Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Collector

Meet Richard Balzer. He collects optical toys, and much more.
How do you convince a generation that’s perfectly content to watch a cat in a shark suit ride a Roomba to be interested in antique animation toys? "The simple answer is, just show them as they were," says Balzer. "Not as static figures, but as animations." This led Balzer to hire Brian Duffy, a young Los Angeles-based animator who began helping Balzer digitize and animate Balzer’s collection of phenakistoscope and zoetrope illustrations.
See more animations on Dick's tumblr!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Doctor Who in the Small

Scene from BBC 2013 Doctor Who Christmas Special:  The Doctor contemplates alien with his sonic screwdriver

Doctor Puppet, created by
Alison Stern

With this being the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, there are many creative projects and performances being inspired by the Doctor.  This includes projects that take the doctor to the small stage, as well as to the world of stop-motion film shorts.

The creativity of the people behind these projects boggles the mind.  Even the official Doctor Who program itself will be featuring a Punch-and-Judy-like puppet story in this year's Christmas Special!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Burke Dollhouse

6' wide x 5' tall.  Fully functioning electrical lighting
and running water in the kitchen and bathroom...

Recently, a very special dollhouse was donated to the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA).

It's special because of its size and complexity.  The rooms were outfitted over many years, and no attention to detail was spared.

One can look into each corner of a room, and discover something new upon every viewing.  The house is truly a work of miniature art.

The dollhouse was donated by Mary Livingston [Griggs] Burke, who passed away in 2012. It was built in the early 20th century, and had been added to over the decades by the original owner and her daughter. The family foundation donated the dollhouse to the MIA in 2013.

Ms. Burke, a distinguished art collector,  made known her intention to donate her Japanese art collection upon her death to the MIA.  The dollhouse may have been a fortunate after thought that the MIA inherited along with it.

Michelle Mausi, the author of
Tales of the Tchotcke Family 

One of the staff at the MIA began taking snapshots of the rooms as well as the miniature figurine characters that inhabit them, captioning each image with a fictional narrative.

The figurines became the Tchotcke family.  They had individual names, back stories, and narratives for their particular scenes.

You'll want to check the stories out here and here.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens: UPDATE

The last time I posted about this project was about a year ago.  The man behind it, Steve Arnott, contacted me today and wanted me to know that an updated video demonstrating more of the digital animation, soundtrack, and narration was now available to view.  The video above is that sample.  It shows great promise, and has many fascinating and magical scenes. The narration is done by Roy Trumble, from his reading of J.M. Barrie's earlier, shorter work about Pan...

The film is making good progress. Steve did some film work in Norway last month, where they are enthusiastic about the project - part of the film may be produced there.

Arnott knows his subject well, and has written about its history and influence.

To find out more about the film's history, and what the goals of the film project are, go here.

As I find out more information, it will be posted here.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

London Puppetry Festival: October 25th to November 3rd

Going on RIGHT NOW is the Suspense 2013 London Puppetry Festival! Check out the video to see clips of the shows and workshops being offered, as well as excerpts from some of the shows and the performers who create these amazing worlds for us to enjoy...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

2013 Paper Theatre Festival in Harderwijk

Held this past May, here are highlights showing some of the performers, theatres, and actual clips of performances...

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

PuppetVision: The Movie

PuppetVision: The Movie is a documentary about puppets, puppeteers and puppetry around the world.  The mastermind behind the project is Andrew Young:
We want to use fantastic interviews, combined with performance footage, rare film clips, and original puppetry sequences to create a fun, accessible documentary that takes you on a globe trotting journey to meet these incredible artists and explore the wonderful work that they do. We want to take the art of puppetry apart, show you how it works and surprise you with what you find.
This update on Andrew's blog shares even more details and photos, the latest news on the project.

PuppetVision: The Movie is being funded by donations.  Please visit the project's fundraiser site and give whatever you can - every penny is much appreciated!  And, there are incentives for various contribution amounts.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Classic Paper

Homer’s cornerstone of literature is vividly told with beautiful illustration and masterful puppetry. Cinematic projection and cunning tricks transform a suitcase full of cut-out paper puppets into an array of living characters and striking landscapes. A silent film is created before your eyes, set to a captivating live score from exceptional musicians.
If you live near Brighton, you're in luck!

The Paper Cinema will be putting on performances next week of their amazing adaption of the Odyssey.

Don't miss it!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Moby Dick on a Stick!

My friend Karen had an "obsession" discussion at her library (where she works as a librarian) recently, revolving around Melville's MOBY-DICK.

She used some of the art from Matt Kish's Moby-Dick in Pictures to create stick puppets for the program.

Karen led an informal discussion with the participants, in an attempt to answer questions about larger subjects. Questions contemplated were: What does the novel tell us about obsession? [Ahab’s obsessive desire to kill Moby Dick drives much of the novel’s story-line...] What methods does he use to get the crew on board with his personal obsession? And, what do those methods tell us about larger subjects, such as the nature of leadership, tyranny, and democracy?

The video below is a fascinating short film documenting Matt Kish's own obsession with Moby-Dick, and how that obsession compelled him to create a sketch, drawing, or painting every day for a year, that eventually became his book. His art inspired Karen so much, she used several for her project!

