Monday, December 16, 2019

Lost & Found: Tinkering with Intent

Take a peek into Blair's bizarre and beautiful world. In a remote corner of New Zealand's South Island, tucked away among the last remaining tracts of native forest, lies a little-known place of wonder. It is the life's work and extraordinary creation of inventor, artist and self-confessed tinkerer, Blair Somerville.

For over twenty years Blair has single-handedly owned, operated and ceaselessly expanded the Lost Gypsy Gallery, his wonderland of homegrown wizardry and a playground for kids and adults alike. Using only recycled materials, Blair takes DIY to artistic extremes. His creations are ingenious, interactive, and often hilariously impractical. They take many shapes and forms and share an uncanny ability to amaze, entertain and inspire.

Art and entertainment don't need to be expensive. Sometimes the most fascinating and wonderful things come from the most peculiar places.

Blair Somerville lives in the remote town of Papatowai, on the South Island of New Zealand. He uses found materials and other curious objects which he re-purposes into magical moving artworks.

Blair realized early on that he didn't need a lot to live, and that money and material possessions were not important. Instead he has chosen to value happiness, creativity, and well-being.

If you'd like to visit Blair, please note that he is open summers only, November - April, 10am to 5pm. Closed Wednesdays

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Old-Time "Moving Pictures"

A listing of 16 different late 19th-century "Boy's Own Panoramas" for home entertainment, from H. G. Clarke and Co. in London. These 19th-century crankies include moving panoramas about John Gilpin, Dick Turpin, Punchinello, Punch and Judy, and views of the Thames embankment, the Oxford and Cambridge boat race, and a state procession with Queen Victoria. From the back of a racist galanty (shadow figure) show script inspired by Christy's Minstrels (an American blackface minstrel group which toured in England from 1857 to the turn of the century). Thanks Matthew Isaac Cohen for sharing this source.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Pontine Theatre Review: Storytelling at its Best

Review: Pontine Theatre’s ‘A New England Christmas’
By Jeanné McCartin
Posted Dec 2, 2019 at 9:27 AM

Pontine Theatre’s “A New England Christmas” is a brimming cup of holiday magic and cheer. Two people on a largely blank stage act out two intriguing short stories with minimal props in an easy, designed manner that transfixes their listeners. It’s rare so little offers so much.

This year, co-Artistic Directors and the company’s sole actors Marguerite Mathews and Greg Gathers adapted two short stories for their holiday fare: “A Neighbor’s Landmark,” by Sarah Orne Jewett, and “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” by Dylan Thomas.

The most outstanding aspect of Mathews and Gathers work is its deliberateness. Every move is designed for effect, every gesticulation is poignant and graceful. Every prop, toy element and sound used is calculated for effect. They are masters of their art. 

They begin each piece with an informal setup that contains a bit of information about the author, their style, and the origin of the selection. 

The stage backdrop is a black curtain. The props are a small table, set a few feet before another, where the story’s backdrops are placed. Beneath both, hidden away, is a collection of small toy theater pieces and a handful of props. 

That’s it, a few visuals, two people and a lot of talent that bring a pair of entirely different stories to life. 

“Landmark,” set in Maine, is about a struggle to preserve two majestic, old pine trees. The trees’ owner is offered a tempting price for their lumber and leans toward felling them. His decision divides his family and sets his neighbors against him. In the synopsis, not so interesting, in the hands of Pontine, the tale very much is. 

The piece is blissfully colored by the rich language and dialogue of Orne Jewett, who had an astute ear for Down Maine dialect. The performers’ delivery demonstrates an equally canny ear. The sound alone is captivating. Coupled with Mathews and Gathers usual flawless performance, it’s simply mesmerizing. 

The structure of the piece is like a well-arranged musician’s set. Alone on stage with few props, they keep it interesting with their usual use of toy theater characters, mixed with performances by the actors without their aid, and the marriage of action between both. 

One of the funniest moments is when the two “row the boat.” It’s most poignant - at a suspenseful juncture - has the pair turning pages of an over-sized book, advancing the story in silence through its illustrations. 

“Child in Wales” is equally captivating. It’s a sweet, humorous story, told with fewer props still, but is no less fascinating for it. This one offers even more of the picturesque movement of the two performers, who take you back to childhood and Christmas through the eyes of a child. 

Pontine’s “A New England Christmas”  is storytelling at its best. It’s a gentle, bewitching hour and a half, offering something different for the holiday. This is definitely worth your precious, discretionary time.

Pontine Theatre
November 29 - December 8, 2019
Fridays 7pm, Saturdays 3pm, Sundays 2pm

Saturday, November 30, 2019

David in the Dark

David Worobec performing at King Friday’s Dungeon Puppet Slam,
a scene from "Sweeney Todd" (October 2018 in Portland, Maine...)

