Saturday, April 25, 2015

Zach Dorn: Ordinary is Extraordinary



Tonight only, artist Zach Dorn deploys his Toy Theater show — 21st Century style — at Studio@620. In his An Excruciatingly Ordinary Toy Theater Show, Dorn - a recent grant recipient from the Jim Henson Foundation - moves digital cameras through toy-sized streets peopled with paper puppets, all to dramatize tales about a lonely puppeteer stalking the child of notorious celebrities, a ghost who bugs a little boy, and an opera-singing landlord who refuses to return a security deposit.

Dorn describes his tiny productions this way:  "Miniature Curiosa explores the underbelly of childhood nostalgia with the disappointed eyeballs of adulthood. Through low-fi technology, puppetry, toy theater, live-projection, and non-linear storytelling, Miniature Curiosa presents fast-moving, fast-talking, sometimes malfunctioning, live-action comic books. This is not the theater. This is the living room of an overzealous magician who doesn't know any tricks."

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

David Lewis Worobec Documentary


David Worobec's Enchanted World from Narratively on Vimeo.

Recently the amazing David Lewis Worobec was the subject of a short documentary.  For those of us who follow David from afar, it was the closest we've had yet to the "next best thing" to actually being there...

Earlier this year, David and his mother Polly were featured in a story on Maine Public Broadcasting...

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Rare Play Performance - First Time Since 1854

An exciting event for all toy theatre lovers! This coming Friday, March 13th at the British Museum...

Come to the exhibition Bonaparte and the British in Room 90 to see Regency-era toy theatre productions of The Battle of Waterloo (1824) and Bonaparte’s Invasion of Russia (1825). The origins of the English toy theatre date back to 1811 when William West published the 'first cheap theatrical print'. West’s versions of these plays, based on Astley’s Amphitheatre, have been unavailable and unperformed since West’s death in 1854, until now.
For more details, check here...

Friday, February 27, 2015

Benjamin Pollock's Grave

"...The popularity of the toy theatre declined and by 1937, when Mr. Pollock died, the shop and the Pollock family were struggling to pay their way.The Chingford Historical Society believes this is why he was buried in a common grave with no memorial stone." - The Chingford Guardian
When I read that this week, I thought, "This is a great shame and should be rectified..."



To that end, the Facebook toy theatre group has started a crowd-funding project to raise the necessary funds to buy a modest stone to mark Benjamin Pollock's grave.  Long overdue, Pollock1 was one of the giants of toy theatre sheet creators and printers, and should rightly be recognized within a proper memorial.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pollock's Toy Museum & Eddy Fawdry


Awhile back a profile was done of the museum, by none other than Professor Ronald Hutton, which is lovely indeed for those of us halfway around the world who may never get to visit there in person. It is, in a limited sense, a virtual tour. Enjoy this clip from the program that featured the Pollock's Toy Museum...



Reviews:

Eddy Fawdry (and his wee dog Haggis) preside over this strange secret world of vintage toys, which he inherited from his grandparents and they from the Hoxton-based Pollock family, which made famous toy theaters. In room after creaky room, history stares back at you with doll’s eyes: puppets, Gollywogs, the 1921 forerunner to G.I. Joe (Swiss Action Man), doll’s houses, mechanical cast-iron banks, 1950s rocket toys, a board game based on the Falkland Islands invasion that was banned for being in poor taste. Stories are everywhere and the kitsch factor is through the roof, which brings us to the quirky, spirited building, which has been left leaning and unrestored since its erection in the 1780s (but received a new roof after the Luftwaffe blew off the original one). The ground-floor shop stocks unusual, hard-to-find toys that don’t cost much, including handmade items and cardboard theaters—the original inspiration for this one-of-a-kind time warp.

- Jason Cochran (Frommer's)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Cat, Mouse with a Brick, and Cop: The Eternal Triangle


In the UK in 1996, a three-minute pilot was created in hopes of launching a new Krazy Kat cartoon series.  It was directed by Derek Mogford and produced by Spitting Image Productions.
Krazy Kat had been animated often before, and always in long-running and successful series. There were theatrical Krazy Kat cartoons in some form or another running from 1916 to the end of the thirties, and in the sixties the character was brought back for a television series.

So what makes this 1996 Krazy Kat cartoon so interesting if the strip has been animated so many times before? The difference is that, apart from being British, was that it was the first (and so far only) time the characters of Krazy Kat had been brought to life using stop-motion animation. The pilot was produced by Spitting Image Productions and directed by Derek Mogford, an animator who had previously directed several stop-motion children shows including Postman Pat and Bertha.

