30 December 2007

My Top Ten Entertainment Experiences of 2007

I did this for 2006 and 2005. It's a tradition! Here are the rules, if you want to play at home:

Instead of my list of top ten movies or t.v. shows or books or whatever, I am opting for something far more personal: A peek into what moves me as a person. This is about the whole experience, not just the favorites.

For instance, a runner-up for this list is my "August Rush" experience. The movie flat-out sucked, and I wish I hadn't wasted the money. However, Pamela and I met our friend Phil Kelly at the Arclight, had lunch there before the movie, and suffered through the movie together, laughing and quipping our way through it. So bad movie, good experience. Capice?

Here we go, in no particular order:

1) Pamela's debut at Stiletto 2.5 -- The entire day spent in San Bernardino was fantastic. I camped out in a Starbucks reading the last Harry Potter, had dinner with Pam and Gabrielle, and then scurried back to watch Pam's big debut (with tassles!)

2) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- There's not much I can add to my original blog. This was the first time I ever stood in line and waited for the ball to drop, so to speak, at midnight. That was fun. The book itself was simply amazing.

3) The Police (and DAVE GROHL!) at Dodger Stadium -- It's been a long time desire of mine to see The Police in concert. I have very fond memories of spending a sunburned summer listening to "Every Breath You Take: The Singles" over and over and over. I've been rather disappointed with Sting's output over the past few years (adult contemporary rock. Ugh.) and it was good to see him as A ROCK GOD once again.

The bonus was seeing Foo Fighters in concert for the first time. What can I say? Dave Grohl IS Rock and Roll!

4) John Mayer at the Hollywood Bowl -- I had just a great time with Pammy, doing what we enjoy most, and making a day of it. The Bowl is an incredible venue, and since it's in Hollywood, we got to do a bit of "star gazing" (James Cameron has excellent taste in music, by the way.)

5) Victory Variety Hour with Jim and Lisa and Pamela at the El Cid -- In the midst of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Jim Blanchette (who played -- nay, owned -- Bottom) e-mailed the cast and crew with an invite to join him and his wife at the El Cid for an evening of burly-q fun.

So not only did we get to enjoy an evening of top-notch burlesque (the very lovely Penny Starr, Jr. puts on one hell of show,) we got to enjoy it in the company of fellow actors. It felt like the 1940s.

6) Grindhouse at the Vista Theater -- Sure, the seats were damned painful after three-plus hours. The fact remains, I had an extraordinary experience at a classic Hollywood movie house. ( And Eli Roth is seriously disturbed. Yikes.)

7) The Gospel Brunch at House of Blues -- This was the birthday party for Pam's pole teacher, Gabrielle. The music was hopping, the food was down-home ... just a fantastic way to spend a Sunday morning! (I know you're reading this Mom. When you come out to visit, we're taking you!)

8) Pammy Dance, Burlesque, and Rock and Roll at The Scene -- I really need a bar buddy. Scratch that. I need a bar buddy who doesn't live in Boston. So it was a lonely evening, but the bands and burlesque acts kept me occupied between Pam's go-go sets. Great bands, fantastic burlesque!

9) Holiday Shake 2007: A Night of Debauchery -- Pam gave full coverage of the event (you can basically browse the December 2007 entries.) It seems strange saying this, but I've really come to appreciate the artistry involved in exotic dance. And 'exotic dance' casts a wide net, covering everything from belly dance to pole dance to burlesque.

I was in on the set-up and tear-down (Me man. Me have muscles.) and I was impressed by how we managed to turn a workout room into a performance space. The ladies put on a wonderful show (Gabrielle's choreography continues to amaze and impress me.) And of course, I never get tired of seeing Pam shake what momma gave her.

What really capped the evening off (aside from finding out Janna and her hubby Mark are beer aficionados -- Go Team Beer!) was seeing so many familiar faces in the audience: friends, former cast mates and collaborators. It makes L.A. a warmer place, to be supported by the folks you know, and to support them in return. Which brings me to ...

