sábado, 22 de dezembro de 2007

Speaking of Jim Henson

When I was just getting started in puppetry, one of the books that influenced me the most was "Of Muppets and Men", which was a behind-the-scenes look at the Muppet Show. I borrowed the book from the Addison Public Library (the fact that the Addison Public Library actually had the book is only slightly less surprising than the fact that Addison, NY actually had a public library) a hundred times. I spent hours looking at each picture, and as I prepare for our filming project now, those images come back.

The book is kind of hard to find today, but it is well worth the effort if you do. What I did not know back then was that a documentary of the same title--and covering much of the same material--was produced. Recently it surfaced on Youtube, and I am embedding it below. All six videos take a while to watch, so schedule some time, fire up the computer, get some hot chocolate, a note pad and a couple good pencils, and take it all in.

Learning from the Master

The all-time, undisputed master of puppetry was Jim Henson. If you want to learn about puppetry, watching anything produced by him is always a sure bet. Which is why I was very excited to see a series of never-before-published videos from Gary Friedman at puppetrynews.com. It appears that Mr. Friedman participated in a puppetry seminar run by Jim Henson himself somewhere in France. Five videos were made, each one showing different aspects of the seminary. There are a couple actual student productions, and one "making of" segment.

Click here
, sit back, and feed on the puppet goodness.

quinta-feira, 13 de dezembro de 2007

Making Puppets

So you want to start a puppet ministry, but you don't have the money for the exorbitant prices charged by some companies for puppets. Maybe you want your puppets to have their own personality--as opposed to using something mass produced and probably used by a myriad of other church puppet groups. Or perhaps you live in a part of the world where puppets are not readily available.

In truth, all three of the above challenges apply to our ministry here in Brazil. In the face of these difficulties, we have found the following resources to be of great help.

1. Puppeteer Paul Muller has posted an outstanding series of videos on how to build puppets. Anybody who is interested in making puppets should watch it. The puppets produced are very basic, and use easy-to-find materials.

2. If you are interested in starting out with some classy patterns for some really nice looking puppets, no place is better than Project Puppet. The patterns they sell are reasonably priced, and easy to use.

We have taken aspects from both of these outstanding sources, as well as things learned from disecting a few Puppet Productions puppets, to make the puppets for our project. We are still in the process of character development, but below is the latest effort.

Do any of you have other sources for patterns or materials? Let us know!

domingo, 2 de dezembro de 2007

Audition Video Tests

In the world of professional puppetry, someone with a project (and a budget) gets the word out to the puppeteer community that they are hiring puppeteers, and soon they have a cast. In the parallel universe of Christian puppetry, however, the puppeteers are mostly homegrown. This is especially so on the mission field.

For our Cidade Feliz TV project we have discovered that it will be necessary to train our puppeteers from scratch. This process has been helped by the puppetry seminars we have administered in local churches, where we have discovered some latent talent.

During the past two Saturdays we gathered these hopefuls together and held intensive training sessions. The video you see above is from those sessions. The camera quality is horrible, as is the sound and filming. Yet this is the embryonic beginning of what we hope will be an effective TV program.

sábado, 1 de dezembro de 2007

Changing Philosophy

For years I have held that in a live puppet performance--especially one where the people come to identify with the characters--the puppeteers should never reveal themselves. One must maintain the illusion of life, and to do that, one must never admit that there are actually living-breathing human beings behind the stage.

I am rethinking that whole philosophy, however. Puppeteers who have worked with me in years gone by will doubtless be nonplussed, as this was something I drilled into them constantly. But recently the success of Jim Henson's Puppet Up! and Avenue Q--both of which feature the puppeteers in plain view of the audience--has me convinced that the puppeteer/puppet dynamic can be quite effective. (By the way, if you decide to look up Puppet Up! or Avenue Q, be advised that they have lots of material that is not God-honoring.)

For an example of puppetry where the puppeteers are out in the open, check out this video from Japan. This appears to be some sort of a talent show, where the contestant has to learn how to do something, and then perform it in front of the cameras. In this case, she choses puppetry. She does an outstanding job! Be sure to watch all the way to the end, the final performance (including the "backup singers") is outstanding. (h/t Puppeteers Unit)

Inspired by this trend, I decided to add a "live" element to our programming for the live presentations of our seminary team. At the end of the final song, the puppets descend one-by-one, and then reappear outside the stage with their respective puppeteers. The video below showed the first time we did it. Other than the fact that most of my puppeteers forgot all about their proper exit techniques, I think it was fairly effective.

sexta-feira, 23 de novembro de 2007

Jim Henson on Character Development

One of the most difficult and yet most rewarding parts of setting up a puppet program is the development of the characters. In the case of our Cidade Feliz project, we are currently designing and building our puppets from scratch after having given them personalities and character traits.

