When I got to the audition I felt ready and confident in what I had worked on. I had even found a consistent Nicky voice in the past couple days which has always been a hard thing for me. After hearing some pretty great guys while in the hallway, it was my turn. I walked into the room and actually felt pretty comfortable. There were definitely some nerves trying to work their way into the directors line of vision, but I was able to combat them with preparedness.
After realizing that I had a ton of material to do, Evan (the director) asked what I'd like to start with. I chose "Purpose" because it was how I had envisioned the audition starting for the last week. Whenever I have the choice to make something happen the way I've envisioned it, I take the opportunity. Tempo wise, I feel like I might have taken it slightly slower than I wanted, but I was able to hit all the acting beats I had been working on so I wasn't too worried about that. Next I did a Princeton scene which felt great. After that I did the scene between Rod and Nicky that sets up "If you were gay", first as Rod, then as Nicky. I was prepared to do "If you were gay" too, but we moved right on to "The Internet is for Porn". "I wish I could go back to College" was next and I was a bit worried what I would sound like after doing Trekkie, but in my search for placing his voice, I think I've found a healthy spot.
After "College" it was puppet time. They asked if I would rather put on Princeton or Nicky...a tough choice because Nicky is a cooler looking puppet, but Princeton is Princeton so I chose him. The puppet builder in me really wanted to sit and inspect the design but that's not exactly what you have time to do in an audition so I had to set those feelings aside. They had me start "Purpose" again, puppet in hand (or on hand) to check what kind of Puppet skills I might already possess and to see if I would be right to continue.
This is where the puppeteer in me started trying to reassure himself of all he's learned in the past. I'm not sure what I must have looked like but for you're reading pleasure, I've broken my though process down like so:
Purpose, ~wow, this grip is different from anything I've built before~
it's that little flame that lights a fire under your a*$... ~hmm, I wonder what it's made of...it's kinda like the king fish puppet built by Henson that I used in Elmo's World Live...
Purpose, ~that would make sense, Rick Lyon worked for Sesame Street~
it keeps you going strong ~ooh, remember the acting, I want to punch "full" tank because that's really the operative word, not gas just because it rhymes with the first line~
like a car with a full tank of gas ~yes, got it~
Everyone else has a purpose, so what's mine ~puppet acting, make sure he's alive, they don't care how good you sound right now, they just heard you sing...crap what do I do for the penny bit ~
oh look, here's a penny, it's from the year I was born ~watch your syllables ~
It's a siiiiiiii ~loosen the wrist, make it fluid~
iiii-iiii-iiiiii ~this new version of the music is good- oh crap what have I been doing with the arm rod ~
iiii-iii- ign ~do something with the arm rod ~
I don't know how I know ~ act!!! don't forget this means something ~
but I'm gunna find my purpo-
"Good, that was great"...
The second callback was a success!
On to the final, but with a quick stop along the way... Avenue Q Puppet School, a two day workshop involving puppet manipulation and character study to prep for the final callback. This means another trip to New York, and boy will it be fun. This is a chance to get to see how they teach puppetry and it means the opportunity to work on the material with the director. AND... I'm not sure if this is 100% for sure, but it is my understanding that Aymee Garcia (Avenue Q original cast member, It's A Big Big World tv show, and currently Shrek on Broadway) may even be leading the puppet workshop.
I can't wait! I'll let you know what I can after it happens.
There's a good reason why I have not been posting lately...
Now I don't want to jinx this, but since it's puppet related I feel like I couldn't NOT blog about it.
As Kyle mentioned I just recently made a quick trip to NYC to audition for Avenue Q! As you might imagine it's the ultimate dream show for us puppet loving musical theater majors, so when they said they'd like to call me back, it took everything not to jump through the ceiling. Adam, the casting director was great and upon realizing I had flown out from Chicago for the audition, offered to let me do the callback via video tape so I wouldn't have to pay the money to fly right back.
From the looks of it, they were mainly looking at me for Princeton/Rod which has been my dream role since I first heard the soundtrack on a car ride a few years ago. They included, however, material for Nicky/Trekkie too; in case I could be considered for an understudy position.
