Sunday, June 02, 2019

Coming in July: The Smallest Show on Earth!

Coming up next month in July: The Geisel Library's annual Paper Theatre Festival, aka

..."the Smallest Show on Earth"!
Every year, the UC San Diego Library hosts a Paper Theatre Festival, celebrating an art form with roots in Victorian Era Europe. Paper theatres, also known as toy theatres, were used to promote productions. They were printed on paperboard sheets and sold as kits at the concession stand of an opera house, playhouse, or vaudeville theater. The kits were then assembled at home and plays were performed for family members and guests, sometimes with live musical accompaniment. The theaters gradually declined in popularity during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but have enjoyed a resurgence in interest in recent years among many puppeteers, filmmakers, theater historians, and hobbyists. Presently, there are numerous international paper theater festivals throughout the Americas and Europe, as well as several museums.
Watch this short documentary celebrating paper theatre filmed by UCSD-TV for the Library’s Channel!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Dreamland Theater: Star Trek Marionettes

Careful attention to detail and mastery of puppetry give
Dreamland Theater appeal to a wide variety of audiences.
From:  Saline Journal article by Dell Deaton

This past December 16, 2018, Dreamland Theater in Ypsilanti Michigan hosted its second live performance of A Star Trek Mad Lib Puppet Show on stage in downtown Ypsilanti. From pre-show to behind-the-scenes debrief, it was thoroughly delightful. [1,2]

First off, this is very much a presentation fundamentally true to the golden age of marionettes with its ties to Saline Michigan through the legacy of the late Meredith Bixby. The scale, rigging, and attention to detail have all meticulously attended to. Behind and above the stage, five human beings manipulated hand-crafted figures from rather cramped quarters, hunched about, shoulder to shoulder. [3]

The area on which action took place couldn’t have provided a viewing space more than eight feet across, three feet high. And yet, as Bixby student Erik Grossman has regularly said in his own recollections, everything around it quickly disappears once the story starts and the audience is drawn into it. Appropriate to how the original Star Trek series was watched first-run in the 1960s, akin to a large family gathered in the living room to watch it on their home television. [4,5,6,7]
A “Mad Libs” approach was cleverly used as both warm-up and to invest audience members in the story to come. Post-show, it was revealed that significant differences in one performance versus another would come through the selection of one from among ten different music beds, for example. Backstage crew members weighed-in with real-time responses to suggestions that required some arbitration (eg, Was Warren G Harding appropriately considered a “historical figure” from the 1910s?). [8]
When the curtains then opened, it was pure, respectful Star Trek — with puppets. A solid third season episode, if influenced by Gene Coon. Rest assured, nothing like the animated installment. [9,10,11]

After the approximately forty-minute performance, troupe lead Naia Venturi invited all who were interested to come see their setup behind the curtain. Meticulously detailed string-puppet renditions of the five featured Enterprise crew members were suspended at the ready from ceiling hooks. Each was a work of art in its own right, without a visible hint of compromise. For this project, she’d elected to fabricate all characters in tandem.
Which was the most challenging? “Captain Kirk,” she replied without hesitation. “He just didn’t have any distinguishing features that I could call out for emphasis.” No one who heard this showed sign of agreement; the Venturi Captain Kirk marionette looked great.
Aside from the core work, there was evidence of modern technology that had been brought along side vintage puppet work. For example, a large screen hung above the curtain opening and visible only to the performers acted as teleprompter for script text. Ms Venturi additionally had a sound sampler from which she could deliver context appropriate sound effects and music beds in real time. [12,13,14]
  1. Dreamland Theater (home page).
  2. Star Trek (home page).
  3. Once Upon A Time, Marionettes Set The Stage For Entertainment Techniques That Remain Relevant To This Very Day” Dell Deaton (September 10, 2018) Saline Journal.
  4. A Brief Look Back On The Meredith Bixby Marionette Story, Part I: History Can’t Be Packed Away In A Single Box” Dell Deaton (September 20, 2018) Saline Journal.
  5. Star Trek” IMDb.
  6. Star Trek” Netflix.
  7. Tech Time Machine: Screens and Displays” Stephanie Walden, Mashable.
  8. Mad Libs (home page).
  9. Coon, Gene” Star Trek.
  10. Gene L Coon: The Man Who Made Star Trek Worth Saving” Carlos Miranda (November 8, 2017) TrekNews.
  11. Star Trek: The Animated Series” IMDb.
  12. Hey, what’s that sound: Sampler” David McNamee (September 28, 2009) The Guardian.
  13. Music Recording: What Is a Music Sampler?” (December 18, 2008) expertvillage.
  14. Calendar” Dreamland Theater.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Action Shot

From the film, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, this is a scene showing a mechanical prop operated off-stage that provides the illusion of a sea monster 'eating' a sailing ship.  What fun!

Although this was meant in the film to be full-size, the same type of mechanisms, scaled down, would do beautifully in the toy theatre.  Hmmmm...that gives me an idea.......

Monday, December 24, 2018

Focus on Toy Theatre: DAVID'S VOICE (film)

David Worobec is a classically trained vocalist who performs musical theater on miniature stages. Not content to play merely one character, he sings and performs every part with the help of an ensemble of action figures he’s carefully cast in each role. Through a series of intimate performances and conversations with David, his mother and others close to him, there emerges a portrait of an artist searching for his place in life.

I've posted about David before. Even other films about him. But this film is my favorite, because it's the most intimate, sharing with us a bit more 'behind the scenes'.  What an amazing performer!

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Curious Contraptions: Now through January 20th

Going on right now is a fascinating, fun exhibition of automata at San Francisco's Exploratorium. 

The featured artists are from around the world, and have a wide variety of styles, of which only a few are shown in the above film clip.