10) Ridin' High with Sierra Rein -- I love supporting my fellow artists when I can. Sierra's show was an absolute blast, and she is so talented. The evening flew past, and I hope I get to see her perform again before she heads off to Broadway!

So that's it for 2007! Let's see what 2008 has on tap!

27 December 2007

My Failed Experiment

So I opened a Revver account back in April. I thought "Wow! What a great opportunity to make a little moolah off of my crappy puppet videos!" As you can see from the cropped screen grab, I've made not enough moolah for a cup of coffee. That's depressing.

What's worse, MySpace blocks Revver links and imbeds. So I can't even put my crappy video on my MySpace page.

So I went ahead and uploaded Season 2 Episode 1 ("The Tempest") to YouTube last night. This morning, I have a comment from one of my YouTube subscribers: "Hooray! Disembodied Animal Head Theatre returns!" Keep in mind, I posted this video back in April of this year on Revver.

I'm sure there's a lesson here of some sort, something to do with building an online community. If I were Seth Godin, I'd probably have something pithy to say.

Instead, all I can say is ... Yes. Disembodied Animal Head Theatre has returned. And I'm sorry it ever left.

13 December 2007

Round Jerky

(This picture was taken a day before our big car problems started*. I've meant to blog about it, but it's been sitting around unblogged for a month or longer.)

On our big trip to L.A. some years back, Pamela and I were running on financial fumes. We were trying to keep to an insanely tight budget, whilst driving our U-Haul trailer-towing-Honda Civic with all our belongings and the two dogs through the Rocky Mountains.

This is the sort of thing we do.

Anywho, at one of our lowest ebbs on the trip, we discovered the joy of round beef jerky. Starting in Colorado, we found this stuff in every gas station where we stopped. Tasty, cheap, and round. Once we hit California, the supply of round jerky dried up, and this brown manna from heaven could not be found. We were very sad pandas. For a few weeks after we arrived in L.A., Pam and I would carry on conversations like this:

So what's for dinner?
How about pizza?
You know what I could go for?
Oh man! Those little round beef jerkies ...
Oh hell yeah.

So imagine how overjoyed we were when we found the elusive round jerky at our local gas station! Hurrah!

(*transmission problems with the Mitsubishi, bought a Saturn to drive while I fixed the other car, the Saturn broke down, blah blah blah. I got the Mitsubishi running again [knock on wood]. The Saturn is still dead, but I hope to have it running on Sunday. Yay! Two cars!)

10 December 2007


I'm working on some "blue" puppet material.

Above is a video snippet of the incredible Pinchbottom duo, Nasty Canasta and Jonny Porkpie. The performance is from the 2007 Burlesque Hall Of Fame Exotic World pageant. These guys are my heroes.

I love burlesque. I think it is a perfect theatrical artform. And I would like nothing better than to contribute in some small way.

(There may just be a "fundraiser" opportunity next year, combining Pam's burlesque, my puppetry, and the naughty music of a friend of ours. I'll provide more details if it comes to fruition.)
The Tolucan Times review is online!


07 December 2007

The LA Times review showed up online today. You can find it here. (You'll have to scroll down to locate it.)
Their fellow performers wrestle with the tricky requirements of acting through their own bunraku-style puppets, director Andrew Moore's device relating to the human monsters that inhabit Juana's dark universe. It's an intriguing approach, but one that calls for considerable refinement, as does Moore's realization of the play overall.

Not an unfair statement at all. Juana is a very ambitious production, and no doubt an extra week or two of rehearsal, as well as another grand or so in the budget would have yielded more polished results. The lesson I take from this is that I didn't go far enough with the minimalism. As a theatre maker, I believe in exploiting weaknesses, and turning them into assets. I could have gone much further.

I am happy that the Times reviewer got what we were trying to do with the puppets. That pleases me.

The Tolucan Times review hasn't yet shown up online, which is a damn shame. It's a great review!
Thoughtfully conceived by director Andrew Moore, the play employs puppets as metaphors for how others manipulated and controlled Juana's life.