As much as I would have liked to tape and re-tape, nitpicking until I got a perfect take of each part of the audition, there was not nearly enough time... nor would that really be fair since everyone else gets only one shot anyway. With that, the taping was complete. Kyle gave me a crash course in video editing over the phone and I posted it to a private youtube account that night.
Soon after, I got word from the casting director that I was invited to the second callback. This meant flying out to NYC again to do the material for Even Ensign, the director!
Adam gave me a lot of great notes to work on from what he saw on the video. Notes that would help with characterization, intent, voices, and so on. What was great, was that I had a couple days to take those notes and really work on them with some of the faculty at school here. Since it was finals week, there was more time to spare and the sessions I had really helped break down the acting beats of the songs. Being able to talk through the lyrics with different minds was really beneficial. Everyone was on the same page, they just identified with different lines in different ways and had a different vocabulary for articulating those ideas.
Since there is a lot to say (and hopefully more to add within the next month) I'm splitting this up into different posts.
A few weeks ago I took Yancy to the National Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City. While unsafely filming inbetween lanes of traffic, our attention was suddenly drawn toward a frantic woman beckoning us to finish crossing the street for an interview. Not one to pass up an unbelievably well-timed opportunity (it was November 10 - the day Sesame Street turned 40), I traversed the remaining lanes and safely arrived on the sidewalk. Within moments I was given a microphone to wear and the camera was focusing on my cloth-covered hand!
We spoke for a few minutes about what I do for a living and what Sesame Street means to me, and as I settled into this impromptu interview I realized how crazy lucky the entire situation seemed. After a mere few minutes the interview was over and we parted ways... Talk about being in the right place at the right time!
In the midst of a hectic week of shows fell the holiday that reminds us how distant we've become from our families...
Being on the road, we were forced to go commercial for our celebration - thus we attended the illustrious Cracker Barrel in Southaven, MS. As a last minute decision, I grabbed some felt, Fabri-Tac, and Yancy to come along for the ride. Within half-an-hour Yancy had a new outfit, and an entire restaurant gawked at how rude it seemed to be to have a puppet at the Thanksgiving dinner table!
Forgive the lack of editing and obvious "puppeteers arm", there was not nearly enough room to get a nice angle. Enjoy!
This may not be about puppets, but I have to share.
This weekend I'll be traveling home for a drama club reunion. The school finally passed a levy that allows for a much needed new high school to be built. This means that they are tearing down a beautiful old theater with generations of memories from shows that changed the lives of so many people, not just high school students, but community theater actors and small touring troupes too. This is the stage responsible for Kyle and I meeting in a community theater production of Oliver...Heck, even a young Tom Hanks came through while working for a small theater company years before anyone knew his name.
The biggest disappointment though, is the generation of thespians who signed their names on the green room walls upon initiation into troupe #946. To any visitor, the hundreds or maybe even thousand+ names would look like graffiti meant to deface school property, but to us the names mean an enormous amount of commitment to arguably the best organization that town has to offer. I think I learned more about myself and about professionalism within those walls, than I have learned anywhere else.
I worked with people there that put a ridiculous amount of energy and passion into creating art together... something I've missed about performing anywhere since. We might have been a poor Ohio high school, but some of the most professional artists I've ever worked with were right there on that stage, too busy battling puberty and high school hormones to notice how good they really were.
This weekend is the last chance 40+ years will have to visit their old stomping ground before it is knocked down and the new space is built up. It will be the last time for us to touch the walls (and ceilings in my case) where we proudly painted our names. It will be the last time to visit the prop room and catwalk where we snuck away with girlfriends and boyfriends. It will be the last time to climb up on the roof, or up through the secret hole in the ceiling... so many memories were shared there, so many lines, so many laughs hang in the auditorium air.
It's hard to believe it will actually be gone.
