Handmade by Computers

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Archive for the puppet community

the scarcity of puppet resources

I’ve been searching the net for things. Puppet related things, well amongst others. I’ve found  heaps of How To puppet resources

how to make a finger puppet

how to make glove puppets with your class

how to make simple marionettes with children ect

and there’s heaps of puppet companies out there with web presences, most of whom make puppet shows for children, with lots of fun bright colourful photos of the shows.

What I have difficulty finding is the other side of puppetry. Puppeteers discussing their craft, not just the How Tos, but the Whys. No one ever talks about Why they do it. I have difficulty finding people who muse about the/their chosen artform. Who talk about what they’re doing and why (rather than just selling the show to a prospective audience). Who get into discussions about why people relate to puppets, what it is that gives puppets their hold over people, makes them so fascinating (the only one I’ve found so far is Puppetrylab http://puppetrylab.com/ whose authors talks about a number of different parts of the art of puppetry and puppet theatre as well as occasional thinks about the form itself)

It’s hard to find comprehensive puppet history on the net. I’ve read a number of books, all that I can find, but I’d love to be able to find comprehensive, detailed information of each country’s  puppet history, and how great would that be if it was electronic?

I’d love to find that the puppetry community has created a worldwide forum to talk about their craft. I was interested to read that UNIMA, the international puppetry association has just released their first, massively comprehensive Encyclopedia of Puppetry, which took them 15 years to write. According to the UNIMA USA site, it is:

2 1/4″ thick and weighs nearly 4 kilos (9 pounds) with 864 pages, all in French. There are 506 plates (10″ x 11 3/4″).
The book was proposed in 1978, revived in 1995 and published in November 2009. There were 39 editors and fact checkers, 9 translators and 234 contributing authors. Amazon France lists it at 76 Euros but that’s without shipping. With shipping to the USA, it could cost approximately133 Euros, about $200.

Apart from it’s cost, and it’s weight, which affects shipping and thus the price, the biggest problem is that it’s all in French.  Oddly enough, I’m currently learning French, but since I can’t fully put simple sentences together yet I think that reading the Encyclopédie mondiale des arts de la marionnette is probably some way off yet.

But this whole post was actually sparked by something different, a puppet wiki I found a link to from the wikipedia entry on puppets. I was curious about the puppet wiki, I sort of hoped that it would be a digital version of the Encyclopédie with masses of information. Heck, I’d even settle for some information about puppets, the different kinds and general history. But alas, it was not to be.

The Puppet Wiki appears to cover mostly character puppetry. By this I mean there’s entries on every puppet character you can probably think of, today’s article featured on the front page is ALF. The article itself is pretty small, but it gives you a quick, if shallow, understanding of his character . There’s a huge index of hundreds of puppet characters, although mostly they seem to be TV characters, Henson characters, and Avenue Q guys. Now I’m not begrudging these puppets their place in history, don’t think that! These puppets are all an important part of recent puppetry history. What did strike me is that the way this wiki is set up, it’s not really about puppet companies, it’s about the puppets themselves. This wiki was not created for companies like us, that make puppets for a specific show and then put them away again. This wiki is for the sphere where the puppet itself is the king, and the story is secondary. Kermit, for example, is not known for being part of a single story, he is a celebrity in his own right, a puppet actor who has taken on many roles. ALF only had one role, the role he played on TV but still it was a rose he played for years and he was a puppet celebrity, I remember him on tshirts.

And so this mornings research has made me understand the public face of puppetry a little more. The general public seems to want to know about the characters, but are not so interested in theatre puppets. I looked up ‘Handspan Theatre’ in the hope someone contributing to the wiki was Australian. There are no mentions of Handspan. So I looked up ‘Bread and Puppets’ figuring that if there are any puppet companies at all listed on the wiki that Bread and Puppets would surely be one of them. The only mention is on a puppeteer’s profile page, she once worked with them.

So I abandoned the search. Clearly this is not the wiki I was hoping for. I wonder if the resource I am looking for even exists out there. But as a last action, I looked up 3 of the most famous Australian television puppets.