Inside the Whale from Southpaw Filmworks on Vimeo.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

GSW10 Performance on Video: Bradley Manning

Filmed June 15, 2013, 10pm. The latest episode of Great Small Works' signature production, "The Toy Theater of Terror as Usual", focuses on the trials and tribulations of Bradley Manning, and freedom of information. Performed at Great Small Works 10th International Toy Theater Festival, St. Ann's Warehouse, Brooklyn.

GSW10 Review: Miniature Theatre, Grand Ideas

When William Shakespeare wrote, 'All the world is a stage,' he probably meant a bigger stage than you can find in the world of Toy Theater, a tabletop universe, usually no more than a meter wide, where big things happen - from Hamlet, to political satire, broad-brush comedy, dreamscapes and everything in between. VOA’s Adam Phillips went behind the scenes at a New York toy theater company.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Politicizing Puppets: GSW10 Review

A well-done review of the recent GSW10!

Politicizing Puppets at St. Ann's Warehouse
By Emma Wiseman

Great Small Works’ International Toy Theater Festival is in its 10th year of celebrating miniature puppet works of all kinds.  The last two weeks saw the festival transform St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO, Brooklyn into a family circus-style labyrinth festooned with hand-painted banners, dividing the space into several individual makeshift theaters supplementing St. Ann’s usual venue.

The festival program describes toy theater as “a do-it–yourself storytelling form which can be elaborate yet simple, grand yet inexpensive, full of deep critical thinking yet accessible to all.”  A toy theater piece is typically self-contained within its own mini proscenium and in general is characterized by its small size. In an age of CGI and 3D printing, there is a certain nostalgia and familiarity to be found in all styles of puppetry, though perhaps more so in toy theater, evoking as it does childhood living rooms, scissors and tape, and the excitement of putting on a show for the grownups.

St. Ann’s transformed by the arrival of Great Small Works’ 10th International Toy Theater Festival

The work on display at the festival, which closed on Sunday and included both live shows and a “Temporary Toy Theater Museum,” arrived from all over the country and from several cities around the world.  While all could be categorized under the umbrella of “toy theater,” many of the pieces took that concept and exploded it, incorporating other puppetry and performance styles. While I wasn’t able to see all of the performances, I did catch several wonderful pieces and some pretty stunning examples of just how effective this medium can be.
Detail from Annie Silverman, “The Great Danes,” part of the Temporary Toy Theater Museum

Erik Ruin and Maryann Colella of Providence, Rhode Island presented One Touch of Nature Makes the Whole World Kin, an exploration of several different disasters — notably the San Francisco earthquake and fires — and the coming-together of affected communities in response to these events. The construction of the piece was in classic toy theater style with a stand-alone proscenium arch piece, made instantly eye catching by a bold, almost Art Deco looking image of two figures holding hands. Ruin is a prolific printmaker with a striking visual style that pervades One Touch… Rather than individual figures moving through the space, the puppets of this piece are large fragments of landscapes, all done in complex lines that reminded me of woodcuts.  These pieces are hung from the top of the proscenium and fit together in a dense collage, capturing both the crowds of a city or town as well as the chaos of a major disaster.  Both performers narrate the story, with Ms. Colella helpfully pointing out individual figures and images within the dense artwork.

One Touch… stood out to me among the other shows in its particular program, all of which shared the theme of “Disaster!” Great Small Works, the presenting company for the festival, grew out of a collaboration with Bread and Puppet Theater, and as such has an activist vein running through much of their work.  Whether it is their influence over the art form or that there is something about toy theater, and puppetry in general, that complements political dissent, some of the Disaster pieces made me want to call out “I’m sorry!” Overt, talk-y messages about the dangers of global warming and the evils of government were washing over the audience like a Superstorm surge. I believe fervently in the importance of theater to a larger political discussion, but the nuances of that is a conversation for another day.  Suffice to say that One Touch of Nature Makes the Whole World Kin, by taking a historical view and by making well-executed performance its first priority, was a compelling breath of fresh air in a program hot with indignation.

Hand painted signs welcoming people to the Festival
Claire Dolan came to the Toy Theater Festival from rural Vermont, where she works as a nurse, she explained in a disarmingly un-theatrical way at the beginning of her piece. She also brought her neighbors along to help her tell a “very simple story.” Elephant has a narrative woven from Dolan’s personal experiences in Shanghai, her changing relationship with her mother in the last weeks of a mentally debilitating illness, and actual facts about elephants.  Specifically, the piece explores the nature of memory: in Shanghai entire neighborhoods have been razed to make way for more modern buildings, which in turn are torn down in favor of fake historical buildings for tourists; tribes of elephants mourn over the dead body of a companion and then return much later to the same place to actually cradle the bones with their trunks; a mother ceases to recognize her own daughter.  I was utterly charmed and transported by the work, which, while in reality being far from simple, was presented in a clear and measured way by performers with a sincerity that I actually think receiving a BFA can often kill.  Ms. Dolan was also appearing as a representative ofThe Museum of Everyday Life, for which she serves as the Chief Operating Philosopher.