I'm so thankful there will be a new one in it's place though, so that generations to come wont miss out on the same kinds of experiences that changed our lives. It's a horror that theaters everywhere across the country, especially high schools, are forced to be abandoned because of budget cuts. I can't remember a thing about any of my gen-ed classes in high school, but I can remember performing in that space years before high school in community theater...The Sound of Music was my first show ever. I remember 60+ performances (if you count band, choir, and orchestra) that shaped who I am today and for a town with a fast dying economy- even before the recession- I can't imagine life without that theater.
While I'm excited to see what the new school will look like, I'm not sure what it will be like to visit once there's nothing to call my own. The only part of the building that will be left is the oldest, which cannot be torn down since it is considered a Historical Landmark having been built in the 1800s as the "First Chartered High School West of the Allegheny Mountains". Of course this was the part of school I tried hardest to avoid as it was where I had most of my English classes, so it doesn't mean as much. Perhaps it will now.
I'll always have a strong sense of pride for that school. I have so much to be thankful for because of it.
In commemoration of all of my friends who have been blessed with H1N1 in the past few months, I have made this little piggy friend. Kyle was fortunate to get it at the beginning of the summer, and recently my friend Jordan (Kate Monster performer in the review show I just did) was hit by the same flu bug (err...pig) the day of opening night, causing her to miss the whole run of the show. Now that she is over Swine Flu- and without ever having gotten to perform Kate Monster in front of an audience after working so hard for a month to learn it- I figured I'd give her something to remember the show by.
"Flu" the swine as Jordan now calls him, is the first puppet in my new GOAL for the next few months. This may be a bit more ambitious than time will allow, but I'm going to try to post a puppet each week until an undetermined time that will be determined as soon as the determining time can be determined.... My goal is - at least - to make it through Christmas and into January before my GRADUATING semester of school starts.
First, I'm going to start by physically completing past projects that were put on the back burner. These are mainly puppets I created for practice or for my own collection. This is not only to save time (because that's definitely part of it, what with a conservatory schedule that sucks about 20 hours from my life everyday) but to find that sense of completion for my own projects. A lot of times as artists, it's easy to put our own projects off, in order to complete what other's have commissioned us to do, or we let work or school dictate our lives...
Well, school's almost over. I'm on my last year and provided it all goes as planned, graduation is getting closer than ever and it will be time to start searching for a way to pay back loans. This is the other reason for setting the goal. After a couple emails back and forth with Sean over at Swazzle, he made the good point that I should build up my portfolio now if I want to look for work as a builder after school instead of waiting tables. It was essentially - and indirectly - his idea for "Puppet-A-Week" as I'll now call it, so that when I'm ready to apply for build jobs after school, I have something to show for myself.
Kansas City has been a really cool place. The city is a vibrant example of a place that really cares about their image and cares about the arts. Crossing the campus of the Art Institute of Kansas City, we were surprised to see a tree with doors, which is an obvious invitation for exploration. Opening the creaking wooden doors we found a set of oil pastels and a notebook mounted within. Not one to argue with an opportunity to play, my friends and I took turns adding a bit of ourselves into the tree. Although this post has nothing to do with puppets, it was a refreshing example of how inspiration is everywhere.
Take a look at the newest puppets on the block. Or "AVENUE", I should say...
I just closed my first show of the semester, Once, Twice, Three Times a Tony, the third installment of a Tony Award winning "Best Musicals" review trilogy. Starting with winners from the first Tony telecast and ending with this past May, the three separate reviews have been performed over the course of three different years here at the Chicago College of Performing Arts. This season included best musicals from 1991 on, so I was able to be a part of some pretty great shows, all of which won in my life time! I was fortunate enough to be featured in Jersey Boys and my personal favorite, Avenue Q.
What was also great, was that my crew assignment for the semester was to build Kate Monster and Princeton for "Mix Tape" and "Purpose". I quickly decided not to go with replicating what the original Broadway puppets looked like, and got to work on my own designs for the puppets.
Recently Broadway lost a golden gem of puppety goodness. After more than six years and over 2,500 shows, Avenue Q concluded it's Broadway run this past Sunday. Have no fear, however, it will soon reopen in a new home Off-Broadway at New World Stages!