Mr Squiggle isn’t listed (although he has a Facebook fan site), niether is Ozzie Ostridge (again with the FB however). But, weirdly enough, Dickie Knee has a page on the Wiki.

But my tiny hopes were dashed, the page is blank.

This post isn’t meant to be a complaint about this particular wiki, more that the entries on this wiki revealed that it appears that people arn’t interested enough in puppet companies and the work they do to start building an internet resource such as a wiki. But then maybe the factor I’m missing is that the people who usually build Wikis are fans of whatever it is, and puppet theatre companies don’t attract the kinds of following that celebrity puppets attract.

Or maybe it’s something else entirely.

S

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remote post

Writing from Brisbane at the PWA National Play Festival, but that’s just to give you some idea of where I am atm.

We don’t get a lot of time for rehearsal so I’m spending a fun packed fortnight in my hotel room working on my various other projects.  That means a couple of official things, submissions and redrafts mostly, and many many more terrible comfort things.

Puppetry is proving a touch addictive that way.

Since however this is a blog about process and not about me hiding from the Queensland heat under the aircon I should really post something about where we’re at with text and related issues. Plus  Sayr’s been keeping you posted on the progress of the various massive builds that she’s got on her plate, and that’s starting to make me look just plain slack.

I’m about two thirds of the way through version 1 of the Owl in Spotlight text which will be on at the Carlton Courthouse over Halloween.  What started out as being about simple solutions is turning into an increasingly complex project. But it’ll be fun I think, we’ll certainly have fun anyway.

In the mean time we’re waiting to hear officially about remounting Everything Will Be Okay at La Mama mid year.  The script is done for the new show we’ll be pairing with it (for those few who saw the original production in fringe last year) and we’ll be recording vocals mid march.  I’ve got some designs to whip up on Illustrator and send off to a laser cutter I’ve found but I’ve been a bit distracted with other projects, so that’s the next thing I’ll be starting when it’s four in the morning and I can’t get back to sleep.

I’m using a laser cutter because I want the outlines to be detailed and sharp, and an Exacto knife and an old bit of Masonite in this instance really aren’t gonna cut it.  If you’ll pardon the pun.

I’m a bit worried about both the build for that and about bumping both shows in and out.  We know EOkay’s took about eighteen minutes to set up, which takes up most of an interval.  I’m hoping that the new thing will be a quick set up or we can somehow shorten Eokay’s prep time (at least we wont be going back and forth over the whole space of 45 Downstairs – though we might be going up and down stairs at la mama… oh the exercise….)

as for new gear… While I’ve been up here I’ve started sketches for a brand new show idea and also got a couple on the boil to develop for next year.  This is quite different to the old days when you could just grab a couple of actors and throw the whole thing on stage.  Now you’ve gotta spend six months building all the stuff, which I guess is the trade off for not using actors in the first place.

It does also mean that I end up with books full of ideas that I just cant get to.  We can slowly build all the stuff we’ve thought of so far, but by the time we do, we’ll just have thought of more stuff.

But, and this brings me to the thing that’s been starting to bug me, a lot of the ideas we’ve been having (and I guess more particularly little ol’ impractical me has been having) are really gonna need more puppeteers than just Sayr and I.  I like doing the little stuff, the things we can get away with two people for, but at some point we’re gonna need to bring other folks in.  I don’t know what the process is for that in the puppet world.  If it’s like the theatre scene there’s a whole bunch of guys floating out there looking for cool stuff to do, but I suspect the puppet community is full of self starters who will just as soon come up with their own projects before waiting to be asked to play with someone else.  Particularly the weird new kids from out of town.

So, what do you think, puppet people?  Anyone out there wanna fill the noob’s in on where and how we engage ring ins (particularly since there’s always so little money going around….)

And you know, it’d also maybe not be a bad idea to talk about what the community response to puppetry in Australia is… that’s maybe a whole other blog post, but its still something I’m wondering about.  You know, community festivals, rural touring, whats the go with that?
R

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