I was completely surprised at the parallels I found between Elephant and Beth Nixon’s Lava Fossil, which was presented in a different program.  For one thing, both pieces were inspired at least in part by the death of a parent. Nixon presented her story using several suitcases containing pop-up sets, taking a traditional toy theater format and running with it. She talked about the death of her father and mused on the nature of time, and a dead person’s place in it. Her childhood dentist also made an appearance, as did some passionate dinosaurs, Pompeii victims and several different types of volcanoes.

photo (11)
Amanda Villalobos, “Sister Adorers in the Cardboard Convent” at the Temporary Toy Theater Museum

I was struck by the way in which both Ms. Dolan and Ms. Nixon constructed their stories: juxtaposing seemingly unrelated topics and coaxing out significance, breaking down an idea into layers of meaning and sifting through. Puppetry is particularly powerful when it is used in this way; not simply as a visual aid but a method by which ideas can be furthered and explored. Furthermore, I think that creating artistic work out of personal pain is a complicated affair that can often slip down a theater-as-therapy path, and I was very moved by each of these pieces, both of which were incredibly well thought out and artfully composed while remaining intensely individual.

Zach Dorn, from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, performed Five Excruciatingly Ordinary Toy Theater Shows, one or two in between each of the other live performances in his program. Each brief, hilarious piece came from a diary entry in a “particularly boring notebook” that Mr. Dorn found among his belongings. One of my favorites was entitled World of Poop. His cartoon-y sets and figures were very small, and he used a handheld camera to direct the audience’s attention.  Mr. Dorn’s work brought smallness to the forefront, as did Kevin P. Hale’s Poe-Dunk, which examined the life and works of Edgar Allen Poe with puppets stuck to matches and matchbook-sized sets.  In these situations especially, a screen above the stage that provided rock concert-like close ups of the work via a live feed camera was invaluable, though for most pieces in the festival it was still a helpful perspective.

photo (12)
View of one scene from Janie Geiser’s “The Reptile Under the Flowers”

Janie Geiser’s The Reptile Under the Flowers was presented in one of the festival’s makeshift individual theaters to which audience members were admitted eight at a time, every fifteen minutes. The piece comprises twelve scenes, each of which lives in its own stand-alone light box-theater and describes part of one family’s history. It was the miniature Sleep No More of the Toy Theater Festival.  Some of the scenes only allowed for two audience members at a time to peer through eye-holes, creating a unique and intimate viewing experience.

I found the Toy Theater Festival to be thoroughly enjoyable in the way that a difficult yoga class is. The theater was a million degrees, some shows were harder to sit through than others, and I started to recognize the diehards who were coming back day after day. In terms of the scope and breadth of the work there is really nothing like it to be found in New York, and for $10-$15 it’s the most cost-effective way to experience the great St. Ann’s Warehouse.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Masterpieces in Miniature: Bonsai

The man behind this miniature masterpiece is Takanori Aiba. "If you explore any small part of my works, you find amazing stories and some unique characters..." His attention to detail is incredible; he creates interiors of his buildings as well as exteriors. And it is all the more impressive since the details are all done in miniature.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Village in Miniature

I adore this kitchen with cupboard doors done as a miniature town in old Europe, a kitchen done in a miniature theme!

I wish I had the talent, skill, and patience to tackle painting my kitchen as a toy theatre collection, but alas, no.

But what a fun, beautiful idea...

Monday, June 24, 2013

GSW10: Greatest Smallest Parade Floats

Two floats from the "Greatest Smallest Parade" that were on display at Temporary Toy Theatre Museum

Tess Elliott reports in with photos taken during the just-finished 10th International Toy Theatre Festival.  Tess will be sharing her final reports from the festival in the next few days.  She was extremely busy this year not only taking in the shows and documenting them for this blog, but also volunteering at the festival.  See her photos of some of the small floats that took part in the opening day parade...

Howard Brothers Model circus at Ringling Museum

Howard Brothers Miniature Circus at the John and Mable Ringling Circus Museum, Sarasota, FloridaHoward Brothers Miniature Circus at the John and Mable Ringling Circus Museum, Sarasota, FloridaHoward Bros Circus Model at the Circus Museum’s Tibbals Learning Center, Sarasota, FloridaHoward Bros Circus Model at the Circus Museum’s Tibbals Learning Center, Sarasota, FloridaCircus Museum, Sarasota, FloridaHoward Brothers Miniature Circus at the John and Mable Ringling Circus Museum, Sarasota, Florida
Howard Brothers Miniature  Circus ModelWorld's Largest Miniature CircusPeanuts...popcorn...get your popcorn...Grand standcinderella.Moonlight Melodies
DSC01435.JPGDSC01397.JPGDSC01396.JPGInfirmaryRingling Museum, Sarasota
Incredible workmanship in the miniature, you must see these well-done, close-up photographs of a life's work. Begun in the 1940s, one man has created an entire big top circus in all its amazing detail!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

GSW10: Family Programs

10th International Toy Theater Festival Family Programs

Schurzpiepegal (Like Master, Like Dog) / Berlin, Germany

This story is based on the picture book written and illustrated by Barbara Steinitz , with music direction and accompaniment by Bjorn Kollin.

