Friday, July 2, 2010

Opium, Planets, and Miniatures: A Puppet Passage to India

Over the course of five months I dove headlong into the puppet world of India—which truly is an exciting place for our evolving medium. I got a chance to see how puppets are not just tools for artistry, but tool that NGOs, government agencies, schools, and even private companies are interested in for purposes such diverse as opening up dialogue about workplace harassment, to mere celebration of puppets ability to inspire fun and festivity. And of course, these new puppets live alongside some of the most ancient puppet traditions in the world.

Alongside the Kat Katha Puppet Arts Trust, I am still somewhat amazed at all the different projects and experiences we had. I worked as the lighting designer for their national tours of “The Little Blue Planet” (a show about global warming as experienced by a baby-planet avatar of your own) to Bangalore, Chennai, and Mumbai. I also served as a core member of the creative team of a new show we developed in a mere three months—a show based on Indian history and the origins of the Mughal Empire called “Anecdotes and Allegories by Gulbadan Begum”. The show was a combination of paper theatre, shadows, and miniature theater created with 3”to 6” tall paper machie puppets which were experienced though a small CCTV camera and projected onstage—a sort of cinematic effect created live. I built armies and palaces-full of these little guys, served as the narrator voice over, and even wound up portraying the excessive, drug-addict second emperor Humayun in shadow form. Here are some clips on Youtube:

My time in India also found me conducting several workshops, involvement in public events, and assisting puppeteer Ranjana Pandey on her most recent puppet film project, a surreal adventure of a boy who finds himself transported into a world of books. Many deep thanks to Pawan Waghmare, Muhammad Shameem, Choiti Gosh, Pavitra Sarkar, Nilaam, Umesh, Anand, and Asha for their friendship and all each day full of unpredictable and unforgettable experiences, and of course to my long time mentor and puppet guru, Anurupa Roy, for inducting me into her exciting puppet trust and puppet family. This show will live on in their repertoire, and I hope someday we all have the chance to perform it together again.

Things Old / Things New

A lot is now added to my portfolio page--check it out! Many thanks to long time friend (and artist/designer extraordinaire!) JAW Cooper for her help in taking photos, making edits, and in general being fellow DIY buddy for all things visual.

Included are some more photos from Bulgaria and Los Angeles, as well as some of my static sculpture work. More will be added over time.

Three Cultures, Four Puppets

It has been another long stretch out of the country, but I find myself coming back to America with a lot of great new experiences, friends, and ideas. In January I found myself in Chiang Mai, Thailand (after a wild series of plane flights and layovers in December—airspace is an interesting place to celebrate Christmas!). I was part of a learning and production workshop environment designed by scenographer and wonderful puppet supporter Manuel Lutgenhorst. This pulled together artists from Thailand, the USA, and Myanmar to simultaneously learn about and train under the traditional system of Burmese string puppetry, while creating a new contemporary production which sought to integrate our 21st century work with the centuries old foundation of the Burmese marionettes. We performed this new show—an adaptation of a Burmese short story about a puppet master’s conflicted son and his four puppets—in both Chiang Mai and Bangkok, and the process was a really intricate, compelling, and eye-opening process of intercultural theater and the mixing of different ideas, values, and aesthetics. American designer and director Amy Trompetter headed the project alongside Lutgenhorst and Khin Maung Htwe, the artistic director of Htwe Oo Myanmar and the wonderful Burmese puppeteers who conditioned us into their artform. Later on, I was able to share some of these experiences in India on World Puppet Day 2010, where I gave a public talk at India International Center on the fundamentals of Burmese string puppetry and gave a small performance demonstration of my new marionette companion—the mountain mystic Zawgyi.

My heartfelt thanks to Naan, Aung, and Baba Gyi for their care, generosity, unparalleled skills, and invaluable guidance.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Fake Trees, Real Stories

“How Do You Celebrate?”

As always one of my favorite collaborators, Louise Hung and I teamed up for a third time this last December for a not-so-traditional holiday show entitles “True Stories from Under the Tree”, premiered at the Celebration Theater. Inspired by true stories and interviews collected for this project, the performance sews together fun and poignant holiday stories and traditions which may be different than the “Night Before Christmas” stereotype we see on holiday cards. From secret presents to “fish and cake” platters, the show combines physical theater with object puppetry, and is performed on a set crafted entirely of bubble wrap (it was a true holiday miracle I could fit it all in my car!). Some quirky, some tense, these stories remind us that the holidays are a time for all of us to come together in our own unique ways.