Go Team Metaphor!

The Backstage West reviewer didn't seem to appreciate ... well, anything:
But director Andrew Moore has made so many unfortunate choices and has been saddled with so many unhelpful circumstances, the story of the betrayal of Juana ... over 30 years by her father, husband, and son feels exhausting.

I take that back. He raves about the very talented Phillip Kelly, as well he should.

So there you have it. Three reviews from three publications, reflecting three very different takes on our humble little production.

I remain very proud of my actors, designers and tech staff. I am deeply thankful to have had the opportunity to work with the wonderful Erin Scott, my stage manager, a complete professional in every sense of the word. She was a godsend. And I would be completely remiss if I didn't also publicly acknowledge Colleen Reilly, the true artistic producer of this play, whose tireless dedication kept me going. Write Act Rep is a great place to make theatre, no doubt about it.

So, that pretty much raps things up. The show closes on December 15th, and there will no doubt be a post-mortem at that time. For now, in the words of Dave Grohl, "done, I'm done, and I'm on to the next one."

30 November 2007

And in non-Juana news ...

There was a time when, as a kid, there were only two shows on television. The Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider.

Knight Rider is coming back. The Hoff will be in it. Details here.

In the meantime, feast your eyes on the new K.I.T.T.:

Oh hell yeah!

About last night ...

We opened last night. As is tradition at Write Act, our first night audience was ... intimate. And rather familiar. Tonight should be a much larger house (it is Friday, after all.)

[I'd like to pass out fliers when the Pantages lets out. Fliers with "FREE PARKING!!!" right above the title of the play. You would not believe what some people pay for parking to see Wicked!]

Juana is episodic to a fault, with some scenes comprising a few brief lines. So there is constant traffic throughout the show. To help this "cinematic" quality along, the show has something like 400 light cues. I wish I were joking. Our lighting designer, Connie Lynn Vilanni is a freaking miracle worker, and I am floored by how good the show looks. We maxed out the board's capacity for light cues, so Connie Lynn made the blackouts and scene change lighting manual (assigned to sliders.)

(To digress for a moment -- Connie Lynn is my kind of theatre person. The kind I try to be: a no-nonsense, fast working, creative problem solver. She's attentive to what the show needs and inventive in making it so. And she's a total professional, no B.S.)

Needless to say, with so many light cues and so much traffic on and off stage, there were a few hiccups. This is to be expected, particularly on a first night.

In all honesty, I experienced the agony of a parent who can't swoop in and save the day for his kid. Maybe the kid is misspelling "chrysanthemum" in a spelling bee, or getting his ass kicked at a karate expo. In this particular case, the kid was trying to juggle puppets, entrances and exits, lines, acting, scene changes, light cues, sound cues, etc. etc. etc. So it was a bit rough.

It was also our first real run-through under performance conditions. This is entirely my fault. I should have scheduled the rehearsal and pre-production process a bit tighter, allowing us another night of dress rehearsal. True confession time: This is by far the largest cast and most complex show I've ever directed. It has been a heck of a learning experience!

I must say that the cast and crew handled themselves with poise and professionalism. They didn't let the timing lag, which is of considerable importance to me. And there were some genuinely sublime moments.

We had press in the audience, and I heard through our company PR guy that they've requested photos. Gulp. Torrid Affaire, my directorial debut in Los Angeles, flew under the critical radar. I'm a bit nervous -- to paraphrase a line from the play -- to have my work splayed upon the butcher's block. But good or bad, I hereby promise to post full details on the review once it's published. In the L.A. Times. This weekend.


29 November 2007


Tonight is the big night for Juana.

For the past few weeks, I've been taking the metro around town. Transmission problems. Last night was the first time it really occurred to me: My show is opening two blocks away from the Pantages and Wicked.

Last night's run was fantastic. I had notes, but they were all super picky. Minor stuff. The technical glitches were minor. Most importantly, I found myself really enjoying the show.