It is expected to be a pretty close transfer in the production aspect (I guess we will see), but in this version Gary Coleman will actually be portrayed by a man! If you have no idea why this is news, you NEED to get in gear and dive headfirst into the world of Avenue Q, where puppets are just as messed up as we are!
In my efforts to find more information on the move, I found some other interesting tidbits about Avenue Q...
The first translated version of Avenue Q played in Stockholm, Sweden and has played in at least 15 countries to date!
In fact, Avenue Q won the Israeli Theatre Award for Best Entertainment Show - and was nominated for Best Translator and Best Choreography!
In the lyric "George Bush is only for now!" in the show's final number, some productions have toyed around with alternate lyrics - including "Swine Flu is only for now!" (tee hee!)
In Hungary, they don't have Gary Coleman at all - instead they feature Michael Jackson as the down-on-his-luck lovable martyr... (lost his estate after being sued by two six year old boys)... Hmm... Just check out this promotional video!
Recently Yancy and I attended a rally at the Target Center in Minneapolis, MN, at which President Obama addressed the health care reform situation. Seeing as how neither of us had ever been to a political rally, let alone see a real live President, it was a big day for us both. Being a little guy, Yancy relied on me to hold him for most of the event, which left my other hand to hold the camera... Now think about that!
After figuring out the logistics and having several failed attempts at making smooth videos I finally found a decent procedure that I hope to be able to perfect over the next several months. As my friend Jonathan Little once told me, "As a puppeteer, you will eventually run out of hands, which is why its nice to have friends."
Recently a friend of ours updated his magnificent puppet site.
Zack Buchman of Furry Puppet Studio, just put a lot of work into updating his new site. We've been huge fans of his for a while, having frequented his blog for quite some time now, but the new look is even more of an inspiration to puppet builders, new... and experienced. There are a ton of great puppets to check out on his site and on his blog so get there, now.
See?! He has been working on puppets in addition to actually working!
With only a few days left in New Hampshire its hard to believe that we'll soon be splitting custody of our puppet supplies again... but such is the life.
Its been fun experimenting with different techniques this summer and comparing things we've learned in our more recent builds - but somehow it all flew by much too quickly.
We're discussing an update to our website - which is LONG overdue (we know) - and are looking forward to posting more short video projects in the coming weeks. Dave is looking to start on his own puppet adventure upon returning to Chicago... hence the picture above... and Yancy has been stocking up on some cool footage that I have not yet had time to edit.
As always, thank you for checking in on us. I promise things will pick back up again really soon!
Recently I made a last minute daytrip to Boston where I was able to meet up with Jonathan Little, founder of Little's Creatures!
To say that we got along would be a severe understatement - and what transpired in the midst of that business cafeteria can only be described as hilarious, enlightening, and educational!
Not only was it nice to be able to meet face-to-face, it was so much fun just geeking out and trading stories.
It was great to hear how far he has come based on the strength of his passion, and he continues to grow exponentially. I am proud to be able to call him my friend as opposed to a facebook connection. Life certainly has a funny way of bringing like-minded people together!
Thank you, Jonathan, for a fantastic day. I look forward to seeing your continued growth and can't wait for the opportunity to work with you someday!
So... I had a dream about blogging. I guess it has been too long!
Tour ended beautifully in Miami, FL, as you can see above. We took Yancy to the beach to see the sunrise and the shuttle launch (which was scrubbed due to a hydrogen leak) and it was absolutely breathtaking.
Although we had three shows that day and I was sure to be exhausted, I am glad I woke up early. Seeing something that majestic really got me thinking:
As puppeteers and puppet builders, we strive to create life out of the inanimate world. In some cultures puppeteers are even considered direct messengers of their respective gods due to their ability to breathe life into nothing. Yet no matter how hard we try, our work pales in comparison.
That early morning was a nice reminder of the beauty we have surrounding us constantly that most of us don't really take the time to appreciate. Not to get all hippy-tastic on you, but I recommend taking the time to wake up early and witness something that we can never recreate. Why stop there, though? Stay up late with some friends and take the time to stare up at the stars - get your hands dirty and go digging for bugs - at the very least turn on the Discovery Channel!
