Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Production

The Neffs, about to perform...

George and Ann Neff have been sharing the Christmas spirit in a very unique way over the past day or so on Facebook.  I still can't believe I didn't figure it out right away!  Ann was hinting a couple of times...

"They are almost to Bethlehem now, to be counted. May YOUR travels in preparation for the holiday be safe and blessed.", and
"They made it to the manger. The Babe is born! Hope you all are having a most Merry and Blessed Christmas. Ann (and George ) Neff"
As Ann posted the updates, I wasn't noticing at the time, but I'm thinking now that her Facebook profile icon was changing to different scenes from their "Nativity" toy theatre play.  They were once again putting it on this Christmas season, and from the series of photos from it that Ann posted today, it looks like an amazing production. 

The first angel tells the shepherds, "Be not afraid!"
[Click to enlarge]
I asked Ann if I could share about it here, and she kindly said yes.  In Ann's words, she describes it as "...The Neff's toy theatre production of The Nativity, as conceived and drawn by Stephen Langdale for A Service of Lessons and Carols. Watercolour, stage and lighting by the Neffs." (All Photos used here are from a 2008 production of this play...)
Shepherds come to the manger to adore the Baby Jesus...
[Click to enlarge]

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Library Display

Earlier this year I changed my whole life.  Part of that change involved resigning my job of 23 years, moving to another state, and getting another job in an entirely new field - as a librarian.

Reddington proscenium at left,
some character sheets at right,
& a Dover "Peter Rabbit" below
At the small-town library I work at, they have a glass display case.  For the holiday season, I decided to put up a modest display of toy theatre and puppet-related items from my personal collection.  While I would have loved to put up my entire Reddington toy theatre, the display case isn't deep enough to accommodate it.  What to do?  I removed the proscenium from the front of the theatre to bring it alone, along with a schematic of what a wooden toy theatre looks like to hang behind it, for context.

I also brought along both plain and colored character sheets, as well as a few exhibition catalogues, and books about toy theatre history.

It's been fun answering questions about toy theatre, from library patrons!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Exhibitions & Workshops

Cotsen Children's Library exhibition
focuses on Aladdin (Webb & Skelt)
Over the weekend, I became aware of another ongoing exhibition featuring toy theatre, and some workshops for another I wrote about before...

The Cotsen Children's Library's exhibit (through March 15, 2011), "Making the Toy Theatre", concentrates on one production ("Aladdin") from start to finish.  Besides examples of scenes, characters and even scripts, on view will also be "...copper and stereotype printing plates, lithographic stones, metal dyes, and other tools of the toy theatre trade."

Publisher: J.S. Schreiber
 Prozenium mit
, sheet number 300
Scenery for
 Kriegerzelt (War Tent)
Figures for
Germany, ca. 1901
Facsimile/ original lithograph
Collection of Eric G. Bernard
Ongoing is "A Child's View:  19th-Century Paper Theatrers" at the Bruce Museum (through January 30, 2011), showcasing approximately 35 colorful, antique paper theaters plus related materials from the personal collection of Eric G. Bernard of New York City.

Coming up as part of this exhibition is “Paper Theaters School Vacation Workshops,” December 28 through 30, 2010, from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., suitable for students in grades 1-3 of all abilities.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Memoirs of a Muse

The Muse discovers her powerful relationship with mankind...
I received a wonderful surprise in the mail the other day.  I opened our rural delivery mailbox to find a fat envelope addressed to me.  I looked at the return address and was delighted to see it was from my old friend Gail.  I thought to myself, "Hmmm, I wonder what Gail has sent me?!"  I was excited to find out...

The contents of the envelope turned out to be two volumes of a planned trilogy, a 'graphic novel' of sorts entitled "Memoirs of a Muse".  I sat down later and devoured them both, then of course started to wonder where the inspiration for the books (ironically about that very subject of inspiration, aka the 'Muse') came from.  I went to the source...

Gail shared that "...I was reading a book called The Story of Painting, where the author connected each artist to the next and I thougtht it's like the muse is a groupie that goes from one star to the next. Then I was walking around at work and thought what would be the beginning of the muse's story?"

The first volume follows the beginnings of the Muse's relationship with mankind through several characters including Enoch and Moombi.

In the second volume, the Muse meets up with General Lakhdunlim, King of Mari, and thus later his bride - Ariadne, a "Minoan princess from the Knossos palace on the Island of Crete." Theirs was an unhappy marriage, but lucky for her, she had an opportunity to start a new life.  It came with a price, out of which she created a memorial in a form of a statue.  In turn, the statue came to represent a legend of the real woman it was once inspired by, and thus a cult was born.  Eventually the Muse moved on to a young potter Nashuja.