The illustrations freed from the book, are lovely, telling a story about two people who oddly do not have dogs that look like themselves. They cause merriment when they go out walking, and people make fun of them. The stage is a suitcase filled with grooves, so that with each set change, pieces of scenery stand up and are removed quickly, in a graceful arc by Barbara. She speaks very clearly (which my challenged ears loved), and liked to make faces for the children. She had some moments when the story got a bit complicated and the very young children became restless. We adults in the audience were right there with her. These were short moments, and she managed to bring them back into the story every time. She is still reading from her book which slows her down some, and more performances will make her better and faster. She seems very naturally happy performing—a different world from art and illustration where you usually work alone. The music was very nicely done, and I wouldn't have minded to hear more, though Barbara can't be a puppeteer and play her odd instrument at the same time. It looks like a mixture of fiddle, steel guitar and horn. It sounds more like a fiddle with an edgy, more metallic sound when she uses her bow. Bjorn plays her straight man, and is an excellent guitarist in the bargain.

What was wonderful was the way the characters come to life, so that you want them to have a happy ending. It is true that often people choose doggy versions of themselves but in this story the odd group worked perfectly when they were ALL together. This happy ending comes after a false ending when she gets into a discussion with Bjorn who objects that all is not perfectly well when the couple first exchanges dogs. They cared too much what other people thought, and learn (for their dogs' sakes) you just can't care what anyone thinks. Here is her website.

Vrooom! / Puppet Junction Productions  (Brooklyn, NY)

Created by Serra Hirsch, Playwright B. Walker Sampson, Original Music by Arlen Hart, Puppeteers Bill Remington Hubner, Ildi Kiss, Serra Hirsch, Set by Hubner, and Sound by Ien DeNio

This was another fun show that opens with a woman vacuuming. Turns out the set is the inside of the vacuum, with a family of spiders trapped inside. They are charming puppets, each a different color so you can tell them apart. It was a very creative approach, and the bugs were not a bit scary. The little family does what families always do—help each other, sometimes argue, and try to work things out together. The star is Art, a very scared young spider who makes webs that are pretty, as opposed to webs that catch things to eat. In the long run, Art's web stops up the vacuum which frees them all. This story was very cute, though a little complicated for the youngest children. The older audience was quite charmed. The little puppets are very cute, and have a very nice movement the way their legs are strung together, but I searched their website and could not find a photograph. Check out their website.

Sleeping Beauty / You and Me Puppets (Reading, MA) 

This was a treat, to finally see Judith O'Hare do her thing. She has been an enthusiast, written books about how puppetry helps every aspect of education, performed and made incredibly beautiful toy theaters, as well as commissioned them. She sells her own design of toy theater that also can be used for shadow puppets. Her long experience is the foundation of a confident and friendly performer.

She does a different sort of Sleeping Beauty story rather than the gruesome European folktale, and it is humorous and not at all scary for the children. There are fairies, one of whom is grumpy and curses the newly born girl over a snub from the Queen, and another fairy sort of fixes it. Her stage is a large pop up book in simple designs and bright colors. Her puppets are on Rods and can stand on their own, which is very handy for multi-character scenes.

Ms. O'Hare knows how to entertain children. She always smiles, makes eye contact from time to time and even talks to some of the closer children. The story is fast-paced and I didn't hear near the restlessness in other shows as compared to the quietness of hers. Once a few of us started laughing, everyone chimed in, and the entire show seemed to flash by. Love seeing a performer who really knows how to work with children.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

GSW10: Program 2

Program 2 of the 10th Annual International Toy Theater Festival
as Reported by Tess Elliott

GSWs' Toy Theater of Terror as Usual, 
Episode 13: Whistles and Leaks (NYC)

This was an interesting show about Bradley Manning, and the moral conflict he felt about blowing the whistle on all the illegal killings of civilians that was deliberately hidden by the government. For this, Bradley Manning and perhaps Julian Assange may both lose their liberty. But we do have to ask ourselves why we feel one way about corporate whistleblowers (many of whom paid dearly for having a conscience), and government whistleblowers who would be prosecuted for treason. It is not a black and white issue, as lawyers would have us see it, since our armed forces represent us overseas in ways we are not allowed to know or see until the damage is done. How can we question our government if just knowing about it, or telling about it is treason? Why did Scooter Libby out a covert agent and get a a much shorter sentence which also got canceled by Bush, and Bradley Manning might be looking at life in prison or even the death penalty? Both are treasonous actions under the law. It sometimes doesn't boil down to whose side you are on, when it's an issue about what kind of person you are. The character kept asking: “What would YOU do?” Most of us would do nothing, but lose some sleep over dead people in foreign countries. Some of us might cry for them. But I ask myself also: “How should we treat those who would try to make this right?” It is not collateral damage when we send drones into areas where civilians live. The film of the death of the camera crew shocked many who saw it. I was ready to bear witness to Bin Laden's death, but not a camera crew's. Somehow, we must demand our military stand for what we believe in as a country—that the death of innocents anywhere is wrong. How complicated is that?

