In March of 2010, I created a couple of random puppet characters inspired by a friend's suggestion. One, King Victor, resembled my late grandfather, the other, Prince Skip, was an alternative thinker who preferred wearing a pink polo with a bejeweled fleur de lis. Prince Skip would later become Drew. Today, I was struck by this journey. One of Drew's fellow students, Victoria, started her life as Geraldine Allison Flamowitz and was originally created in January of 2009. When Prince Skip was originally created, I was working the last few months of my graphic design job in advertising. We were already informed that our jobs had been cut as part of corporate down-sizing and we were patiently waiting our exit date as to be eligible for a severance package and unemployment benefits. I had a couple of ideas in the back of my head as this chapter would end. I had worked several years with a local non-profit theatre group and they were just purchasing their own building. There was much work to be done in graphic design and production that would keep me plenty busy with the thought that it might, one day, be a full-time paying job. I had previously recorded a CD in 2005 that had decent reviews but, ultimately, did not satisfy my creative yearnings, as well as a brief stint in photography and digital art that only satisfied for a brief time as well. A puppet company was definitely a thought in the back of my head but, how?
I spent time learning my craft at puppet school with Michael Earl and learning from fellow puppeteers and builders in the business like Pasha at Project Puppet, Matt Ficner of Creepy Puppet Project and Tom Stewart at Puppeteers Unite. I combed through puppet blogs extracting all the information I could. I remember reading all the content that Swazzle wrote in their early blogs and interviews with people like James Wojtal. The internet can be such a valuable classroom. In January 2009, I had taken a puppet foam carving class at Lone Wolf Tribe in Brooklyn and saw this wonderful Goethe quote that Kevin had posted in the workshop and it quickly became my mantra. “Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.” I dared to dream again, as I had as a child, that I could be a puppeteer and, in 2006, the way I began was to start to build puppets. The act of creation and the creativity of others, all that online research, continues to stoke the fires of my creative process. So desperate to find a way to perform, I sent an email off to the guys at Swazzle to see if any of their shows could be done on a royalty basis. They were very nice in turning me down and it was an important lesson to learn. If you want to be a legitimate puppet company, you should express who YOU are through scripts that you find or that you write or adapt. A signature show becomes the 'soul' of that puppet company. Later, I did find a local performer, Alex Ishkanian, who was doing a live, one-man show on bullying. He would embody all the characters with song and monologues to express how the characters felt. I saw the opportunity for puppets where dialogue needed to be created in between the characters and Alex liked the idea and got on board with my project. As mentioned earlier, Prince Skip and Geraldine would fall into the lead rolls of Drew and Victoria respectively. While new puppets were made specifically for Principal Tector and Lee, other earlier puppet creations filled out the background, student body.
When you're doing what your 'soul' knows deep-down you should not be doing, you ultimately will not be satisfied. As Helping Drew was being developed, I became less and less satisfied with the negative politics at the non-profit theatre group and realized how much of my own time I was not dedicating to my own project. I resigned and, in between the job search, I was able to spend more time developing the puppet company. As previously documented on this blog, we opened Helping Drew to a showcase of friends and family earlier this year and began booking in area schools. I signed on with Theatreworks USA as a National booking agent and they had me flying out to an arts in education showcase last week in Ohio. Prior to my trip, I was reading Grey Seal Puppets Drew Allison's blog. He wrote in one of his entries "Sometimes the places those little hunks of polyfoam take me are just too cool." Back to my workshop table at the beginning of this entry, that's exactly how I was feeling. Not only had my puppets taken me to Ohio and a school in the Bronx that I would never imagine going to, this entire journey from 2006 to the end of my graphic design career and the start of this new chapter, all of these incredible people I've met online and in person in this wacky and wild puppet community… there is no other place I'd rather be right now.
Helping Drew slide projected on the big screen at the Ohio conference
I was reminded of an online chat with Puppetsmith members when someone was asking where you begin on a certain project and Pasha mentioned my favorite Goethe quote. The simple message was "BEGIN IT!" It's very easy to get caught up in lists and what needs to be in place for you to have the perfect situation to start but, one can easily get caught in a rut of stagnation if you don't at least DO something. Watch videos, read blogs, see puppet shows and FEED your creative brain. Learn from others and STAY OPEN when people talk about how they do things. We video taped my original showcase and SO many mistakes were made but, that was the wonderful part. That video was invaluable at improving the show. Down the line, I hired a wonderful puppeteer who brought NEW creativity to the show and he even improved MY way of puppeteering. I'm a member of Puppeteers of America and love to read their quarterly Puppetry Journal from cover to cover when it arrives. I'm filled with inspiration from one page to the next. I think any artist will agree that staying open and connecting to this flow is paramount to their growth. WELCOME when people show you a new way of doing things. If it doesn't work for you, you don't have to use it but, many times, there is always something new to learn when you remain open.
New shows are beginning to line up to be produced and my journey has really just begun. I've often told the story of a dream I once had where I proudly proclaimed "I'm an artist" and began to levitate in an expression of freedom. It was an awakening of sorts, realizing that my professional path would not be a traditional one like my peers. As a puppeteer, I'm even more certain of who I am and what amazing direction my life is going in because I'm finally creating my journey as I have always imagined it.