Nashuja and the Muse end up on a journey to Egypt, and we are left with a cliffhanger - the Muse thinks she might be able to get back in touch with her first artist, Enoch, because she has heard the Egyptians had special knowledge of the afterlife.  But that will be another story, in Volume III.  I look forward to it!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Toy Theatre Influence: Nutcracker

The Harlequin, from the NYBT's Nutcracker
Productions of the Nutcracker abound during the Christmas season. One particular annual production in New York caught my eye because of the heavy influence of toy theatre in its conception and design over 25 years ago that stays with it to this day.

I contacted the man behind the design, Keith Michael, and he was kind enough to share this article he wrote about it...
Choreographer and Scenic Designer Keith Michael created the Toy Theater-inspired production of The Nutcracker for New York Theatre Ballet in 1985. Led by serendipitous practical and aesthetic considerations, Toy Theater was the perfect metaphor for this re-imagining of the classic holiday ballet fantasy tale. New York Theatre Ballet, founded by Artistic Director Diana Byer, is an acclaimed chamber ballet company which maintains its prominence through meticulously detailed dance creations on a personal scale. The Nutcracker ballet is traditionally a grandiose endeavor often deliciously festooned with spectacular scenic effects and sometimes literally hundreds of performers onstage. NYTB and Keith Michael’s vision for a more intimate tale focuses attention on the story of the heroine Clara’s wonderful adventure within an equally delectable visual environment.

The Company’s frequent performances in smaller theaters, without the luxury of fly-space for multiple drops or generous offstage space for rolling scenery, made the logic of Toy Theater with the potential for grand opera house-scale production values “on a tabletop” was ideal!

Mr. Michael’s background as a teenage puppeteer, touring all through high school with his own 35-marionette version of The Nutcracker, made the leap to envisioning a candy box ballet version completely a natural.

The primary Toy Theater scenic element of the NYTB design is a back-of-the-stage Victorian-detailed proscenium arch within which backdrops are hung and revealed with the high “technology” equivalent of pulling a living room drape! Four stages of Clara’s journey - A “Nutcracker” act curtain, The Stahlbaum Drawing Room, The Snow Forest, and The Land of Sweets - are each evoked with a separate painted drop. Additional rolling scenic elements are a Doll House, a Window Unit, a Sleigh, decorative Land of Sweets Heraldry Banners and, of course, (what could be better?) an Ice Cream Throne.

In particular, Uncle Drosselmeyer’s Doll House, which is also the magical revelatory cabinet/stage for the Nutcracker doll, further enhances the playfulness of scale, by containing a miniaturization of the Drawing Room Scene complete with a miniature proscenium arch frame (more in the scale of a true Toy Theater) mimicking the “large” proscenium arch onstage immediately behind it.

Further Toy Theater references include Clara’s “real world” with her parents illustrated, a la the MGM The Wizard of Oz, in penny-plain black-and-white, and as Clara is transported to her own “Oz”, the stage is transformed to vibrant tupence-coloured. The rolling scenic units are relatively small and self-contained, and travel onstage primarily only right and left like Toy Theater props or characters manipulated through slots in the floor. And, indeed, all smaller hand props are likewise created with a “flat” design, even the Nutcracker doll, to emphasize the paper cut-out aesthetic of Toy Theater. The dancing, however, is fully three-dimensional, often bursting from the stage space.

The elaborate yet cozy stage pictures would not be complete without the masterful costume designs of Sylvia Taalsohn Nolan, who uses color and line as a story-telling sixth sense, and the recent re-imaginings of the backdrop paintings by Gillian Bradshaw-Smith add lusciousness to all of the visual sweetmeats.

Finally, it is the exuberance, insight and humor of the dancing in The Nutcracker which brings Victorian-inspired tableaus and grandeur to this magnified miniature Toy Theater world – still a delight to audiences after 26 years!
Clara & Prince, from the NYBT's Nutcracker

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Toy Theatre in Reverse

Toy Theatre grew out of live theatre. But several productions of live theatre in recent years - including a new one now in production, seen in the video above - have been influenced by toy theatre.

Toy Theatre-inspired sets surround the play's live actors and puppets...
The production design has used toy theatre as the main inspiration for the play's sets. "I love the simplicity," says Jessica [Grindstaff] (of Phantom Limb, the set designer). "In a way, the set is a puppet too, a giant puppet."