"Suitcase Narrative: Three Small Things" / Open Eye Figure Theatre (Minneapolis, MN)

Mr. Sommers is a mad professor who can barely stand still. He has a manic way of showing a story with his art, as if his very life depended on it. His gallery is a suitcase theater fringed with puppets, and his art is their stage sets. He is an artist selling his story like a sidewalk shell game, and he makes a statement in his biography that he hopes his art is like a virus you catch, and stays in your brain. He has performed in this manner all over the world. He calls this “Three Small Things” though I wouldn't care to enumerate what they are. What I got from his pictures, (he narrates in sound effects) which look like R. Crumb trying to draw someone's head exploding, is that life is passionate and that curiosity is a great gift. Death is inevitable, and the Moment must not be lost while we have life. He is very funny, in a desperate sort of way, but I felt some empathy for the many many times I wanted to shake someone and yell: “WAKE UP!” Because he is so visually oriented, I was ready to love what he did seeing how so much of what the puppets do requires the pictures/paintings. Will have to read more about him now.

"A Memorable Murder" by Pontine Theater (Portsmouth, NH) 
M. Marguerite Mathews & Greg Gathers

The story takes place during March 5th and 6th of 1875, on the Isle of Shoals near Portsmouth, and is based on the first hand witness of Celia Thaxter published in the Atlantic. It is a striking series of pictures, again a homage to graphic novels and film, telling the story of a horrific murder during an unsuccessful robbery by a man who was considered like a brother to the extended family. He killed two women, and sent another out into the freezing cold in only her bedclothes, and by a miracle she managed to find help before she froze to death. The killer thought there was money hidden (there was but he couldn't find it), and he wanted to take it while the men were away fishing. The killer died trying to run away (the sea was his judge). It felt strange to hear a scary tale while watching beautiful pictures about the gruesome story, but that's toy theater all over. The partners worked so well together that every set change was smooth and flawless, and you don't have time to think—wait a minute—that was a severed head and arm! In black and white, it was almost more scary—like the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Ms. Mathews and her partner both have very long and impressive resumes, belying the mindset that toy theaters are light-weight entertainment for children. This piece has a lovely elegant style, thanks to the design of Mr. Gathers.

"Baba Yaga VS Bat Man" / Goat on a Boat Theater (Sag Harbor NY)
 Liz Joyce and Alex Khludov

This was a zany story written by Liz Joyce about two of Bat Man's enemies getting married, and who must be stopped before they can sire unspeakably horrible evil children. It is funny like the TV show was, and though kids are not a target audience for this more adult themed comic romp. She has very bright poster-like art and the entire show is fast paced. It looks like a kids show, but does not act like one. Baba Yaga is a gypsy-like bride to be, who comes onto Robin right away and sends him running. She is supposed to marry the Penguin. They do comic battle over the marriage, but oddly I forgot how it ended. Guess this means I could watch it again, and still enjoy the suspense (was tired and got happily lost among the bright colors). Please don't anyone tell me!
You can get a good idea of how this one-woman company does out there on Long Island, for kids especially. Liz Joyce is a direct and energetic person who helped serve punch with me at the opening. She has the pace down, and the brightness, with something still left for the parents. She is living the dream of a lot of puppeteers, being the community puppeteer among the beach lovers but we all know that also amounts to a lot of really hard work.

A Bavarian Folk Tale / The Dolly Wagglers (Glover VT)
Lindsay McCaw and Adam Cook, with Michelle Posadas

I was ready to love this show because both of the partners are funny, charming performers. This show required a third puppeteer, with all the characters and landscape changes...rather like an operatic version of toy theater, folk style. We see charming landscape with no fancy work, and cute characters who are miners about the business of digging holes to get STUFF. They are driven to do this until all the stuff is gone. Some of the local animals (and land spirits) become unhappy about all the holes, and some of the miners wonder when they can stop and have a little fun. Their leaders are against stopping while there is so much STUFF in the ground. Lindsay McCaw comes out front in a very funny costume, and deadpans the wise owl's remarks about this mania for stuff. She reminds me of Gilda Radner in her Roseann Rosanadana character, and is hilarious “reciting” her lines, while draped with her accordion. If toy theater people had their way, accordions would come back as a top instrument of accompaniment, and they make a good case for it. The collaboration between McCaw and Cook were one of my favorites at the last festival. Long may they ply their artful trade!

Friday, June 21, 2013

GSW10: Video Report

A nicely-done video report by the Wall Street Journal on the 10th International Toy Theatre Festival, ongoing right now!
"People are really excited about seeing the handmade and the hand-operated," said Ms. Geiser, "and the kind of magic that happens when you actually see how something is being done and you still believe in it."
Read more about the festival in the accompanying WSJ article...

Old Toy Theatre History Site: Revival?

Front page of old Toy Theatre History page...

I used to have my own domain, and on subdomain I hosted a website I inherited from a fellow in the UK that didn't want to handle it anymore. I used it as a template, and did some major changes to it to make it more logical and user-friendly. I look back on it now and laugh because it looks to primitive to what we can do today.

