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').