To read more about the people behind this production, go here...

Seen behind the performers is another Toy Theatre-inspired backdrop...

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Technology Provides Toy Theatre Innovation

Exciting news - An entrepreneurial spirit [who I have since found out is none other than Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop] has developed an iPad app with which you can create - and perform - a toy theatre production.  I'm excited because I was thinking even I could maybe pull off a production using this...!  The release date is December 26th which makes it unfortunately NOT available in time for Christmas, but that's OK.

The application was recently mentioned on the toy theatre group, and I asked the person [the developer of the program itself] who posted if it would also be available to people who don't own an iPad or other such small device, but would like to use the application on a desktop or laptop.  The developer's response was...
...there is a good chance that app would be available for download on a computer but the software we use only puts out iPhone, iPad and mac version (in saying that, there is a way we can put it on the web as well, which we are investigating more...)
I sincerely hope they will find a way to bring it to a wider audience.  For various reasons, there are many of us who cannot use iPad or iPhone devices.

In the meantime, I can hardly wait to see more - it looks like a LOT of fun to play with - it could be used for brainstorming, education/learning, practicing - who knows what else?!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Very Special Toy Theatre Performance...

It was recently announced on the Toy Theatre group's mailing list about an upcoming performance that I felt sounded very exciting.  I emailed the person listed as contact, and she was kind enough to share the graphic (shown below) used on a poster promoting the December 6th show.

Royal Holloway's
Department of Drama and Theatre Presents:
Toy Theatre Transformed!

Courtesy:  Samantha Turner [Click to see larger version...]

What I found exciting about it was, a university was actively promoting and TEACHING a course on toy theatre, and this show is the culmination of that course, with the students putting on the performance.

Samantha Turner (contact for RHUL) shared:

A celebration of the heritage of paper theatre in England and world-wide in anticipation of toy theatre's 200th anniversary in 2011.  Student performances of a new version of  A Christmas Carol, based on the Charles Dickens story and incorporating nineteenth-century toy theatre figures and sets from the Museum of London's collection; Jack B. Yeats' miniature circus Onct More's First Circus (1901); and The Red Tree, based on the story book by Shaun Tan.  The celebration will also include a small exhibition.  The event is the culmination of an intensive one-term course on Toy Theatre, which took students to toy theatre archives and institutions around the country, and involved the participation of acclaimed New Model Theatre artist Robert Poulter.

Performance will be held at Royal Holloway, in the Handa Noh Theatre.Doors will open at 6pm on December 6th, with performances beginning promptly at 6:30pm.  No latecomers admitted.

For instructions on how to get to Royal Holloway, see here. The Handa Noh Theatre is number 25 on the campus map.

The event is free, but reservations are required.  Please contact Samantha Turner at telephone: 07766258571 or contact Samantha via email...

I applaud their choice of subject matter - fascinating!  I envy those of you who can attend.  If you go, I'd love to hear from you.

Bravo, Royal Holloway, for doing your part to keep this very special form of performance art alive.  All over the world, more and more people continue to discover the relevance, magic, and joy of toy theatre.  May it continue to be discovered for many years to come...

Monday, November 08, 2010

New Toy Shop Opens!

Peter Baldwin shares his passion for toy theatre [Photo Credit:  BBC]
Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop has opened a new branch.

You read right.  The well-known toy shop, particularly known for toy theatres, is branching out.

Read more about it here...

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Playette Theatre

I ran across the above video of an old toy theatre on YouTube recently. Not a classic toy theatre, it is a type nonetheless. The person who posted it had this to day about it...
In 1942, my father, Larry Wise, and my uncle, Dick Briefer, collaborated on the invention and design of a "toy theatre," called the Playette Theatre, and this video is a kind of nostalgic homage to that formative period in my childhood, and to the two men whose wild creativity were such inspirational models to me as I grew up in the thrall of their energetic imaginations.

The theatre itself was a knock-down cardboard item packed in a colorful, flat box, with instructions for folding and inserting tabs into slots to create the theatre structure in all its Dick Briefer-illustrated glory, as shown in the first slides of the video.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

EXHIBITION: A Child's View

The above image is one of several you can see online, just some of an exhibit about to premiere entitled, "A Child’s View: 19th-Century Paper Theaters,” at the Bruce Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut. 