That said, I think I have enough pieces of the puzzle to be able to resurrect it - at least a good share of it - as 'pages' that link from the front page here.

I want to share some of the information from that old page, because although much of it is 'old news', it's important historically in the world of toy theatre, and to my knowledge, there not a lot of this online. It mostly concerns Benjamin Pollock.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

GSW10: Before the Festival

June 2, 2013: Straightening top of main stage curtain, & strengthening it by putting in grommets.

Before the curtains open, and the lights come up, there is...preparation!

See more here...

GSW10: Panel Discussion

Main festival stage.  Grand drape painted by Damiano Giambelli of Teatro del Corvo, Milano.
[Click to see full-size]

John Bell from Great Small Works shared this about last night's fascinating panel discussion after Program 3 ("Disaster!") of GSW's 10th International Toy Theater Festival:
The panel, titled "Who is Feeling the Heat? Moving the National and Local Discussion of Climate Change," featured (l. to r.) Jenny Romaine; artist and climate change activist Rachel Schragis; Helena Wong (Executive Director of CAAAV/NYC Chinatown Sandy Response); Diego Ibanez (organizer with Occupy Sandy in Far Rockaway); and Jenny Akchin (Occupy Sandy activist).

GSW10: Great Small Stages

The Great Small Stages
by Tess Elliott

Little Blue Moon Theater performs “Roman Reverie” [Vallejo, CA]

Was all set to have a good time with this show, though it was raunchier (in its tasteful nudity) than “Mutiny on the Bounty” and I so missed Michael's uke. But the star of the puppet-mimed show was Valerie Nelson's stunning soprano ringing out, which I had never heard before. Mama Mia! She can sing such operatic, passionate accompaniment to their hilarious sexy romp, all through new and ancient erotic Rome. There is no dialog: the show is like a moving picture book. Our intrepid couple arrive in Rome and have a fight at dinner on their first night. She takes off to a gorgeous magical waterfall the next day where the fun begins. If you have never seen a paper doll striptease, it is something absolutely insane and funny. Hunky Roman soldiers come through, and she is taken off for her captive adventures. I can't remember all the captors but her fun seems to peak at a Bachian orgy complete with goat legged fauns. She recreates Leda and the Swan. She becomes the adopted pet of a family of centaurs for awhile. After that she is carried off a prisoner.

Her estranged sweetheart ends up at those same magical waterfalls where he is accosted by a group of water nymphs who carry him off disrobed and startled. He goes through his own adventures ending up becoming a gladiator, where somehow HE manages to kill the deadly lion, and is carried off a hero (and of all things, he still has on his nerdy glasses). Like Julius Caesar, he is loved by men and women. He is invited to the Emporer's palace (I decided it was Tiberius's Palace on Capri) where he is seduced by the Emperor's woman, and then by the Emperor. As they are all becoming friends, he looks out to see his lady strung up naked on some stony pillars as an Andromeda-style sacrifice to the gods, and our brave hero becomes Perseus to battle Poseidon to save her. A good time was had by all. We see them headed for the airport all lovey dovey. The End.

Yulya Dukhovny performs "Fisherman's Dream" [Los Angeles, CA]

This was an interesting piece that had some very lovely music recorded on a soundtrack for a toy theater video. Music was the first career of this artist. This was a sort of turnabout of reality and scale, because the tiny toy theater and puppets were built and filmed on a REAL beach (she has great outtakes at the end), and the real toy theater fisherman's shanty, and other scenes are in a real little toy theater, accompanying the video when it's usually the other way around. Also a little turned around are photos mixed in with more primitive drawing like the shanty, but collaged with turn of the century characters who become background to the story. You have heard forms of it all your life. A fisherman catches a magical “fish” who offers him anything if he would let her go. He doesn't need anything, and kindly lets her go, but tells his old wife about it and she demands he go back and ask for a new washtub. He does. Magically a new washing machine pops up on the beach and her laundry comes out already clipped to a clothesline. Then she wants a pretty cottage. And we all know, this is just the beginning.

I do like the way Ms. Dukhovny presents the tired old Fisherman who looks sad and worn out. He is a puppet with a real human face among the nets, looking thin (and probably embarrassed over his wife's greed). He has to go back and ask for a life that is better than being peasants, and she is never satisfied. At the end, she demands the impossible—to be the mistress of the magical sea goddess, and happily—it all goes back to normal again. As if nothing happened. It was a gift to the Fisherman, and she does not seem to remember her former lofty elevation. This is an adaptation of Pushkin's fairy tale about magical Golden Fish (the artist is Russian, and lived in Israel many years). I look forward to seeing more by this artist.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

GSW10: Program One

One of the gorgeous stages at this year's festival...

Program One of the 10th International Toy Theater Festival
- Reported by Tess Elliott

The People's Puppets of Occupy Wall Street

They performed a political piece about How Do We Show Solidarity, which was streamed live between them and Cairo during the Egyptian uprising. Here is the Ustream link.  They also have a Facebook page.

