Saturday, April 12, 2014

Tales of Longing and Belonging

UPDATE, 11:00 pm: I would like to acknowledge the artists involved by name. Their spirited performances  really made the evening:

Rona Par (narrator); Deborah Dauda (dancer); Raul Cordona, Shamika Franklin,  Beth Peterson, Ezra Behnen, Alexis, Aida, Vince and Luis (puppeteers); and Severin Behnen, Julio Montero and Najite Agindotan (musicians).
Likewise, I neglected to mention how well organized and run this event was. The festival volunteers in particular were quite attentive, friendly, and on top of things. Kudos!
*     *     *

Child-like wonder conveyed through a loving expression of art and puppetry filled the Elephant Stage's Lillian Theatre last night, as the colorful creations and talented performers of Beth Peterson's  One Grain of Sand Puppet Theater took the audience on a journey of longing and belonging.

The audience entered the theater to live music, courtesy of a trio of musicians: a percussionist playing what looked like clay bongo drums, an accordionist, and a guitarist. This magical musical overture, played in an improvisational style on folk instruments, was the perfect mood setter for what was to come.

The show began with "Traveling Colors: A Suitcase Show," a simply narrated toy theater tale of a grey boy in a grey world, and his journey through all the colors of nature. This dream-like first act was a captivating stream of consciousness, which drew us further into  the magic of the evening.

A brief musical interlude followed, featuring well crafted, large-scale coyote and moon puppets. Accompanied by the vocal talents of Julio Cesar Montero, Jr. (the guitarist in the trio), this segment served as a breather between the major acts of the evening.

"The Mysterious Case of the Missing Star Episode 3: The Nomad" began with  a prologue of three children looking for a star in Los Angeles. A series of humorous events brought them to Watts, where we were told the story of Sobato Rodia, the artist who created the Watts Towers.

This transitioned to the story of Dominique Moody, the titular nomad, an artist who overcame juvenile macular degeneration to create intricately crafted assemblage art. (Her first solo exhibition was at the Watts Towers Arts Center, thus connecting her story to that of Sobato Rodia.) Episodic, told through toy theater, mask work, shadow and large-scale puppetry, we were taken on an impressionistic survey of her life-story.

At times, the evening's presentation seemed to lake a certain showmanship polish. Little adjustments would make for a more enjoyable audience experience: cleaning up entrances and exits, cleaner movement of pieces on and off stage, consistent attire among the puppeteers. (If you're wearing blacks, wear blacks. Not black tennis shows with white soles or colored t-shirts.) But what these artists lacked in polish they more than made up for in heart.

At the end of the evening, the real life Dominique Moody was brought up on stage. It was an emotional, fourth-wall breaking moment: the recognition of the real, flesh-and-blood artist whose life story just played out before us. Beth Peterson then invited the audience to join the cast onstage and dance. In the end, Tales of Longing and Belonging was a celebration of life; an acknowledgement of our individual longing and universal belonging.

This show is well suited for children, and I encourage parents to seek out One Grain of Sand Puppet Theater.

LA Puppet Fest is going full tilt boogie through this tomorrow afternoon. There's still time to catch a show, panel discussion, or class. It all culminates in a veritable explosion of the puppetry arts at Skirball Cultural Center tomorrow. Visit the LA Puppet Fest website for details.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

LA Puppet Fest: Fringier than Fringe

... and not just because some of the performers actually have fringe.

As mainstream as puppetry can be -- from The Muppets: Most Wanted to Avenue Q to the puppety presence is ads for LendingTree, Jack in the Box, and who knows what else -- as a theatrical artform it remains very much outside the mainstream. Sure, puppetry is used to great effect by companies such as Rogue Artist Ensemble and The Visceral Company, but that rather proves the point. The companies that consistently avail themselves of this uniquely theatrical artform are the iconoclastic companies on the outermost limits of mainstream theatrical production. The outré ones. The fringiest of Los Angeles theater.

For the second year, LA Puppet Fest is celebrating this artform with workshops and performances across the Greater Los Angeles area. The fest began on April 1st, and continues through this weekend, affording the opportunity to take in masterful theatrical puppetry, and learn a thing or two about how to bring the magic of puppetry to your stage.