That probably sounds horrible. But what I mean is I was able to be an audience member most of the time, instead of the director. My performers are doing an amazing job. The design elements are in place. My work is done.

All we need is an audience.

(Below are pictures from the first act of the show, taken by Lou Briggs.)

28 November 2007

JUANA - The Windows
And here's how we made the stained glass windows!

My lovely wife did the designs. She rendered the designs on 8 1/2 x 11 paper, transferred the designs to transparencies, and used an overhead projector to transfer the designs to the windows.

The windows are built out of 1 x 2 boards and 3/4 inch plywood (the arches, the rose window.) To the back of the window we staple clear vinyl and bleached muslin. The vinyl is for the paint (gives it a nice, glossy finish) and the muslin helps diffuse the back lighting.

Jenn (standing) and Pamela paint the rose window. (Photo by Lou Briggs.)

The last time I did something like this, I used Rosco Colorine. Noxious stuff, but beautiful. Also very expensive! This time around we used acrylic paint mixed in with a transparent gel medium.

Above you see me adding the leading to one of the windows. (Photo by Lou Briggs.) Black silicon caulking does the trick. This is the step that really sets off the windows, and makes the whole stained glass look work.

Here are the finished windows, unlit:

Above is our "Spain" window. It's lit up whenever we are in Spain, particularly Toledo.

The Austrian window is based on the Hapsburg coat of arms. It's lit up whenever we're in Austria.

Juana's crown. Lit up during her coronation, and at the end of the play.

The Tordesillas window. Tordesillas is where Juana was kept imprisoned. This is my favorite window. It's based on the running of the Bull of La Vega, a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages in Tordesillas. A pretty gruesome affair, you can read about the significance here.

And finally, the "vision" window. There is a mystical aspect to Juana's story that involves remote vision. When Juana is having these visions, we act them out with shadow puppets (via an overhead projector.)

I'll try to remember to grab some shots of the show during tonight's dress rehearsal, so you can see the whole thing put together!
JUANA - The Puppets

We were able to whittle down the puppet count from 68 to 31. That's still a whole bunch of puppets! Here's what we did:

For most of the puppets, we built off of wig forms with paper mache. Facial features were built up with chicken wire and wallpaper tape. Above is Victor, hard at work on Cisneros (the character he is portraying.) for some of the puppets, we mounted masks on the wig forms (and on a few empty one gallon water bottles!) and used the preformed facial features to work off of. You can see an example of this below.

Above you see Duncan (background) and Shawn adding shoulders to the "heads on a stick." We did not build torsos for these guys. They are very "bare bones." We attached a cross member to the central control rod so that we could hang arms off of something, and then attached arched wire hangers to create the illusion of shoulders once the puppets are dressed. Very low-tech.

Above you see a flock of puppet heads and shoulders on our makeshift puppet cart. At the head of the cart is Fernando, on of our "pageant style" puppets. Fernando has a nodding mechanism that allows him to look down at the other puppets. I'll explain how the nodding mechanism works in another posting.

Above and below ... just a couple of shots of the puppets in progress. The faces have been painted white as a sort of base coat.

Above, Darcy is painting a flesh tone onto the neck and face of Beatriz, the character she portrays. One of the cool things about our production is that the actors had the opportunity to work on their own puppets.

Beatriz in progress. Note that we left the eye sockets white. I love this puppet. Paul Eppelston did the initial work on the facial features, and I believe Jenn Scuderi did the hair. What a great silohuette!

Hair is painted on, facial features added. The puppets are really starting to take on some personality!

Milk crates make excellent puppet racks as well. In the above picture, you can see the detail work that Paul Eppelston added in on the faces. Shadows and highlights, just like theatrical make-up. In fact, I'd say that a workable knowledge of theatrical make-up is a huge benefit for this kind of puppet making.

Fernando, all painted up.
Next came bagging the heads and painting the "body" of the puppet black, attaching hands, and dressing the puppets. More pictures later!