Understanding movement, connections, and emotions in the world around us can only improve us as people, performers, puppets, and any other array of "P" words... but lets keep it G-rated.
Take a look to the left of the posts, you'll see the new link to our flickr photos. There, you can check out pictures from past and even current builds. We've posted a lot of construction pictures and will be adding more soon.
Recently I was invited to take a tour of the newest addition to Busch Gardens, Williamsburg:
Sesame Street Forest of Fun!
It was really interesting to step into another world of Sesame Street after having worked with Sesame Place and Sesame Street Live. The characters are built by a company called Animax and as you can see here, they differ from the VEE built characters (used in Sesame Street Live).
As a performer I'm not really sure how much I'm allowed to divulge... but, what the hey! The biggest differences between Animax and VEE Costumes is in the materials used. Especially with this particular set of Animax builds, they opted for a much more lightweight approach using high density foam instead of the rigid plastic molded heads we use on tour. This is completely understandable, as the workload in the park is not nearly as demanding as a ten-month rigorous run of a high-energy dance show.
Other inner workings were different as well, such as the mechs and the performer's bracing within the character heads... both of which are kind of hard to explain in words...
The biggest hazard of working outdoors (regarding costume integrity) concerns fading colors due to exposure to the sun. It was most noticeable on Abby Cadabby - whose hair, dress, and especially her fur bore stark differences when viewing their respective undersides.
Not all the characters made an appearance that day, but in addition to Elmo, Abby, Zoe, Cookie Monster, and Grover, the park also has opportunities to meet Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, Count Von Count, and Oscar (sadly no Telly). Along with the characters, some familiar attractions from Sesame Place also seem to have been altered for this Sesame outlet including "123 Smile With Me", and an upgraded version of the character dining experience.
As part of the Busch Gardens "KIDsiderate" initiative, there are also some very cute, family-friendly rides and play areas. For a complete list of attractions in the Forest of Fun via a nifty fact sheet, click here!
Overall, I think it is a cute little addition to the Busch Gardens theme park... although I'm not sure why they nestled it into England.
It seems like everyone is getting the springtime blues in anticipation of summer, and why not?!
College has concluded for Dave (until Fall), and tour will be ending in about a month for me... so what is next?
I am proud to announce that we are NOT lazy people! We are already hard at work on our next big project - and by "we", I mean Dave and the newly relocated New Hampshire crew! Rehearsals are underway for the three shows we'll be doing at Story Land (only one is a puppet show, however) and Dave held a workshop with the other performers this morning to go over the basics of puppeteering.
I can't wait to join them in a month, but I guess we'll just have to settle for pictures as our latest build develops! Believe me, this blog will be picking up steam again very soon... but in the meantime, friend us on Facebook!
The time has come to say goodbye to Chicago for the summer and get back in touch with mountain life in BEAUTIFUL New Hampshire. We'll be doing shows at Story Land, one of the cutest, most friendly little theme parks ever created.
One of the hardest things about being a puppet builder on the move, is trying to limit what you can take. On tour, Kyle has had to limit his load to about a quarter of a suitcase, so at least I don't have to downsize THAT much. Here are SOME of the supplies I'll be taking...
Summer is definitely the best time of year for me to focus on puppet building...of course, it's really the only time of year I can really focus on puppet building. It is also the only time of year where Kyle and I are in the same place for more than a week, so as you can imagine, we have a lot we'd like to get done.
Speaking of which...
We've been asked to build the puppets for The Three Little Pigs Go West, one of the shows we'll be doing at Story Land. (They picked the show before this whole Swine Flu dillio). This will be a fun show to design...3 cowboy pigs, The Big Bad Coyote, and Mother Goose (who serves as the narrator). We're hoping to have time to add in fun little props for cute bits too, but we'll share all that as it happens.