Here's the press release, so you know what's going on:

LA Puppet Fest 2014 continues with Puppet Theater, Workshops & Skirball Family Puppet Festival 

Friday: Evening of Puppetry and Song 

Saturday: Intro to Puppet Sketch; Wonder of Shadow Puppetry; Future of Puppetry; Minimalism Times Three Plus One Show 

Sunday: Skirball Puppet Festival, a family celebration LA Puppet Fest 2014: City-Wide Celebration of the Art and Creativity of all things Related to Puppetry with Events for Children and Adults through April 13 

LA Puppet Fest 2014, back for its second year, is a city-wide celebration dedicated to sharing and promoting the art of puppetry through performances and workshops. Taking place from April 1 – 13, spanning from Santa Monica, West Los Angeles to West Hollywood and Hollywood, LA Puppet Fest promises to offer entertainment and educational activities with something for everyone. Over 25 events are scheduled, many appropriate for children and families, as well as adult only programs.

Friday, April 11, 8 p.m.: Tales of Longing and Belonging: The Losing, Finding and Making of Place, an Evening of Puppetry and Song – $15 or $20 VIP; All ages Elephant Stage’s Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles 90038 - "Tales of Longing and Belonging" is an evening of giant and tiny puppetry and live music for all ages. "Hue - the suitcase show" is a young boy's colorful search to find a place where he belongs; songs of Cuñao explore the journey of history, loss and search for new place, and "The Nomad" features episodes from the life of Dominique Moody who creates beautiful assemblage from the shards of the past. Shadow puppets, Toy Theater, a giant puppet or two, and storytelling combined with live music to bring these tales to life. A One Grain of Sand Puppet Production.
Grain of Sand Puppet Theater, Tales of Longing and Belonging
Cast Includes: Gina Fields, Beth Peterson, Jamie Kim, Jonathan Alvarez, and Ezra, Vince, Luis, Aida and friends

Music: Cuñao - Julio Cesar Montero, Jr.; Severin Behnen

Beth Peterson created puppet shows, pageants and parades for over a decade and a half at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre in Minneapolis, MN and for the last ten years with One Grain of Sand Puppet Theater in Los Angeles in venues ranging from the lobby of Walt Disney Concert Hall and opening of Grand Park, to South Coast Repertory Theater, Inner City Arts, Skirball Center and LA neighborhoods including Highland Park, Koreatown and Leimert Park.

Saturday, April 12: Workshops, Roundtable & Show

Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, Hollywood 90038
12:00 p.m.: Introduction to Puppet Sketch with Erik Kuska - $25; All Ages
Love puppets but having a hard time coming up with new ideas? Love sketch comedy but not really sure how its done? Need help finding the ‘funny’ in your work, or just need some motivation to get some writing done? Well this is the workshop for YOU.
Erik Kuska and friend, "Introduction to Puppet Sketch"

These sketch writing techniques apply to ALL writing, whether its a feature length script or writing a monologue to start your show. The idea is, better writing gives you better puppetry. So bring a pen, paper, and get ready take the next step toward being a better writer. We'll examine sketch formats, discuss how to play to your puppetry strengths, and learn how to develop ideas more efficiently.

Elephant Stage’s Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles 90038
2:30 p.m.: Exploring the Wonder of Shadow Puppetry with Leslie K.Gray - $25; Ages 10+
Shadow puppets are an integral part of rituals and arts all over the world, but not so prevalent in Western culture. Come join theater artist Leslie K. Gray for a hands on workshop that explores the techniques of shadow puppetry, ancient and modern. Create your own shadow puppet presentations using light to create images from reflected darkness! This two hour workshop is designed to be an intensive for ages 10 and up. If you are able to bring a pair of scissors, a pencil, ordinary sheets of paper (office recycled is fine), and any items you think might cast interesting shadows, you will be onestep ahead in creating your own shadow puppet show!

5 p.m.: Future of Puppetry Round Table; guests to be announced. Moderator: Eric Lynxwiler - $15 or $20 VIP; All Ages
Young puppetry professionals share their perspective about where the art form is going and what they are doing to help it advance their way.

8 p.m.: Minimalism Times Three Plus One - $15 or $20 VIP; Ages 12+
The show opens with a preview of “206 - The Church of Bones” written and created by Sean T. Cawelti and Morgan Rebane. An original multidisciplinary puppet and media performance exploring the relationship between death and consumerism based on true events spanning a 700 year history at a single church in the Czech Republic.
Minimalism Times Three Plus One

Following that are three pieces in the Minimalist style. Each one tells a different story with a single object. The goal of this limitation is to foster a high degree of creative thinking while at the same time unearthing the emotional potential of the most common of objects. The thoughts and imagination of the audience are directed towards the formation of new associations for everyday objects and materials. It is these associations that give birth to the fun and entirely original puppetry images typical of a Minimalist Puppetry show. A MUST see. VIP tickets include priority seating and meet and greet with the cast.