21 November 2007

Juana: Concept and Design
pt. 3 of 3


We did a full run of the show last night, with puppets. The puppets are not quite finished (as you can see.)

To the left is (from left to right) a merchant, Fernando, Juana, and Beatriz. This is the first scene of the show, which takes place during the Spanish Inquisition.

Fernando is quite imposing! He's being held a bit higher than he should be, but you get a sense of the imposing nature of this character, and how he towers over our poor princess.

Beatriz (fantastic profile!) and the Merchant haven't been given their arms yet. But you can see how the actors will be performing these characters.

The audience will see the actors' faces. Last night an actor took me aside and asked me "should I watch my puppet, or try to make eye contact with Juana?" It got me to thinking. I told him that the decision to not use the puppet as a proxy, and instead address her as a person (sort of ignoring the puppet for a moment) would be a strong performance choice. Almost as if the facade (the puppet) could easily be eliminated, and the character could show Juana his true face.

There is a lot of symbolic power inherent in puppetry. I feel that we're tapping into that.

Also missing are the stained glass windows. Our vertical space is pretty empty at present, but as soon as that scenic element comes in, the show is going to sprout wings.

The concept of "religious pageant" is beginning to materialize before me, and I have to say I'm excited.

(Please excuse the crappy cell phone pictures. I'll bring my "real" camera to the next rehearsal!)

03 November 2007


Pictures of me as Charles Manson at last Monday's "Dead Poets Society: Fright Night". Thanks to Olga for the pix!

Maybe I'll do a Charles Manson one-man show someday. Maybe when I'm older.

01 November 2007

I haven't had the time to blog in awhile. I only recently wrote a couple of things over at Mad Theatrics, and a couple of days ago tapped away some at MySpace.

I've been quite busy with Write Act Rep over the past few months. First as Robin Starveling in our production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and now as director of Juana. Monday night I read "Helter Skelter" as Charles Manson in our "Dead Beat Poets" fundraiser (sadly, there is no video of this. Hopefully someone snapped some pix!)

I entered into one of those stereotypical "dark moods" that artists have on Sunday. It was after watching Broadway: The Golden Age (a fantastic documentary) as I realized that I am living a far way from New York in the 1950s. The day-in, day-out grind of trying to piece together a career while doing such things as "paying bills" and "sleeping" just kind of collapsed on me. It was a horrible, deep glumness not unlike my "everlasting no" period in college. Only of shorter duration and with less angst.

Tuesday night I took a nice, long walk to the Metro station. I had to catch the Red Line up to Hollywood for a Juana rehearsal. As I neared the station, it hit me: I'm exactly where I want to be right now. I'm in Hollywood, directing a play in a building that Cecil B. DeMille built. And a play with puppets! I was so elated, I took a picture:

They've built an ugly shopping/condo complex around this station. Drab as can be, it looks a little bit like a Jawa transporter from the street. This streamers on the interior stand out in bold contrast, a ragged assortment of colors strung through the air.

On the Metro itself, I found myself surrounded by people conversing, people reading (Gladwell's "The Tipping Point", "Stranger in a Strange Land", a book on musical notation,) people really going somewhere. It's corny, but I filled with happiness. I forget sometimes that I'm not the only person trying to make a better life for himself. Rather, I am joined in this pursuit by people of all shapes and sizes, all colors, all ideologies.

Juana rehearsal went extraordinarily well. The whole show is blocked, and now comes the fun part: breathing life into this monstrosity.

I'll probably be as bad a blogger as ever as the weeks progress, but I'll try to drop in from time to time to tell you how it's going. I joke about the "fourteen people" who read this blog, but I know you're out there, and I know that you read this because you want to know how I'm doing. And I appreciate your care and concern more than you know.

11 October 2007

Drifting Ever Closer to a Golfer With an Arm Growing Out of His Ass

From Happy Gilmore:

Did you see that?

Shooter McGavin
Yes. Nice shot.