To find out more, visit the exhibition's page...

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Shadow Smash Hit: Feathers of Fire

Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic is a visually breathtaking cinematic shadow play for all ages, created and directed by Hamid Rahmanian, a 2014 Guggenheim fellowship-winning filmmaker/visual artist. The play unfolds an action-packed magical tale of star-crossed lovers from the 10th-century Persian epic Shahnameh (‘The Book of Kings’)

Monday, April 30, 2018

6th International Toy Theatre Festival at Vischmarkt

I am happy to pass on that there will be another toy theatre festival in Harderwijk, Netherlands next month, May 9-11, 2018!

The organizers, Harry and Tieneke Oudekerk, have shared:
Eleven paper theater companies from the Netherlands, Germany, and England have been invited to perform at the festival this year.  Over the course of the festival, more than 40 performances will be shown in residential buildings around Historic Vischmarkt. 
It is a special feature of the festival that you not only get to see jewels of this small form of theater, but also have the unique opportunity to look behind the facades of beautiful historic homes and to talk to their residents. A wonderful concept, it allows visitors to feel the familiar atmosphere in which paper theater originally took place. The central meeting place for the players and season ticket holders will be the old synagogue again this year - a wonderful location to meet friends and talk shop.
The theatre companies/individuals and their plays that will be performing are:

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Private Toy-Theatre Exhibition Opens in Preetz

About 50 toy theatres, hundreds of sceneries and tiny paper models - the lovely, private collection of Dirk and Barbara Reimers - has found an official home in the Heimatmuseum (Local History Museum)  in Preetz.

All of the toy theatres have been part of a show once upon a time. The oldest is an original from 1869.

You can combine your visit with a private toy theatre show of Dirk and Barbara Reimers in their theatre room, upon request.  To get an impression of the exhibition, click here.

The Attic at the Preetz Local History Museum,  is the new home of the Reimers' Collection
In the Heimatmuseum in Preetz:  Dirk and Barbara, the founders of the International Preetzer Papiertheatertreffen, recently celebrated the official opening with Mayor Jörg Demin along with several journalists. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

AutomataCon 2018

AutomataCon hasn't been around all that long. But it's picking up steam. There has been a growing renaissance around kinetic, mechanical art, aka automata, in recent years. All around the world. Enter Brett King, who decided it was time to showcase the creations of all these amazing artists from around the world. And not only showcase, but provide a forum where they can network and collaborate.

AutomataCon 2018 is coming up May 18-20, 2018.  You can find out the details here, including what artists will be attending.  It looks like it'll be an amazing convention!

Take a look at the video below, showing highlights from the last convention...

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Maker Spotlight: Maggie Rudy & Mouseland

Recently, I discovered a wonderful article about  Maker Maggie Rudy, who invited us into her studio where all the magic happens for Mouseland...

Artist & Author, Maggie Rudy

Maggie’s fascination with mice began in the third grade, when her family moved to Lancaster, England, where her father, a biologist, had a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in physiology. She awoke from her “baby stupor” to an English aesthetic that would remain hugely influential in her life: hedgerows, gypsy carts, and a field trip to the home of Beatrix Potter. From a shop in Lancaster, the Rudy household acquired some mice made of felt. She and sisters Susy and Annie dressed them and placed them in a variety of settings. The “rapture of the tiny” that she celebrated in childhood has never left her.
- Rapture of the Tiny

The short film below is fun to watch, where Maggie lets us in to her studio, and shows us a few of her secrets on how she makes the magic happen!

Currently, Maggie has a traveling diorama touring the US, as shown below. Be sure and check it out if you can, when it comes near you!

Friday, March 02, 2018

House of Automata

In a wood in the far North of Scotland, there is a magical workshop where Maria and Micheal Start work preserving and restoring antique automata. With over 25 years experience, they painstakingly bring these pieces back to life...

The House of Automata from Euan Myles on Vimeo.

(BBC) - Automata in The Modern Age from Matthew Knight on Vimeo.
Matthew Knight, the filmmaker, says: 
"Automata are mechanical moving figures; throughout history their lifelike movements have fascinated such creative minds as Da Vinci and Faberge. 
"One century ago however, production fell silent. Now though, in a fortuitous twist, the computer age is turning the gears of an automata revival. Michael and Maria Start who run the House of Automata in Scotland are two of the world's foremost restorers of antique automata. 
"Here, they discuss their love for automata, and why more people are drawn to the craft."

Japanese Theatre Traditions to be Featured at Lincoln Center

On March 8th, Zach Dorn will join Julie Taymor in conversation regarding his experiences in Japan studying Edo Era mechanical puppetry and fusuma karakuri.  They will also be joined by the other 2018 fellows, Hector Flores Komatsu and Jesca Prudencio. The event is free! You can reserve tickets for the event here. Reservations are recommended! 

Taymor World Theater Fellowship WRAP-UP 2018 from MINORapocalypse on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Enchanted Dolls

I love making dolls because it allows me to work with several mediums at once. Making dolls is a creative process that combines the disciplines of industrial design, sculpting, ceramics, painting, engineering, drawing, engraving, jewelry making and textiles. It generates a whole that is greater and richer than the sum of each comprising medium put together. 
- Marina Bychkova

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Mechanic of the Past

Brittany Nicole Cox is one of the only antiquarian horologists in the world. She's basically a mechanic—a mechanic from the 17th century. Cox fixes old machines with watch or clock mechanisms inside them for a living. Often, these machines are missing parts that frequently no longer exist, so Cox fashions them herself. To visit her workshop is to see what the future looked like centuries ago, and while Cox's trade is laborious, time-consuming and incredibly intricate, she is preserving a magical part of humanity's past.