My journey creating and producing puppetry... trials, tribulations, inspiration and contemplation.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Let Go and Grow

Growing as artists, certain milestones are apt to occur but, there are greater ones than the achievements we may initially have in mind. When I first began, I had a wide-eyed, child-like ambition to achieve the success of my contemporaries. I wanted the bookings, the travel and the success. Naturally, I thought, this should happen immediately! It’s a fine, healthy ambition to have. What wasn’t healthy was comparing myself to other artists. In our darkest moments, we may wonder why we can’t have what another artist has, whether in skill, opportunity or popularity. What had finally occurred to me was - what I offer as an artist is unique and there is more success in expressing all that is me. It’s easy to see an amazing puppet show and admire all they do, wishing you could have a similar show. If we’re all making similar shows, there is less opportunity for bookings with the increased competition. So, again, expressing our unique talent is key.
Another milestone I was happy to find was not being happy with my art. That’s right - NOT being happy. When our first show “Helping Drew” was being performed, the script was solid and it sold the show. I was so sure that my performance was fine. When I began to work with professional puppeteers, it took my performance to another level and I was finding places to improve that I never considered. Thank you Andy and Amy. I was so caught up in the nervousness of putting on a show and getting it done in a serviceable way that I was lax on the actual performance. I began to grow as an artist and remembered it was ok not to be right. It’s a wonderful attribute to achieve. If you are stuck in being right, you keep yourself from learning. With our first show so solid, I was ready to be happy with the additional scripts that my writer Alex and I collaborated on. On our third outing, we started to listen to trusted creative friends and the old writing adage of “kill your darlings” - not being so precious about your creativity and being able to edit out what doesn't serve the show. With this, “Monster Intelligence” continues to grow and we’re falling in love with new opportunities instead of cursing where we may have gone wrong or being stuck with something we don’t like. Don’t compromise with something that may not best represent you as an artist. Letting go allows yourself to grow. When we began with “Monster Intelligence”, we also had a very limited budget and resources to tell our story visually. We had a beautiful backdrop painted by my friend John but, the rest of the set was looking bare and elementary. I had an idea for rocks made from foam adorning the sides of the stage and asked my creative friend Cabot to paint them. They were everything I imagined and added that certain ‘touch’ I had hoped for. The original doors we used were a unique element to the story and were perfectly serviceable in the time we had to make them. The original designer did a wonderful job in something like two days. I always wanted them to be more eye-catching and maybe a little more fantastical. A year after our debut, I’m able to budget a professional set designer who will make the new doors as I imagine they could be.

I resisted another change where we had voices in the ethers for two of the characters. Some of our original feedback focused on this obvious wiggle-moment for younger viewers and that the voices should be physical puppets. Two more puppets to make?! With just two performers already manipulating a puppet each, how would we even make this happen? Well, two more puppets have been added to the show and we are making it work. What a world of difference it makes too! Not wanting to be left to our own self-directing devices, I hired Joshua Holden to workshop a couple of weaker moments in the show and help us best present these new moments with the additional puppets. His ability to see everything from a directors perspective (not to mention being an accomplished puppeteer) was key in helping us see and feel things for the first time. The improvements are just taking root but are making us feel more confident and experiencing a new show we didn’t have before. All of these changes coincide with two local (NY) performances of “Monster Intelligence” June and July 2015, culminating with bringing the show to Las Vegas, NV for their Children’s Summer Concert Series on July 22 and 23.
Improving my puppet building has been a task I’ve been happy to pursue. I wear so many hats with the limited budget I’m able to invest in each new show. It makes sense to build as many of my own puppets as I can but, again, it’s easy to see the incredible works of other puppet builders and wish to have the funds to pay these artists to build my shows. I was looking through a container of puppets and came across Helga, a puppet I made in 2012. I used a pattern but, I thought I had a better way of making the mouth-plate and she became a bit of a test puppet. She looked fine for the time but, her mouth-plate was a bit wonky inside and wasn’t so great for the students in the theatre academy where I taught my puppetry 101 workshop. I had recently taken an online puppet building course and employed my new skills on this puppet. I built an entirely new head for Helga with a solid mouth plate. I salvaged her old wig, earrings and mole. I had planned on using her old eyes but, when I matched them up to the new head, they just didn’t look right. I went about making new but similar eyes and, again, they didn’t match up. I decided to start with a new pair of eyes all together and played until something felt right. Helga looks completely different than when she started but, in my opinion, so much better. It’s just another reminder of throwing out everything and being open to learn and grow.

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