It was a show of cut out cardboard figures, and collages of events and politicians (The newly elected Egyptian President and Obama, mostly) haggling at the people's expense, with harsh police tactics on the rebels. I can imagine how I would have felt, had the new president changed his mind about his promises and suddenly made government more able to spy on it's people, and have more power to contain what they consider dangerous groups. Oh, by gosh I DID feel that way, just like the Egyptians. How do we show Solidarity? Support, agreement about issues, spreading the word. These young people are dedicated to doing this across the country and across the world. People are tired of bullies. People are tired of corruption. It is down on the ground front lines art, with simple, primitive techniques that speak articulately because they are simple. Good work.

The Garment Workers Tale, by Valeska Populoh of Baltimore, MD

This show starts with a still life of a cluttered old sewing machine desk, boxes and stacks of materials. Valeska comes out in period costume, and sits for awhile sewing with brutal focus, unsmiling and tired looking until she finishes a line of what I thought were old time collars. It is like a beautiful sepia tone photograph, where you can't see the wear or soil on old things—plain things. Then she changes the tone by picking up a photo and remembering, which turns into the first puppet she uses. All that clutter turns out to be set pieces and puppets to tell the story of immigrants coming to this country hungry and dying for work. I thought it was ingenius the way she used the “scenery” to tell the story. She finds a garment factory and tells the tale of relentless brutal hours, culminating in the great Triangle Factory Tragedy. She tells the story of protests by many of those same immigrants trying to work safe, trying to live, and giving birth to the first unions in that industry. She never speaks a word, but speaks volumes through her props. This was one act that does not translate well to the overhead projection of the last rows because the color is entirely lost, and the cropping is as damaging as TV is to movies. I am thankful to have it, but was sitting behind a person who blocked the whole scene and I only got to see the real thing for a few seconds at a time. I made a point of trying to sit up front after that program. It might have been helpful to put her scene on a raised floor, though I can understand how the extra expense might make that impossible. This is what much of toy theater faces with every performance.

Eli the Luthier by Little Did Productions of NYC

This was a tragic love story, conceived by Jessica Marie Lorence, played out on a large pop up scenery “book” by a troup of singer/puppeteers, and original music played on the Cello by Luke Santy, who sang and played as the narrator of the story. The singer/puppeteers were : Alison Novelli, Sam Parrott, and Elizabeth Spano. Pop up scenery can be a lot of fun, because it is instant as a new page is opened. I can't even imagine the labor involved in creating such an oversize pop book but it worked like a charm. The puppet characters interact with the scenery in the traditional way for the most part, but sometimes they are presented as large closeups as if they were illustrations on an imaginary page. I think there has long been a major love of comics and graphic novels that is well adapted to toy theater here. I see it again and again in the other shows. The story is a bit gruesome, but the music is haunting and beautiful with excellent voices playing off the soft cello (I am a fan of cello). It is the typical story of a lonely musician hopelessly in love with a baron's daughter who returns his love. When Toy Theater is accompanied by good music, it takes on a bigger charge of electricity, so to speak. It draws you in faster, and moves you in a deeper way. Canned music is good, too, though live is more immediate. This is the first production I have ever seen accompanied by a cello.

Emma's Parlor by Martina Plag and Lorna Howley of Philadelphia, PA

This is a story about the early female rebel, political dissonant and passionate speaker Emma Goldman.
Lorna Howley plays her with vigor and a strong voice that carries beautifully. Martina plays the various men in Emma's life to tell the story on a toy theater set inside of a full scale set. Martina is the designer (and both are puppeteers) but an enthusiastic performer as well. I think in a more intimate space, I could have heard Martina better (not her fault I have lost some hearing), but I got most of it and she pulled off the hard work of advancing a lot of the set props. They both worked hard, to great effect. I was ready to stand up and yell “Strike, strike, strike,” with them. I really loved the design of the set, and Lorna's passionate portrayal of a famous, rather messy public speaker who worked tirelessly even in jail. She made me want to know more about Goldman. They made me mourn the union bashing American workers have suffered for the last 20 years, as well. What right does labor have to want to live decently? In our country, I used to think all people did, and that my neighbors felt the same. No so. Something we should all think about, perhaps.

Chan Thou's Tuk-Tuk by HiveMind Theater of NYC

This is an interesting Toy Theater reminiscent of Asian architecture with rather large puppets, that really seem to be more “human.” They are surrounded by collages of places and people. Chan Thou (a real person who runs a pedicab while studying to be a teacher) is one of the many Cambodian survivors trying to live with awful memories of the Khmer Rouge regime. The man who was in charge of killing Chan Thou's family, Kaing Guek Eav, (aka “Duch”), one day happens to get into Chan Thou's Tuk-Tuk—a bicycle powered taxi. This upsets Buddhist Chan Thou who has terrible dreams of revenge and an almost overpowering desire for justice. He consults a Buddhist monk about how to live with such terrible dreams and is reminded that the way of compassionate Buddha was to not allow attachment to things & desires, and accept what is, not because things will always be unjust, but that it is more destructive to our spirit to demand an outcome and live in hate. Preserve the good memories, and keep alive the love we have for those who have passed seems to be the message—and a good one. Here is a link to an article about the show:

The music was delightful and I assume Cambodian. The co-creators were Emily Leshner, Ryan Minezzi, and Jennifer Onopa, along with puppeteer Gail Shalan. They actually met Chan Thou and learned than the “Duch” was sentenced to life imprisonment for his war crimes. So patience did have a good outcome.