This may be my last post for a couple weeks...I've got to finish up at school, move out of my apartment, and start rehearsals in NH, so I wont have much computer time. I'll have tons of pictures to share, of the 3 Little Pigs project in the next couple weeks so keep your eyes open for that.
Kyle has just started playing with editing video. He may have some fun examples of his test runs to share in the mean time.
He must have had a pretty rough time in that box! I'll get him out and moving around a bit before I take some final photos to share. He may need a few days before he'll let me take his picture again, but I'll have some up soon.
Dr. Cortex was supposed to be on his way back to Chicago from Pittsburgh after the LAN'ded reading, but after numerous attempts, he has managed to find his way back to Pittsburgh each time...
I'd love to show you the rest of the Dr. Cortex build process, but that will have to wait. I only got through this much with the camera before it was buried by the puppet supplies and building materials...
This is the state he was in when I made the sneak peek video.
...I found my camera during the clean up after I shipped him off, and had every intention of getting him back in time to finish this blog series. He must have made a pretty great science lab inside the cardboard box I shipped him in, though. I'm not sure he'll ever be back.
I'll let you know if he returns...in the mean time, we may move on to other things.
I just got back yesterday from a whirlwind adventure in NYC where I was able to meet up with some old friends, some new friends, and hopefully life-long friends! I hope to be able to fill you in on some of the wonderful things I was privileged to experience this week - I just want to wait for approval from my gracious hosts.
To finish up the process of Wally's first build, here are a few pictures we used as promotional shots at the reading last month.
I really like this picture. It says "I'm adorable,
well-built, AND friendly!
He's so cute when he thinks!
I feel like I'm being watched...
and they're hungry...
Luckily, proximity won out over patience,
and I live to see another day. Goodbye Aaron!
Thanks for following along. In the future I will be able to show more of my process when I receive my fixed digital camera. As you can also see, there haven't been any recent changes to the Fisticuff Puppets website... but expect that to change soon!
It's David. Sorry I haven't been faster with the posts. I'm in rehearsal for a show right now at school, so I've been short on time.
I wanted to you show a couple of Dr. Cortex's features, so here goes...
I've never carved foam before, nor do I have blocks of foam to carve, but I really wanted a specific shape for the nose. I decided that the easiest way to accomplish the carved look, would be to actually carve some foam (who would have thunk it?) so I made my own block. I just took some really old scrap foam I've been keeping in a bag for who knows how long, contact cemented about 6 half inch pieces together, and gave it a shot. Above is what came out of the attempt.
I haven't really explored ear building much at all. Usually I have time for two very basic flat pieces, but this time I wanted to try for a more 3D look. They looked ok in foam form, but once I covered them, I lost a lot of the definition that was intended. (You'll see that soon.) I'll keep trying though. I know I can get a cleaner look in the foam in the future, but it's actually the fabric I'm more concerned with figuring out for the next attempt.
I love making hands! I'm not a fan of covering them, but I really enjoy this stage of the build process. As you may be able to tell from the picture, I opted for wire armature. Time permitting, we really try to make sure all of our designs incorporate this. While it adds to the cost, I think it's so important to add expression wherever you can.
It's no secret that puppets have a harder time showing emotion. Subtle differences like this though, help bring real life to your puppets. We as humans store emotion in our hands that we release constantly as we speak (at least those of us born with some Italian blood...). Why not transfer this to puppet building?
Just like Kyle mentioned... We would love to hear what brings you to the blog and what keeps you coming back. Let us know what you enjoy and what you'd like to see more of. We can't wait to read your responses!
I wanted to continue showing my process with a series of "Before/After" pictures...
The nose isn't exactly what I had planned, but I made do with available materials I had in my suitcase... I have a slew of obscure knick-knacks!
Originally, I wanted the eyes to look a little wacky to play up his nervous nature, but then I decided to just add wire to the eyelids, allowing a wider range of expression and not getting locked into a static face.
I love how expressive he can be!
Next up is Dave with more on Cortex' bits and pieces...
Also - PLEASE feel free to leave us feedback! What you would like to see - what you don't want to see - more pictures - more videos - more good news - etc... We would love to hear back from you!