Friday, February 10, 2017

Bruce Schwartz

I have to admit, I've never really been into this style of puppetry. It just never quite clicked with me. Today I discovered Bruce Schwartz and it hit me hard! In this piece, he did on the Muppet Show (accompanied by Cleo Laine), a man, or... seemingly gender neutral person, is lamenting their recently departed lover. It's just heartbreaking and by far the most sophisticated thing I've ever seen on this program.

Sometimes I get very frustrated with what's going on with puppetry these days. But when I see videos like this, it reminds me of my earliest experiences with the art form and how enchanted I was, and why I'm still chasing that thing today.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Deeper Past

It really all began in Florida around 2006. Well, I had already been puppeteering for Disney for four years by that point, but I mean in regard to my own work. I think I was asked by either Jamie Donmoyer or Heather Henson if I'd like to do a something for the variety night at the Orlando Puppet Festival. My brother Caleb and I came up with a piece called Helvetia 1965. It went over much better than we expected. Then the following years we did sequels  - Helvetia 1966 and 1967. It was very easy to perform (just a puppet in my jacket - most simple set up of all) so whenever Heather or Jamie were doing a gallery show or anything like that they'd invite me to do it. 

Here's a photo of me and Marina (an old friend who played the first incarnation of the bird puppet) having one of our picnics. We used to buy a "fancy" (cheap) bottle of wine and take our old national geographic books to the lake when there was nice weather (rare in florida!). There was a little lighthouse at the end of a peninsula that had electricity for our record player. It all seems so typical looking back, but at the time we felt very cut off from the world.

One of those random performances - this one at the Orlando Museum of Art. It was either a photo of the sound check or no one showed up!

This was the final performance. Part of the IBEX Puppet showcase at the Orlando Fringe festival. My friend April Tennyson filled in all the parts (and did a terrific job). We did all three pieces, spread out between the other acts of the night. Whoever was controlling the lights gave us a beautiful sky background. It was a great way to end it. I don't think we'll ever perform it again.

I thought for a long time that we actually couldn't perform it because I accidentally gave all the audio to a friend in Ireland and I thought it had just been lost forever. But Caleb just found a backup in a shoe box a month ago. It's interesting to listen to, especially since we've done some much since then. But still, I think it's best to leave it undisturbed.

When we moved to New York years later we tried to revive it and made this one video called Please Take Your Shoes Off When You Come Over To My House:

We wanted to do more with it, but it never came together until years later when we started Creatures of Yes. It may be interesting for viewers to know that Denver was actually the first fully formed character. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Deep Past

This is a video I made last year as an audition for the National Puppetry Slam. It's pretty crude. I'd say Margery Winifred Mountain-Cloud was a brief precursor to Mary Broomfellow. I think I probably built Mary about a month after this video was made. In the end, I did get accepted to perform in the National Slam (thank goodness! I wouldn't have been able to afford to go to the festival otherwise). By that point, the Advocacy piece was much more robust and it was Mary Broomfellow's big debut. Interesting to look back at this video, though.... it seems like ancient history to me now but it wasn't even two years ago.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Live on Stage! - How it Came to Be

When I started making Creatures of Yes videos last year I had in mind to do a live show. The videos would always be the main focus but I thought a live show could be an interesting way to promote the videos. But also over the past few years I've really come to detest performing live - I had made my living doing it while touring around the world for the greater part of a decade. So, the Creatures of Yes Live on Stage probably would have never happened if we weren't asked to open for a band at Union Pool this past summer. We only had a few days notice, so I threw together a show. It was pretty bumpy, but fast paced enough to not be boring. We project video behind us as scenery, do our thing with the puppets and throw a bunch of confetti at the audience. We just did our second performance and while I still don't love performing live I have been enjoying the experimental nature of these shows. It is constantly changing, so just know that you will never see the exact same show twice from us. I am interested to see where this goes. More shows coming up.

Friday, June 10, 2016

More on Time Travelk

I think the most important thing with time travel experiments is attention to detail. One must be aware of many things: sounds, colors, expressions, inflections, font types, and the methods of producing all of these things. Getting the slightest thing wrong can jarringly bring one back to the present moment. If you're going backwards producing anything by hand will get you there pretty quick, but one must still be mindful of when trends came in and out. Minimalism is also a very useful commodity, even in an era where minimalism was not in vogue because nothingness; total silence, a black void, these things belong to no time at all and are absolutely true, magical, and readily available methods of time travel.

In our specific situation we must know exactly when we are going and who we are there. I know that Creatures of Yes is a low budget educational show in the late 1970s with a small but dedicated staff, probably in Akron Ohio. These cameras became affordable around this time, so it would make sense that we'd use them, but we could never afford computer graphics or anything that flashy. Thus, our show in the late '70s is dated. Watching it back then, one might think, "Gee, this seems a bit old fashion". I believe this layer of detail - being dated even for it's own time, adds immensely to it's authenticity. In truth, how many shows of this sort were ever cutting edge? Perhaps these days (now that children have money), but back then?

Our patron Saint, David Walter McDermott, once said "the further back in time you want to go, the more money you must have". He's right. This is one reason why time travel isn't for everyone, it takes a good bit of dedication to move through time at all (even the normal way - but that comes more or less naturally to most). If I had more money the Creatures of Yes would be a decade further back, set in the mid '60s, but antiquated to the '50s. I'm reaching for that time now, but it still seems so far away. It's like there's some impenetrable barrier right at 1969.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Wrinkles in Time Travel

When I talk about the Creatures of Yes being set in 1979, I don't' mean exactly 1979. I'm not trying to adopt all the exact fashions of that specific year. I think of 1979 as more of a stoping place; a somewhat arbitrary number that seemed (technologically and stylistically) a good place to stop. Because 1979 isn't just that year, it encompasses every year that came before it.

I was recently doing a puppet show at an elementary school upstate. The auditorium / gymnasium was straight out of the 1950s (maybe earlier). Nothing had been changed. It was a perfectly functional time capsule! They made announcements (the lunch menu, a weather report, the pledge of allegiance and the joke of the day) over an intercom from that era and it was delightful. If I was experiencing this sort of time travel in 2016, imagine what points they were still hitting in 1979 - probably back to the 1800s! Of course, we can still see the 1800s and even further back today, in a museum, but I'm talking about accidentally stumbling upon another time, by magic!

This sort of time travel magic doesn't always have to be accidental though, if you know what you're doing you can conjure it. The difference between an exhibit of the past and time travel magic is that the real stuff has life and is functional still.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Obsolete Technology

I always think it's strange when people say something is obsolete - when it still works just fine! Or, there is a wonderful, aesthetic reason for using it. How can an artistic medium be obsolete?

Growing up I was very interested in analog music synthesizers, which at the time (the mid 90's, and the midwest) were considered obsolete. Some people would listen to my tapes with a sympathetic ear, but could only allow themselves to hear it in a retro or quaint context. I always wondered why the technology of guitars was able to be frozen in time at it's best, but synthesizers always had to be progressing. I think, in the dominion of synthesizers, the voltage controlled oscillator is akin to guitar strings. You would never get rid of guitar strings in favor of new technology, that would be absurd.

Well, it seems the rest of the world has come around to my thinking in regards to analog synthesizers (I'm way ahead of my time). But the visual equivalent, CRT video, is still banished to the land of the obsolete. Film = piano strings (it's so classic bring it back!), CRT video = analog synthesizers (it's not hi-def enough! get rid of it!), digital = digital (the end of all things). We'll just have to wait and see what happens.

But would I even care about any of this stuff if there was no grain to push against? ...YES!