The exhibit is part of a private collection.  It is ongoing through January 30, 2011...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

5th Toy Theatre After Dark - Festival Solicitation!

Exciting news!  Right here in my home state of Minnesota will be a major toy theatre festival this coming March, and it's soliciting performers right now - I hope many reading this will consider performing in this festival - they sound open-minded so the sky is the limit...
In March 2011, Open Eye will present the 5th Toy Theatre After Dark, and for the first time, will partner with the Walker Art Center for the festival. This partnership allows Toy Theatre After Dark to expand into a two-week festival complete with duo programs, workshops, artist discussions, and social gatherings. Selected work will be divided into: Program 1, appropriate for all ages, and Program 2, potentially not recommended for children under age 12. Both programs will have evening and matinee performances. Covering two weekends, the festival will give local and national audiences two opportunities to see the whole program in a single weekend.
Open Eye is soliciting proposals for image/object/puppet driven small-scaled performances that resonate with the traditional form and contemporary approach to toy theatre. Up to 10 artists will be selected. Works that will be considered may be 5 to 20 minutes in duration, must be self-contained and portable for quick changeover, intimate in scale (though large enough for a 90-seat theater-work will not be projected), and finished to the point of being ready for a first public presentation. Projects chosen will represent a broad spectrum of form and content and show a professional stance. Artists may propose single or multiple short pieces or one longer piece

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Exhibit: Worlds in Miniature - EPHEMERA

Sean Sharp shared this post card with me today of the ongoing exhibition
(through the end of the year) in San Francisco, featuring toy theatre!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Toy Theatre at Fishmarket News

The website for Toy Theatre at Fishmarket has been updated. The current newsletter has been published, and I highly recommend you check it out.

If you are not familiar with Toy Theatre at Fishmarket, it is a site run by Harry Oudekerk from the Netherlands.

Harry sponsors a wonderful bi-annual toy theatre festival.  The last one was in 2009.  The next one is scheduled for June 2011, and the newsletter tells you all you need to know.  I wish I could attend, because the last one sounded amazing (and it was dedicated to one of my toy theatre mentors, Gigi Sandberg, who I was privileged to know for only too short a time. I am hoping there are many photos and writings from people who attend.

NOTE:  If you're reading this and thinking you'll be there, I'd love to hear from you.  I'm looking for a 'reporter-at-large' for the fishmarket festival similar to the wonderful Tess who helped cover the 9th International Great Small Works Toy Theatre Festival...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

2010 Maker Faire: Report II

Tess in her Toy Theatre booth this past weekend...
Here's the scoop from Tess on this year's Maker Faire in New York City:

The World Maker Faire here in New York City was just terrific and happily overwhelming. We had good crowds, and a lot of families lamented not getting the weekend pass to take advantage of all the teaching booths—this was all so new to locals. Maker Faires usually have pricey entrance fees (ours was $25 at the door and a weekend pass $35 with much lower rates for kids). But once you go in, there are many many booths where you can get free lessons and I made sure to show anyone who would stop long enough how I make my rod puppets. I did not go as a seller, but to simply show what I do and demonstrate what I make and how I do it. My booth was covered with balloons so I was a kid magnet. We had a little over 500 exhibitors from all over the Eastern seaboard, and many came pretty late in the game as I did because the word got around so slowly.

The important thing about Maker Faire is that it is the vision of a man named Dale Dougherty. He looks like a low key professor with a pleasant demeanor and amused smile. But he is a true believer, mover & shaker of DIY, i.e., it helps the Earth with recycling and repairing objects, and it helps the individual save money and maybe even build a business. In this economy, we can't have enough people who see the world this way. Maker Faire encourages Makers to talk to each other and be supportive. It is so refreshing to encounter business people who are opposite the corporate model of ruthless Capitalism. The Makers believe in what I think should be called Capitalism with a beating heart. Many of the makers I met referred other makers to booths for supplies or to share technical problems (I brought flyers for two of my suppliers, also). I had a tricky moment right up front when I discovered my gridwall required an Allen wrench which the seller did not inform me about. A local maker helper passing through brought me an Allen wrench in five minutes and helped to put it up.

Tess' Italian Toy Theatre

Tess' Medieval Toy Theatre - I LOVE the draw bridge stage!