He just got a hole-in-one on a par four!

Shooter McGavin
I know. I just said I saw it.

Oh, I hope he wins. He's a publicist's dream. I mean, a guy who could drive the ball that far - oh, he could really draw a crowd.

(Virginia walks away smiling)

Shooter McGavin
You know what else could draw a crowd? A golfer with an arm growing out of his ass.

I kid you not. A man with an ear growing out of his forearm.

Well, he is getting attention. Yuck.

05 October 2007

Rock on, Chaz!

One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite movies, Real Genius. This is Chaz Jankel with his song "Number One." Crappy video, but great song. And I sported the same haircut briefly in the 80s.

03 October 2007

Why is this even necessary? From Aint it Cool:

NEAR DARK remake gets a director!!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. There doesn't seem to be a night that passes by without news of another horror remake. Yesterday was THE BROOD and FRIDAY THE 13TH and tonight is the remake of Kathryn Bigelow's sweet as hell '80s piece of cult goodness NEAR DARK.

Once again it's Platinum Dunes and they're producing for Rogue Pictures. They've just hired music video director Samuel Bayer (who has directed videos for everybody from NIRVANA to Justin Timberlake) to helm the remake, being scripted by DISTURBIA's Christopher Landon.

I quite like the original, a really fascinating take on the vampire legend with a perfectly over-the-top performance from Bill Paxton. I hope they don't fuck it over.

Kathryn Bigelow is one of my favorite directors. You know her work; she directed Blue Steel, Point Break, and Strange Days. She is a smart filmmaker who imbues her action films with a style and cinematic artistry not often seen on this side of the Atlantic. Yes, I am saying that about a movie starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey, so bite it.

Two sequences stand out in memory from Near Dark. First is the "bar" scene. Three songs play on the jukebox while our band of dusty, western-inspired vampires slowly and methodically decimate the denizens of a small hick bar. Each song triggers a new "phase" of the carnage, and mirrors the action impeccably. Simply amazing filmmaking. The second scene is the climax ... which I won't spoil here. Suffice it to say, Lance Henrickson is a bad mother-bleeper, and you can really see the fire in his eyes.

Is the universe so bereft of ideas that Hollywood has to remake good films? I can understand taking another crack at a bad film. But come on! Children of the Corn, Texas Chainsaw Masacre, Dawn of the Dead, Halloween, Near Dark ... What's next? Gremlins?

To answer Quint's concern: they've already f-ed the original over by deciding to remake it.

01 October 2007


Coming home from work, I saw this praying mantis on our gate.

I have a complex relationship with insects and spiders. I'm horribly afraid of being bitten or stung, yet I am absolutely fascinated by the creepy little bastards.

I never put together a bug collection as a kid. Somehow in all of the moving from town to town I just missed out on it. Maybe that's the source of my fascination.

If a camera is near by, I'll get as close as possible to an interesting bug and snap a picture. I'm fairly confident that a bug will jump away from me rather than on me if I startle it. Except for spiders. I'm not so sure about spiders. Probably, I'll find out the hard way.

Anyway, I know my good friend Garrick is going to freak out when he sees this picture. And that makes it all worth while.

26 September 2007

Don't Fear 2012:

From the always interesting Tim Boucher:
Even if the Mayans did have some kind of fancy-pants calendar bullshit going on, are you Mayan? If you’re not Mayan and you adopt the arbitrary significance of this one timestamped moment, why stop there? Why not abandon the Reason of the Roman Empire and its cultural heirs in favor altogether of the mystically-soaked blood-baths of the Mayans? Few 2012-fluffers mention that this once-mighty people fed their calendar directly with human souls; if we’re really going to do honor to whatever shift these people lived and died for, how come noone is lining up for the sacrificial altar?

"2012-fluffers". Gotta love it.

We're going to be treated to a non-stop barrage of airy-fairy new age nonsense the closer we get to 2012. It's bound to be worse than all that "Planet X" crapola of a couple years back.