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Pollock's Toy Museum Exhibition

a confused jumble or medley of things.
"a glorious gallimaufry of childhood perceptions"
The 14 artists participating in A Pollock’s Gallimaufry have been offered unprecedented access to the Museum’s international array of toys, dolls, puppets, games, gadgets, and the paper theatres for which it is best known, as well as its archive of original engraved copper plates used in the production of those theatres. The resulting pieces, installed as stand-alone displays and interventions across the Museum, span a variety of approaches, processes and media.

A Pollock’s Gallimaufry will be a month long event showing works by contemporary artists working in a variety of crafts and media inspired by the unique, mostly Victorian, collection at the two historic buildings on the corner of Scala Street and Whitfield Street.

Jack Fawdry, whose great grandmother founded the museum, is curating the exhibition and has gathered the artists together to produce the works.

“It’s quite exciting because the toy theatre has had a turbulent past and it almost disappeared completely,” says Fawdry who is an accomplished artist and printmaker.

“Mr Pollock was the last great publisher of toy theatres, then he went out of business. After the Second World War Britain started to modernise and change and its Victorian past was slightly left behind.

“So that’s when Marguerite, my great grandma, comes in and starts the museum in homage to toy theatres,” he says.
- From Museum is keeping the drama of toy theatre alive with a new exhibition

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Second Annual Winnipeg Crankie Festival

The 2nd Annual Winnipeg Crankie Festival, taking place at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church, NOVEMBER 8-10th, 2019 promises to expand on the inaugural edition as a new, interactive and participatory festival, where audience members can immerse themselves in music and art; on and off stage.

 We are honoured to dedicate this year's festival to Canadian Folk Music Pioneer, Mitch Podolak.

To find out more, visit the festival website here, or check out the poster, below...

Crankie Creative Commercial

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Pontine Theatre: Exciting Improvements!

Pontine Theatre announces its 42nd Performance Season at its newly renovated venue located in Portsmouth's West End at #1 Plains Avenue. Audiences will enjoy ample free onsite parking and comfortable seating in the intimately-scaled, fully-accessible studio theatre. This season offers three original productions by the company and two productions by invited guest artsts.

First up on the schedule is Pontine's adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Gothic Romance, The House of the Seven Gables, playing October 11- 27. Set in Salem, Massachusetts, the story follows several generations of the ill-fated Pyncheon family, bowed under a curse dating from the famous witch trials, and trapped in the once magnificent but now decrepit family mansion. This production is underwritten by Piscataqua Savings Bank.

November 8-10, guest artists, Great Small Works, perform their original production Three Graces & Other Works. This company is a collective of artists who draw on folk, avant-garde, and popular theater traditions to address contemporary issues. Based in New York City, they produce works on a variety of scales from outdoor pageants with giant puppets to miniature "toy theater" spectacles. The company has received a Puppeteers of America Jim Henson Award, a Village Voice OBIE Award, and an UNIMA Citation for excellence in puppetry.

Pontine celebrates the Holiday Season, November 29 - December 8, with its annual New England Christmas production. This year's rendition features a story by South Berwick, Maine's celebrated author, Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909). A Neighbor's Landmark: A Winter Tale with a Christmas Ending, is a tale set in a rustic coastal fishing village populated by taciturn Yankee characters who struggle to bring their community together in time for Christmas.

January 24-26, Pontine presents guest artist, Sarah Frechette, founder of Puppetkabob, in her original production, The Snowflake Man. The piece is inspired by Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley, the self-educated farmer and scientist who attracted world-wide attention when he bccame the first person to photograph a single snow crystal. The play features creative storytelling, intricately designed Czech-style marionettes, and a striking pop-up book of water color scenery. This UNIMA-USA award-winning show tells a little known story to magical effect. Ms. Frechette studied marionettes in Germany with legendary Master Puppeteer, Albrecht Roser.

The season culminates March 27 - April 12 with Pontine's premiere of a new production, Robert Frost's New Hampshire, based on the early poems of the long-time summer resident of Franconia NH. Known for his New England settings, his down-to-earth, stark depictions of the difficulties of rural farm life, and his use of colloquial speech, Frost is widely admired as a true American Master.

Performances are Fridays at 7pm, Saturdays at 3pm and Sundays at 2pm. The five-event Season Subscription Package is $108 and may be purchased online at Tickets for single shows are $27 and may also be purchased online. All productions are designed for adult audiences. Performances are offered at Pontine's resident venue located at #1 Plains Avenue in Portsmouth's West End. Pontine Theatre is supported by a grant from the NH State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Source:  Broadway World

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Coming in July: The Smallest Show on Earth!

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

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

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Dreamland Theater: Star Trek Marionettes

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Action Shot

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

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