Favorite Childhood Toy

Actor Ralph Fiennes shares about his favorite childhood toy - a toy theatre (at about 3:30 into the clip...)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

2010 Maker Faire: Report I

Tess checked in late Friday night, and then again yesterday, to share her progress setting up for yesterday, the first day of the Maker Faire.  She explained it was a VERY busy day, and apologized there weren't more photos.  She hopes to share more images from today.  In the meantime, she had this to share about the experience so far...
FRIDAY NIGHT:  I am a zombie! Here is my basic booth, and I will be bringing the toy theaters in early tomorrow thanks to a kindly cab driver who took me home and said he was still working and could come pick me up. SOLD! Oh my. I have had five hours of sleep in the last 48 but I will write again very early tomorrow morning. I just have to conk! You should see the looks I get - kids go crazy. I have a super spot on a landing  right by the major attraction: a lightining show by a guy in a metal suit! It's WICKED! I am making signs in the morning!

SATURDAY MORNING:  I fell asleep at 9PM and woke up at 5am. Drinking coffee, gathering together Rod puppets, and clamps to hold my velvet in place. Am making three signs and OH how I wish I could print 11 by 17! That's the next upgrade: both printer and scanner have to be larger format. I will be taking lots of pictures today. Am so psyched! Don't have to iron because I am wearing my crinkly gold shirt which was knotted up under my pillow--sounds weird but it's very pretty. It's humid so I have wild hair--fits with the strange woman inside the balloon house! Very many of the Makers are quite young Gizmodo types but they get a kick out of me as I am a sort of anomaly to them being a parental generation but not like a parent. Am gonna have fun. Keep your fingers crossed! Tess the balloon lady

SATURDAY NIGHT:  I have no pictures to show. I am getting there very early tomorrow to shoot my booth and the environs, and later that morning when my brother gets there will get to wander FINALLY to the outside booths. I have to come and go fast because today we got hammered with wall to wall people and my booth covered with balloons is a kid magnet...Tomorrow I will set up ALL of the toy theaters farther away from the front with signs asking not to touch anything. I may actually laminate a few of the characters but the kids really can't handle them because a child has a sense of ownership the minute they have something in their hands.  But they do love how the toy theaters look, and I have had maybe 100 of my business cards taken. Tomorrow, with temperatures down into the low 70's, I expect a massive crush! My coloring pages were also a big hit. I hung a lot of my drawings around on clothespins thanks to the gridwall panels I bought.

The staff there is mostly volunteer and extremely helpful. Make Magazine has organized many of these massive affairs, and while they started out expecting 300 exhibitors we reached 500 booths by the time we opened today! When you see the map I will get tomorrow, you won't believe how massive it is. And my booth is totally unique in that it is really about kids, and is a really old fashioned sort of style. But some of the more tech types have loved looking at the miniatures and how I created an atmosphere with my little LED lights. Am still tired and will hit the sack soon. I was up at 5 am and printed solid until I left to get up there at 8:30. It's a 45 minute cab ride, and even longer on the subway.
Sounds like Tess is having an amazing experience - lots of hard work, but lots of great exposure for toy theatre in a major venue, and that's a GOOD thing! I look forward to seeing more later today...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

New York Maker Faire to Feature Toy Theatre

"Medieval Toy Theatre", by Tess Elliott (preview) - This theatre will be featured at this weekend's New York Maker Faire
Tess Elliott - Good friend to this blog and reporter-at-large at this summer's 9th International Great Small Works Toy Theatre Festival - is about to embark on another adventure this weekend. 

She will be at an event called the Maker Faire, exhibiting toy theatres.

Tess had this to say in a recent email:
Hurray and Hallelujah!

I will have my very own Tess Elliott Design Toy Theater booth at the first World Maker Faire in New York City. I set up September 24th, and stay for a networking event that Friday night. And then I work my butt off all day [Sat & Sun] from 10am to 7pm showing off my stuff.
Of COURSE, we will 'be there', thanks to Tess, who will be sharing with us her experience.  Leading up to that, she has graciously provided the image above, a preview of a theatre she will have at the event.  It's still being finished, so there will be more to the theatre than seen here.  But it is a wonderful appetizer, and I hope anyone reading this in the vicinity of the Faire, will make an effort to get out and take in Tess' booth, her toy theatres, and the Faire per se.  Sounds like a wonderful time to me!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lifesize Toy Theatre Project

Figures being cut...

Joanna Hruby is a student at the Central School of Speech and Drama. On her website, she has recently begun outline an ambitious design/performance project that incorporates as a major part of its theme, toy theatre...on a grand scale.

She says, "A zany idea perhaps, but one that I have not been alone in entertaining - Terry Gilliam constantly refers to the scenography of life-sized Victorian toy theatre in [his] films..."