Sunday, April 13, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.: Skirball Puppet Festival: A Family Celebration of the Wonders of Puppet Theater

Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 North Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles 90049 $10 general; $7 Seniors/Students; $5 Children 2-12; Free to Skirball Members; all ages Limited advance tickets: Available on site at the Skirball, online at, or by phone at (877) SCC-4TIX or (877) 722-4849. Walk up tickets subject to availability. Advance tickets recommended. Free passes and discount coupons are not valid on festival day. 

Join the Skirball for its third annual celebration of the art of puppetry, featuring interactive puppet performances, shadow puppetry, live music, art making, spectacular strolling puppets, an interactive display from the Los Angles Guild of Puppetry, and more. This campus-wide, daylong festival brings together some of Southern California’s most talented puppeteers and artists, working in a range of cultural and artistic styles. A day of imaginative storytelling and innovation sure to amaze visitors ages 2 to 102!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Fuck It

Writer Phil Jourdan's impassioned Fuck It Manifesto is spot-fucking-on:

I would like to encourage you to say: Fuck it. Because the likely thing is that everyone is telling you not to give up, without even asking what “giving up” means. I’m not telling you to stop writing (and if you stopped writing just because I told you to, you may be in particular need of learning to say "fuck it"). I’m telling you, at the risk of you calling me an asshole, to stop behaving like a frustrated, insecure, socially oversensitive author, which is what you become when you buy into the image of the author that we have created as a collective.
Go read the whole fucking thing, and reflect on the fact that this advice is applicable to any artist, not just writers. Jourdan says, "Fuck the constant agonizing over everything except the writing."

Or the acting. Or the directing. Or the production design.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Dissecting Discouragement

There's nothing like the sudden crash of discouragement that follows a period of solid, positive action. You've been doing all the right things, making great progress, and then suddenly find yourself in a blue funk, utterly depressed by the seeming futility of your actions. It's an emotional sinkhole.

I find that increasing my understanding often gives me a feeling of control over situations that otherwise leave me feeling helpless. I'm going to start by defining the word, "discouragement":


noun \-mənt\
: the act of making something less likely to happen or of making people less likely to do something
: a feeling of having lost hope or confidence
: something (such as a failure or difficulty) that discourages someone

- Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2014

The derivation is fascinating. It literally means "to lose heart." Kind of an ironic thing to be writing about on Valentines Day.

This is ridiculous, of course. You can't lose your heart. You still have it. It's still there.

We forget sometimes just how alive we are. Setbacks, failures, reality adjustments -- these remind us that we are not superhumans. They are a kick to the ego-crotch. Of course we feel less alive and less vital. Of course we "lose heart."

The solution to discouragement, as near as I can tell, is to increase a personal feeling of vitality. Learn something new. Listen to exciting music. Get out and do something physical. Hell, just washing the dishes, accomplishing something as mundane as that can make you feel that much more vital.

The important thing is to remain active. To keep pushing, keep moving, keep on keeping on. And just like popping the clutch* on a car with a dead battery, you'll be fired up and racing off in no time.

*I realize this metaphor will be lost on most people. You know what? Google it sometime when you're feeling discouraged. Learn something new!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Determining the Cause of Death

The show's over, we're all rested up, and we're eager to compare notes and find out how to improve on our efforts. We schedule a meeting.

Must we call it a "postmortem?"

Postmortems are conducted to determine a cause of death. Is the project/company/group dead? These meetings should be more like a doctor's physical than an ME's autopsy.

There has to be a more positive way to put this, that doesn't infer dredging up all the negatives and ignoring the positives.

What do you call these meetings?

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

No Permanent Ink This Year*

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The Permanent Ink List, our list of the best original plays to debut in Los Angeles over the past year will not be published this year. Your mad genius is a bit busy and won't be able to put it together.

If anyone cares to take up the mantle, have at it! 

* the irony is not lost on me.

Hollywood Burlesque Festival

This weekend, Hollywood has a Burlesque Festival!

From the website:
Hollywood Burlesque Festival is established to ensure the ongoing tradition of burlesque in the arts; to raise awareness and appreciation of an art form that both empowers and admires the human figure.

Our festival celebrates the glamorous yesterday and exciting today of burlesque over four nights of showcases, competitions, and film screenings. The action takes place at the Hayworth Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057 and the 3Clubs, 1123 Vine Street, Los Angeles, CA 90038

I will be performing as one half of Mr. Snapper & Mr. Buddy on Saturday night, and I'll be teaching a prop-building class on Saturday afternoon. My lovely wife, Red Snapper takes the stage on Friday evening.

Tickets are on sale now! Come one, come all!