature of the guidance from Serling reminds me of.

The other thing I take from this and appreciate is the idea that there is a singular piece of magic, or imaginative circumstances (great term).  For us, this is the puppetry, and how it can transform interactions and influence reality.  The puppetry is the thing - and the only thing - that carries us into Oz, so to speak.  And once we get there, it's all about our fears, dreams and wishes.

December 8, 2010

Running Gag -

Don’t know how this fits, but here’s an idea

Running gag of the pillow fluffing
1. Leonoria offers whomever a seat. They go to sit, but the cushion on chair is not quite right and she snatches it away at last second to fluff it. Person sits with a thump.
2. Oh, I am so sorry, please take a seat. She offers another chair. Same thing happens, person A sits with a thump.
3. Person A grabs pillow fluffs it her/himself, carefully places it in chair, keeping her/his eye on me for the whole time and goes to sit down. The other character (B) needs chair for some reason, takes whole chair away at last second. Person A falls to the floor with a crash.

Albrecht Roser

Okay, so this guy might not be as ancient as we were looking for, but he seems much more relevant and interesting. The characters described remind me of commedia . . .

Albrecht Roser (born 1922 (age 87–88)) is a German master puppeteer based in Stuttgart, Germany. Roser has made a major contribution working with marionettes. He first came to public attention in 1951 with his marionette, Clown Gustaf. Another of his characters, Grandmother, is outwardly charming but savagely humorous in her observations about all aspects of society and the absurdities of life. Roser's work was admired by master puppeteer Jim Henson, who made a film on Roser's work.

Information from Wikipedia . . . but of course, you can find it all on the inter-web . . .


Mr. Melvin: I want you to take some responsibility and fix the wiring between our two buildings. I am tired of losing my inter-connectivity. You are after all the superintendent of units 2 and 3 and you need to begin to act like one. I read on the internet that I can sue you for negligence . . . oh dear, mr. melvin . . . I think . . . I want . . . YOU!

Leonoria: I want you to understand me. When I speak to you, I feel like we are speaking two completely different languages. I don't understand where you have been all this time, but I am pretty sure that unless you catch up, you and I will never be able to communicate. I've read about that happening . . . many times.

December 7, 2010

Laurent Mourguet

Is an early French puppeteer credited with creating the hand puppet. His work caused the French government to require all shows to be scripted and ban improvisation. This site had a lot of cool information about subversive puppetry.



Mr. Melvin, I want to know where you hid my wool socks. You’re always taking things and I do not think that is very polite. No, not polite at all. What? No, it had to be him. LOOK at this place!

Miss Elizabeth: Can you teach me how to be connected? You seem to know so much that light just shoots out your fingertips. I want to be like you.

Welcome to the Mainstream

Somehow actually even a bit more risqué than your usual Simpsons episode, right at the end.  Check some of the inside-jokes on puppetry and in particular the Muppet form of it.  They get Cookie Monster's behavior and Ernie's laugh in there.  I would say all the pop culture references in here have strong commedia dell'arte archetype roots.  (Even Katy Perry.)

December 6, 2010

The Cell Phone Lazzi

My phone gets taken by Conor who is interested in it as a new artifact for his room of junk. As he looks at it and shows his discoveries to Heather, my character gets more and more frustrated and a variation of monkey in the middle ensues, in which they are so into their new discoveries with this new piece of technology and showing each other things that I simply can't get my phone back which sends me into a panic - feeling cut off, disconnected, oh, the pain! Of course, they don't even realize what is happening with me. The fact that I can't get the phone back is all coincidental with there movements.

What We're About: Part 1

Just wondered if we could make the climax of our show a moment when the characters all tell one another what they're really thinking, face to face, with no puppet intervention, mechanic or ulterior motive.  In other words, what if the show is about trying everything else, just to get to this moment?  It may be a bit too neat to be practical, but it;s a direction I'm considering.  Our discussions of characters and themes seem to revolve a bit around the inability to connect face-to-face, after all, and each has their own way of doing that.  Something to think about.

Also, there's this, on empathy:

December 5, 2010

Riddley Walker

....My apologies, all -- Jeff and I had a conversation today in which he (very, very kindly) mentioned that the Jim Henson clip I was so excited about...was one of your first posts. Oops.

So to make it up to you -- a book recommendation. This is definitely in the realm of "tangential, but still interesting;" a science-fiction book I've gotten fond of, in which Punch and Judy puppets are key elements.

Riddley Walker, by Russel Hoban, is set about two thousand years after a nuclear apocalypse. Mankind has managed to survive -- but has been living at a stone-age level of technology ever since. It's a coming-of-age story for the title character, in which he also comes upon a secret plot to try to redevelop and rediscover gunpowder.

What this has to do with puppets is in the cultural backstory Hoban's created for the characters. By this time, Hoban imagines, all history is an oral history -- based on half-remembered news reports and half-understood relics of this world. And in the world of the story, people have created an entire religious ritual out of Punch and Judy puppets. In the novel, one of the rituals is what the people call "the Eusa Show" -- pairs of puppeteers travel from town to town, setting up a puppet show to re-relate their own cultural history. The "Eusa Show" is a very ritualized re-telling of the nuclear conflict and the story of how people survived and came to live as they do in the world of the book; each town also has a sort of shaman figure who helps to "interpret" the show for the audience.

In the book, the main character Riddley also comes across a Punch puppet of his own. Another character tells him that the Punch puppet is related to the puppets from the "Eusa show," but that it's a very different character -- and the stories Punch tells aren't part of the Eusa narrative, they're supposed to be...for fun. It's the first that Riddley hears that there are puppet shows that tell different stories.

One word of warning if you do try reading it -- the language is really tricky at first blush. Hoban doesn't just imagine that culture would change, he imagines that language itself would also change, and the whole book is written in a sort of pidgin based on the phonetic sound of the Kentish accent (the book is set in what is now Kent, England). So it takes a few pages to get used to the language and make heads or tails of what on earth everyone's actually saying. But once you get past that -- it's fascinating to see how Hoban thinks a culture's idea of puppets and puppetry would have changed in those two thousand years, and how they interpreted and synthesized things that, to people in those conditions, would have been mysterious relics. (I've read it through three times, and it wasn't until the third time that I figured out that something Riddley was describing in one chapter was a "Green Man" gargoyle in a ruined cathedral.)

But especially interesting for the puppeteer project is how Punch is treated a little differently from other puppets, even still...the other puppets in the "Eusa Show" are based on other minor puppets from Punch and Judy, but Punch is different. And not because he's unknown to the culture -- Riddley shows the Punch puppet to an older mentor, who recognizes it and tells him that yes, this is a puppet like the others, but his stories are different. Riddley actually tries putting on an old Punch and Judy show using the Punch puppet, and the townspeople he shows it to are very disturbed by how unlike the regular "Eusa show" it is.

It's a very dense read, but a fascinating one.