The basis of her project is a...
...collaboration between live 'psychedelic folk' performance and live, animated theatrical visuals. This is my stab at turning a folk festival into an all day ritual theatre spectacle.

The poetic imagery in much folk music overwhelms me with inspiration, and has always struck me as a form of storytelling in itself. So at last I am doing what I have wanted to do for so long, and attempting to create a visual narrative to accompany a day of folk performances.

The basic aesthetic framework I am using is that of toy theatre - the Victorian tradition of telling stories via flat, animated figures and scenery made of paper, performed within a miniature proscenium arch theatre. Only this toy theatre will be on a human-sized scale, and the musicians will perform within it, surrounded by it.
The project is on a deadline, only days away.  It'll be interesting to see how it all comes together!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Book Review: Leo's Heroes

I want to tell you about a book I recently read entitled "Leo's Heroes". I wrote a bit about it a few weeks ago when the author was kind enough to send me an advance copy of the book for the very purpose of reading and reviewing it. As many times happens, life got in the way and I was delayed. Thanks to a kind reminder by Mo, I got down to business this past weekend and dived into the world of Leo.

What struck me was how vibrant and alive his world is. His mother (or Mum) has a wonderful sense of humour, and both his parents show an intelligent and patient style of relating to him. His excitement of obtaining and collecting more toy theatre sheets reminded me of the excitement I've seen on many occasions of kids nowadays in comic book shops excitedly asking about this week's latest Magic-the-Gathering cards. There are words in the story that might not be familiar to American readers, but are fun to discover and learn, such as stookie, boffin, mudlarks, 'Billys & Charleys', chink, stum.

Aspects of the book are reminiscent of the the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, because it incorporates well-known (and some not so well-known, but fascinating) real people and real events from history - Benjamin Pollock, John Logie Baird, Frederick James Camm(and his brother Syd), to mention just some. The vernacular spoken by these characters bring the story alive and will immerse the reader, helping them lose themselves in the story - and that's what a good story SHOULD do!

One of "Leo's heroes" is Dr. Who, and ironically Leo himself ends up eing a kind of Time Lord, participating in key ways in various people's lives and events in the past.  The ultimate answer as to how and why Leo can time travel is eventually revealed...but you'll have to read "Leo's Heroes" to find out!

"Leo's Heroes" book launch is scheduled for September 26th.  You can find out more details at the author's website...

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Fringe Festival Features Toy Theatre Design

Performed recently at the Edinburgh ine Festival, an adaption of a controversial work features toy theatre in its design...
A wild adaptation of Frank Wedekind's sex tragedy 'Lulu'. Considered too controversial to be staged in the playwright's lifetime, the tale of love, sex and death is as relevant and dangerous today as it was a century ago. Rififi Theatre transports Lulu's spectacular demise to a life-sized toy theatre filled with cads and showgirls, a roller-skating countess, sextet cabaret band, wandering Weimer jazz singer and a polar bear. Lulu seduces all who see her, from Time Out London ('Exciting'), to Vogue ('We loved Lulu ... hilariously bizarre and surreal feast ... a performance like you've never seen before'). 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

PROFILE: Paul Zaloom

Paul Zaloom is one talented fellow.

One of the things he has talent for is toy theatre.

Unbeknownst to me, I had already seen his work. That was brought to my attention by a recent article where his name was mentioned, that led to me researching him. One thing led to another, as it often does with me, and suddenly I was reading how he had been part of the Dante's Inferno project that used toy theatre in new and innovative ways.

Recently Paul once again used juvenile theatre, when his Toy Theater Puppet Show did an adult-only found-object-animation satire entitled, The Abecedarium. Paul describes it on his website:
In this new work of jumbo toy theater, Zaloom packs a big wallop in not-so-small spectacle featuring veteran nightclub puppeteer Lynn Jeffries. On a mini proscenium puppet stage, utilizing paper and cardboard puppets, Jeffries and Zaloom satirize the Caramel Pecan Cinnebon, Arnold Schwarzenegger, drug product placement in doctors’ offices, ocean dumping, creationism, people who wear sexy cat outfits for Halloween, and more.