Monday, June 17, 2013

GSW10: Toy Theatre Museum

Tess' two theatres on exhibit in the museum...

The festival has a Temporary Toy Theatre Museum that is available for viewing during the entire run.  Read below all about it, and the opening day's parade, as reported by Tess Elliott:

This is a playful crowd at the 10th International Toy Theater Festival. It starts with a Miniature Parade, complete with a band, marching with care around Dumbo, and ended at St. Ann's Warehouse with a wonderful imaginative crowd of mini floats, made by children and professionals alike. I only got a few pictures of the floats, because sadly this year most of the participants took their toys right home, instead of leaving them for display! I was so sad to see them go. After that, the Temporary Toy Theater Museum opened and people flocked in to see all the wonderful interpretations of Toy Theater from art pieces, old classics, and working theaters. There is a lot of beautiful work here, and I am biased because I have two pieces in the show myself. I am mostly here writing about the performances, but will try to cover some of my favorite pieces in the museum because building them is what floats my boat.

Serving punch at the reception in the lobby, you can see what a creative crowd this is: within minutes children and then adults were turning the lobby fan into a theater or a puppet, depending on which side you were on. It was great fun watching hot people of all ages stop and sing into the blades to hear that funny cut apart staccato the blades cause. I remember doing that as a kid a lot—humming, singing. So I am not writing as a critic. I am a passionate fan, an open admirer of all efforts to move me, make me think or feel something whether it's through primitive & charming cardboard cut-outs, traditional toy theater, or modern technically enhanced pieces with video and contemporary politics. They all embrace humor or tragedy, they are all passionate. It's about time we looked at our world with a willingness to play to counter a world at war, with soldiers and civilians dying every day. There is far too much unwillingness to be moved, even by death. So I invite all people to stop and engage with your local artists, enjoy them, embrace their efforts to spin a tale, and share what inspired their vision. You might come away richer, happier and more thoughtful. How bad is that?

To see Tess' theatres up close with commentary, check them out below:

Sunday, June 16, 2013

GSW10: Opening Weekend

The Great Small Works' 10th International Toy Theatre Festival (or GSW10 for short) has begun.

The first day's weather was pretty 'soggy', shall we say, making it a challenge for those still bringing their theatres and sundry, to get them to St. Ann's Warehouse high and dry!

In fact, PPTC festival reporter Tess Elliott had her own adventure in her attempt to get to the venue opening night:

Tonight has turned into a disaster. I left early to add some set pieces I forgot, and within a block of the theater the wind kicked up, blew my poncho into my face, and an SUV merrily slammed through the giant puddle that covered an entire lane. I was soaked solid from rib cage to the inside of my shoes. I turned around, went home, and emailed Emmy Bean the museum director and told her I had to go back home. Felt like a drowned rat wearing a giant prophylactic...

Poor Tess!  In the meantime, here are some photos from the opening day to feast your eyes on!

UPDATE: Tess got in late, but shared this LATE last night...
I am now truly immersed in the toy theater world. Saw 12 shows. [When am I gonna write about them, Trish!] The parade was fantastic and I will try to download some pictures but I have to be back out there at 11am (Sunday/today) and JUST GOT HOME. Worked furiously upon arrival today to dress the set of the Nemo Theater and it looks great. I did not get all the balconies done on the Italian Toy Theater, and will have to put the rest on when it comes home...Lots of wonderful shows tonight. Met a lot of people serving the punch but some of the audience regulars at the last Festival weren't at this one today. It's a done deal that I must learn doing the puppets myself. It is one wacky and amusing world, most younger than me--but a few old master puppeteers. It took two energy bars to keep me going today.
Not only is she an audience member, not only is she a reporter on the event, but she is also an artist/performer.  Better pack more energy bars, Tess!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Festival: Behind-the-Scenes!

Twas the day before Festival, and all was definitely NOT quiet at St. Anne's Warehouse and Great Small Works studio...

Photo Credit:  Great Small Works

Erica Harris's inspired archway entrance to the Temporary Toy Theater Museum.

Photo Credit:  Great Small Works

The Dolly Wagglers rehearsing in Great Small Works studio.

Photo Credit:  Great Small Works

Occupy Wall Street Puppet Guild rehearsing their toy theater show for the Friday Slam!

To see more photos of the festival getting ready, go here...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Toy Theatre Festival Begins this Week!

Tess Elliott:  Our Intrepid Reporter!

The Great Small Works 10th International Toy Theatre Festival begins this weekend on June 14th, and runs through June 23rd.

There are many readers of this blog that cannot attend in person, but would greatly enjoy hearing about the various performances and events.

I am very pleased to say that once again, Tess Elliott will be covering the festival for this blog, for which I'm very grateful.

So check back this weekend - and throughout the festival - for posts from the festival by the very talented Tess!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Chomick & Meder

Interview with the great Chomick and Meder!

See photos of the exhibition mentioned (ongoing through June 8th) here...