Sadly, the pilot was never aired and did not lead to a series.

- Credit: Smart Than the Average!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Toy Theatre Salon

Painting by Jill Hoy







Jill Hoy created an extraordinary painting of a real-life event.  It shows a toy theatre performance that took place in a private home to a group of invited guests.  In fact, it was a full-blown dinner theatre.  A quite rare event, so a very special occasion to all those in attendance.

I recently spoke to Jill to ask her how the painting came to be.  She shared with me how "...the salons are a very rich environment for everyone - the diverse mix of people, including professors and artists who are friends of the family and invited to a dinner theatre in their home."  A dinner theatre of the small.  "It's total magic!  All the different voices for all the play's characters, all the songs sung, all done by David."

That would be David Lewis Worobec, the man behind it all.

Jill Hoy wanted to create a painting that captured the camaraderie of one of these events, all held in David's home.  The focal point of the painting is David.  He is in mid-performance far right in the back, the lights from the stage illuminating him from below.  Joy herself can be seen doing some sketching of the scene before her - sketches that she would later paint - just below the figure of David.  "The owl is a symbol of David's mother," Jill added.

I asked David to share what the salons have meant to him.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pollock's Toy Museum: A Magical Mystery Tour


Do not be fooled, this beautiful house and its neighbour have more to pose than this dancing jester. If you approach, do so with caution. The sheer unimaginable excellence of this rare collection of exhibited, ingenious and engaging articles, lost in time, is undoubtedly a worthy and untamed match for J.K.Rowling’s ‘Diagon Alley’.
Take a magical mystery tour with Eddy Fawdry, of Pollock's Toy Museum1 - a place like no other, in the world...

1 - Children lured by the colourful shop window of Pollocks Toy Museum to explore inside, whether at 44 Monmouth Street, in Covent Garden, central London, or, after 1969, at 1 Scala Street, were likely to meet the museum's founder, Marguerite Fawdry, and to be drawn by her, with a delicious sense of complicity, into the arcane world of Victorian melodramas performed with cardboard figures three inches high.

If they visited with any regularity they might find themselves put to work in the basement collating sets of plays from packets of printed sheets unopened since the 1890s, with a paper bag of special treasures to take home at the end of the day. This eccentric private museum with its associated shop selling model theatres and unusual toys has been an enduring feature of the West End since the 1950s. It was a pioneering venture in conservation, taste and way of life.

She was born Marguerite Desnieres in 1912, the daughter of a Breton father killed two years later in defence of his country and an English mother, and was educated at the Lycee in South Kensington, west London, and at the University of Lille. In 1935 she joined the theatre studio of Michel St Denis but worked in journalism before the Second World War took her into the French Section of the BBC and the Press Office of General de Gaulle.

In 1942 she married Kenneth Fawdry, a schoolmaster, whom she had first met on a train from Florence to Rome. They shared radical politics, unconventional attitudes and a strong sense of missionary purpose. Their son John was born during the war and in 1951 Marguerite left the BBC, which Kenneth had by then joined, to write scripts for language-teaching broadcasts. It was into this fertile seedbed of education, parenthood and the stage that the germ of toy theatre fell almost by accident in 1952.

Benjamin Pollock of Hoxton, whose name is commemorated in the museum, died in 1937. In 1944 his stock of copperplates and lithographic prints for traditional English toy theatre, dating back to the 1830s, was acquired from his daughters by Alan Keen, a bookseller who revived the business with more flair than the post-war austerity years could support.


Click above to see inside Pollock's Toy Museum...


The Fawdrys, enthusiasts for many kind of popular arts including the naive paintings of Mr Bucket of Battersea, had been among his customers, but Marguerite was dismayed to discover that the business had gone into receivership in 1954, when she wanted some of the wire slides (twopence each) for pushing the tiny figures on to the stage. The accountant whom she traced gave a provocative response, "I believe there are hundreds of thousands in the warehouse, madam, but there's no one who could look them out for you. Of course, you could, I suppose, buy the whole lot if you wanted them."

This is what she did, with help from Kenneth's father, and started business from the attic in Monmouth Street, encouraged by other visionaries such as George Speaight, author of Juvenile Drama (1946), and the photographer Edwin Smith, and enlisting the first generation of helpers for whom, down the years, shared enthusiasm substituted for earnings.