The purpose of the show is to create an uproariously funny, visually stunning, politically satirical spectacle that will generate unbridled mirth and awe about the things that are killing us all.
Sounded like a lot of fun to me!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cutouts on Concrete: Final Performance Report

Matthew Isaac Cohen kindly shared his experience yesterday of attending the final performance of Horatio Blood's Cutouts on Concrete. The month-long event consisted of three productions, all performed at the National Theatre, by the British Stage in Miniature1 (BSiM)

Matthew had this to say:
Horatio's outsized Corinthian stage was lit by strong lights from in front (with the glare shielded partially by an umbrella) and a video camera set up right in front. Details of the set and figures (mounted on wooden sliders) magnified brilliantly on to the tower. The core audience (made up of toy theatre followers and the curious) sat on deck chairs on the second floor mezanine and was in good humour throughout this short performance (about 30-40 minutes). We responded ably to the play's rousing patriotism...the play provided a variety of contrasting scenes and effects - a battle at seas, sword fights, the appearance of a ghost, songs and memorable speeches.
1 - I can't recommend the essay at this link high enough - an insightful, delightful essay not just on this event, but with insights on toy theatre period. I get a kick out of the references to William West's sketch artists and his quick printing of current theatre productions of the time, as the 'pirate DVDs' of the 19th century, for instance!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Toy Theatre in Film: JILLION DILLON

JILLIAN DILLON TRAILER from Yvette Edery on Vimeo.

A new film by Yvette Edery, it employs toy theatre as one of the techniques or performance methods to tell its story. I've only seen this trailer but I am very excited to see the entire film - it looks very creative and engaging!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Book: Leo's Heroes

Time travel story involving toy theatre!
Then he did a strange thing. Leo saw him take a small twist of paper from his waistcoat pocket, unfold it, and scrutinise the contents. ‘Have you seen this before Leo?’ He held out the scrap of paper. There, glowing brightly, was a tiny sliver of blue rock.

Leo peered into the paper. ‘No, never seen anything that colour.’

Mr Pollock shook his head. ‘I got this last night from a friend of mine. He was telling me some strange nonsense about … ‘ The man put his hand on Leo’s shoulder. ‘I was wondering if you might be linked to it … you seem … so different to my usual boys. As though you don’t belong here.’

Leo put his finger to touch the blue rock, and as he did so, Benjamin Pollock shimmered before him in the growing darkness, his voice echoing ‘Don’t, don’t’, while Leo’s insides somersaulted, and he was tossed through a hot whirlwind to land on his duvet in his room, staring up at the red Chinese paper lampshade which was twisting crazily above his bed.

- From Leo's Heroes, by Mo Heard
As many readers know, there is an amazing shop in London called Pollock's Toy Shop, run by Peter Baldwin, ably assisted by Louise Heard.

Louise's mum, Mo Heard, has recently contacted me about a wonderful new book she has written. Toy Theatre is featured prominently in the book in a most creative manner, involving time travel. Shades of Doctor Who, anyone? I like what I've seen and heard so far!

Let me share a bit of what Mo has told me:
I'd like to tell you about my new children's book, Leo's Heroes, which features a time-traveling boy who meets real people from the past. In the first chapter he's whizzed to Benjamin Pollock's shop, and then later Mr. P gives him a show.

The whole story will gradually unfold on my children's blog (the outline of the Pollock story is up there already), and my own blog describes how I had the idea for the book.

There were two Victorian men - mudlarks - who duped the antiques world with their fakes of medieval medallions, (they were called 'Billys and Charleys') and I have Leo actually giving them the idea when he's zoomed back to the poverty-stricken East End!
The framework of how Mo is telling Leo's tales reminds me of the television series several years ago called The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.  In that series, director Steven Spielberg - using his famous film character Indiana as a little boy and young man - told stories of famous events and featuring famous people from history. I adored that series and the premise it used - pure genius I thought.

I think Mo is onto something using the same premise in her new book, and I'm delighted it features toy theatre in that premise. It’s a fun and creative way to get kids involved and excited (and learn) about history. As an avid local historian, and history fan in general, I’m all for it!

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Film Festival Feature Toy Theatre Documentary

Exciting news to share!

A friend of this blog - and to toy theatre in general - Steve Arnott, has entered his documentary "A Small History of Toy Theatre" in this year's Strabourg Film Festival.

You can see the film online, for a limited time, here.

Monday, August 09, 2010

This Weekend: Toy Theatre in Massachusetts

Although North Adams, Massachusetts is the 'least populated city in the state', it nonetheless boasts the largest contemporary art museum in the United States - quite a coup (it pleases me somehow to know this...!)

Alice in Wonderland will be performed this weekend there at the Main Street Stage. Tickets are a low $7, and the performance is described as lasting approximately 40 minutes. Sounds like quite the show - I'd go if I could! Anyone on the East coast, and can make it, let us know how the show goes?