Many church programs rely on mass produced puppets purchased from any number of companies. Even so, the development of a puppet's personality is key to the success of a program--key to how well the message is transmitted.

Here is a video of Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Michael Frith, and Kermit the Frog talking about character development.

By the way, I got this from an outstanding collection of puppet videos put together by Andrew from Puppet Vision. If you are at all interested in working with puppets, you need to check out these videos, and be a regular reader of the Puppet Vision blog.

quarta-feira, 21 de novembro de 2007

Facing the (Media) Giants

Christian Movies. The very name congers up images of the cheesy flicks I watched at youth rallies where everybody wore bell bottoms and had 70's hairdos. They were made mostly to be played in church, and quality was obviously not the number-one priority.

Christians have a lot of catching-up to do in the movie department. Perhaps it is because for so long going to a movie theater was considered a sin. Perhaps it is because we were suspicious of any method of communicating the gospel other than preaching, Sunday School lessons, and door-to-door evangelism.

Without knocking the afore-mentioned methods (and those who know me will attest that I am particularly insistent on passionate expository preaching), I must say that insignificant attention has been made in Christian circles to the power of story-telling. This is odd, because our Savior communicated to masses of people by telling them story, not to mention the fact that God has revealed His will to us through the Scriptures, which are--for the most part--a collection of stories.

How then has this art been lost on us? There are of course some fine examples of Christian storytelling--the works of John Bunyan and C.S. Lewis come to mind. But how is it that up until recently, while the medium of film began to tell stories as never before, the best Christians could do was the flannel graph?

I say "up until recently" because some encouraging trends are starting to emerge. I believe it started with Veggietales. I don't know where Phil Vischer got the idea to communicate a Christian worldview using talking legumes, but it worked. For those of you who would contest otherwise, please read this.

Now along comes "Facing the Giants". It's a movie about a football coach. It was produced by a local church. It uses non-professional actors. It has the formula for being everything that I hated about the Christian movies of my youth, minus the bell bottoms and enormous sideburns.

But it works! It had me emotionally involved in the story. It made me re-evaluate priorities in my life. Most importantly (and I do mean most importantly), I jumped out of my seat and cheered when the final, game-winning, fifty-one yard field goal attempt went through the uprights.

Why do I say most importantly? Because this shows that, at least for me, the story did not get lost in the message--which is one of Christian film making's biggest drawbacks. We cannot seem to tell a story without preaching. Of course those who have watched FTG will know that the Gospel and the Christian worldview are presented numerous times throughout the film in no uncertain terms. And yet, the story WORKS!

My hat is off to the people of Sherwood Baptist Church, and especially to their philosophy of being able to change the world from Albany, Georgia. If they can do it from the state where the Devil goes looking for souls to steal (not to mention the fact that there are a lot of rainy days, midnight trains, and blackouts*) then perhaps I can do it from here in Northeastern Brazil.

You can be sure I am going to try. We are starting our puppet project out small--live presentations in churches, a TV program on a local channel. We believe, however, that if it will glorify God, and if He is in it, the sky is the limit.

*Oblique references to Rainy Day in Georgia, Midnight Train to Georgia, and The Day the Lights Went Out In Georgia.

sexta-feira, 16 de novembro de 2007

Obligatory Introductory Post


My name is Andrew, and I am a missionary in Brazil. I have worked with puppets since I was 15 (the picture to the left is VERY old), and today puppets play a big part of my ministry. As director of ministry internships for a Baptist seminary here, I direct a puppet team made up of students that travels the region doing presentations in churches, schools, and public parks.

I am also at work on a filming project for a TV program that our area churches broadcast on a local TV station.

My aim with this blog is to contribute that which I have learned (and am learning) with the Christian puppetry community.

Thanks for taking the time to stop by. If you like, you can check out our ministry blog, as well as an outstanding blog in Portuguese run by a fantastic couple that work with me.