The museum began as a complementary attraction, gradually filling all floors of the house with a shop on the ground floor and the stock divided between the Dickensian basement and the Fawdrys' house at Wrotham, in Kent. Marguerite's friend Jacques Brunius, Surrealist and film-maker, lent and ultimately bequeathed his collection of optical toys. The museum displays were cunningly devised by the toymaker Yootha Rose and the display style was (and remains) a tightly packed cabinet of curiosities with strongly coloured backgrounds.

Marguerite Fawdry had an excellent eye and a lifelong curiosity about other cultures, reflected in the museum and the shop which was stocked with finds from the Fawdrys' long summer holidays in Italy, Yugoslavia and elsewhere.

Almost equal to the discovery of the Pollock stock was the chance find of a barn in the Dolomites full of wooden Dutch dolls packed in brown paper parcels for dispatch to a vanished pre-1914 toy market. Pollocks bought the lot and some of the dolls found themselves dressed in Pearly costume by a genuine Pearly Queen. There were toy-theatre sheets from Copenhagen, Epinal and Barcelona, American cast-iron automata banks and Japanese paper carp.

In the 1960s shopkeeping became a performing art and Marguerite Fawdry excelled in it. In George Speaight's words, "the shop became a mecca for parents in search of unusual toys and decorations; boutique owners in swinging Britain of the Sixties flocked to Monmouth Street in search of `with-it' stock for their shelves".

Fawdry's cosmopolitan outlook inspired her to produce brightly coloured reprints of simplified Victorian plays in multi-language European editions and in New York she and Kenneth, an equally compelling figure, did impromptu demonstrations for the buyers at Maceys and Bloomingdales. Pollocks catalogues were designed with witty graphics.

Having begun the fashionable revival of the Covent Garden area, Pollocks moved north to Fitzrovia. Marguerite was able to buy two adjacent houses on the corner of Whitfield Street and Scala Street for a larger museum, now a charitable trust, held exhibitions, including one on Chinese toys, on which she wrote one of her several entertaining and scholarly books. In 1980 Pollocks opened a shop in the newly refurbished Covent Garden Market, now devolved to its manager Peter Baldwin.

In his retirement, Kenneth Fawdry helped the business to flourish. His death in 1986 was a blow but Marguerite continued to run Scala Street with John Fawdry despite declining health, remarking recently, by way of explaining its business philosophy, that "no one in their right mind would have reprinted The Siege of Troy", the grandiose romantic play reissued in 1985.

Marguerite Desnieres, museum curator, writer, entrepreneur: born Bexleyheath, Kent 14 May 1912; married 1942 Kenneth Fawdry (died 1986; one son); died London 15 September 1995.

[Marguerite Fawdry Obituary, The Independent]

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Puppet Festival (r)Evolution 2013 Trailer

Trailer for the feature-length documentary of the Puppeteers of America 2013 National Puppetry Festival - Puppet Festival (r)Evolution in Swarthmore, PA. This documentary features puppet shows from every puppet company that performed and interviews from the artists.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

David Worobec: One-Man Show

The hand of David Worobec enters from stage left at Tophat Toy Theater, –a DIY dinner-theater experience
in a townhouse on Portland's West End– during a recent performance of "Les Miserables." Worobec - a
one-man theater troupe - sang all the parts while simultaneously manipulating about 45 toy characters,
running the lights and music cues, and changing sets that were designed by his mother, Polly Plimpton.

David Worobec is a very talented young man. Only 25, he has created single-handedly a theater company, built the theater, created sets for several productions, designed them all, cast and created all the characters, does all the lighting, directing, props, etc., plus plays all the parts and does all the singing. How does he do it? Find out, in this revealing and fascinating article!

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Hari & Deepti: Paper Cut Lightboxes

"The Protector", on the hunt...























Paper dioramas.  Paper Cut Lightboxes.  Whatever you call them, the creations of Hari & Deepti are intricate, beautiful, and mesmerizing. They share:
“Paper is brutal in its simplicity as a medium. It demands the attention of the artist while it provides the softness they need to mold it in to something beautiful. It is playful, light, colorless and colorful. It is minimal and intricate. It reflects light, creates depth and illusions in a way that it takes the artist through a journey with limitless possibilities.”
"When the Dust Settles"

You can see the heavy influence of shadow puppets in these works.

"Uncharted Waters"

Monday, March 10, 2014

Exhibition: Puppetry in America



Although donated last fall, it was only recently that the Jim Henson Foundation puppets went on display at the Smithsonian, in an exhibition called Puppetry in America.


Included in the exhibit are many original, older versions of the muppets from Sesame Street (now in its 45th year on TV), the Muppet Show, and Fraggle Rock.

Read more about the exhibition, behind-the-scenes conservation, and more here...