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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

GSW9 Revisited - Parade Photos

As readers of this blog know, we were treated to on-the-spot reporting of the recent 9th International Great Small Works Toy Theatre Festival, brought to us by our fearless volunteer Tess Elliott. Tess did an amazing job with sharing images and descriptions, making the festival come alive to those of us unable to attend in person.

I revisit the festival today only to share a wonderful find on another blog, by a writer who attended and got some great shots of the toy theatre parade, especially the floats. Talk about fun - floats on a miniature scale, walked along by 'giant' humans...I love it!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Horatio Blood on Flytower: Cut-outs on Concrete

Detail of a backdrop from a melodrama to be shown at the National Theatre
I'd love to see this - public performance of toy theatre to the masses, projected large. Great idea, great event!
...Nobody's going to look ashamed of them at the National Theatre in August, when the British Stage in Miniature – that's Horatio Blood, showman and scholar of popular arts, and his unlikely company – puts on three melodramas. I'm one of that company, having long ago met Blood, pasteboard's Diaghilev, in a cellar (it should have been a dungeon) over tea and stacks of scenery. He presents the visuals on his glowing Corinthian stage, and they're simultaneously projected to vast dimensions on the theatre's fly-tower – period Pixar, before your very eyes, with live music. The words will be as serious as they were when fresh.

Flytower: Fri 2 July – 28 Aug - Events - National Theatre
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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Battle of Waterloo Toy Theatre CGI

From Nigel Peever comes this news:
Since completing the fully animated toy theatre production of The Corsican Brothers last year I've been trying to animate The Battle of Waterloo, The Corsican Brothers is usually available to buy on ebay and you can find a few clips here in my videos as a taster to the full 37 minute version.

The Battle of Waterloo will follow the original script again and is currently up to about 22 minutes in length, so still a long way to go! Each day of rendering produces just a few seconds of video.

I've found a site that offers a great deal of royalty free music, so this is almost a test to see if I get nobbled by youtube for using this music after all :-)

Toy Theatre in Film


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Exhibit: Worlds in Miniature - REPORT

Thanks to a heads-up by a fellow toy theatre enthusiast on the toy theatre group, I became aware of a Bay area blog that has posted some opening night photos and commentary on the recently-opened-and-ongoing toy theatre exhibition at the Museum of Performance & Design in San Francisco...

Festival of New Theatre

"A Walk in the City"
Originally uploaded by alankin

Everything old is new again, they say.

Well, in the case of toy theatre, at least in some circles, that appears to be true.

At the upcoming NACL 10th Annual Catskill Festival of New Theatre, toy theatre will be featured, and that my friends, is a good thing!

Great Small Works will be performing there on Saturday, July 24th. Their performances are described in the playbill as "...a summer smorgasbord of Papier Teatre and Banklsang1 including "A Walk in the City" inspired by the work of Italo Calvino, directed by Roberto Rossi, a new installment of the surreal news serial, “The Toy Theater of Terror As Usual” and [a cantastoria called] "The History of Oil", with paintings by Janie Geiser."

The festival runs from July 23 to August 1 in Highland Lake, NY

1 - Banklsang, a traditional form of theatre where a singer stood on a bench beside a giant painting and sang current events to the largely illiterate people.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Exhibit: Worlds in Miniature - OPENING

On the Toy Theatre group today, toy theatre enthusiast Sean Sharp had this to share:
This last Tuesday night, we had a grand opening for the toy theatre exhibit (Toy Theatres: Worlds in Miniature) at San Francisco's Museum of Performance & Design, starting at 6:30.

Catered food and wine, a short presentation by Brad Rosenstein, Curator of Exhibitions & Programs, and William Eddelman, the chief curator for the exhibit, were followed by a 10-minute DVD of clips from various movies about or including toy theatres. 130 people showed up and all enjoyed themselves. The exhibit looks gorgeous, 21 theatres, many framed TT prints. We even have one interactive theatre, where you press a button to turn on the footlights. Six of my theatres are included, including the Redington and Mars, each featuring luridly colored versions of the final scenes from Hodgson's SIEGE OF TROY and Webb's MILLER AND HIS MEN. Also look for an art deco Fold-A-Way Theatre, with a patent-leather haired Prince Charming and a flapperesque Cinderella, printed in Chicago in 1932.

The exhibit is open through December and is free to the public.