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.