My question: If the Mayans were so advanced that they were able to predict the "End of Days" or "Dawning of Enlightenment" or whatever the hell is supposed to happen, where are they now? It's like the old joke picture of a store-front psychic with an "out of business" sign.

Sure. The Mayans could predict the galactic alignment of interstellar bodies and spiritual awakening, but they couldn't predict (and prevent) their own collapse.

25 September 2007

Juana: Concept and Design
pt. 2 of 3
"You had better pray that I never again sit where I belong."
- Juana, Juana II:4 by Paul Casey

Juana is a woman of the future surrounded by the patriarchal trappings of the past at the dawn of the Renaissance in Spain.

We will take a somewhat expressionistic angle on this, presenting the world as Juana would see it: a mad house, full of monsters.

The fuel for this living nightmare will be the prominent forms of art from the period, specifically religious paintings, stained-glass, and liturgical drama. This is the art of the structure, her parents, the establishment.

The chiaroscuro is primitive and somewhat harsh. The perspective simple. The muted palate of religious paintings is augmented by the saturated primaries of stained glass.

Liturgical drama (pageants, festivals, etc.) continued to grow and develop in Spain throughout the Renaissance. We will draw upon this tradition as well. (See how nicely this fits with the pageant puppets?)

The story is grand. The locations are grand. Juana is an epic play. Yet it shall be important to exercise great economy in the design of the play -- the set, costumes, lights, sound and puppets. At the heart of this massive story that stretches over thirty years, from the Iberian peninsula to the Austrian Empire, is the very simple story of a woman who was betrayed by her husband, son, and father. The heart of this play lives in The Room Without Light, an impenetrable darkness that ultimately could not overshadow Juana herself.

24 September 2007

Juana: Concept and Design
pt. 1 of 3

An epic play, a pageant that reveals the hidden truth behind history's most maligned and misunderstood monarch -- this is the story of Juana. Labeled "Juana the Mad" by her captors, this propaganda line has dogged her true story through the ages: That the death of her young husband drove her insane; that she inherited this madness from her grandmother.

Paul Casey's play reveals quite a different reality: A strong-willed, intelligent woman who was seen as a threat to the established patriarchal structure of post-Medieval Europe; an opponent of the Inquisition; and a champion of the common people. Juana embodied the spirit of the Renaissance in a country that was desperately clinging to the last vestiges of the Dark Ages.

This November, we will tell Juana's story. Sixty-plus puppets, brought to the stage by twenty talented performers shall take the audience on an epic voyage through three kingdoms, over turbulent oceans, through the darkest of nights, and ultimately to the truth.

The puppet count is at 69, not including any toy theater or shadow puppets. We will be using a variety of rod-based puppets (pageant puppets, westernized bunraku-style puppets, etc.) performed out in the open (i.e. after the fashion of Julie Taymor/Avenue Q.)

Paul's play is very cinematic. We cross continents in the blink of a scene change, cross vast amounts of time in mere moments. To help handle these transitions, I'm utilizing toy theater. (As it so happens, a few of these transitions involve large crowd scenes. Yet another reason to utilize toy theater.)

Paul has postulated that Juana was able to keep up with what was going on outside her prison walls by way of extended or remote viewing. At the same time she was in Burgos, a group of Christian mystics were studying this phenomenon. In our play, Juana experiences two visions. We will play out these visions with shadow puppets, a form of puppetry uniquely suited to dreams and visions.

Juana was was a threat to the establishment, and was removed from power. She was placed in the room without light "for her own good," and every attempt was made by her captor (the devious Marquis of Denia) to drive her insane. It was a nightmare scenario, and one that Juana briefly emerged from in 1520 when she presided over the legislative assembly in Spain, demonstrating a soundness of mind and intelligence as she attempted to transform Spain into a democracy.

The use of puppets in this production will enable an expressionistic take on her story. The audience will experience the mad house in which Juana found herself: surrounded by monsters who meant to do her in. In the case of Fernando, he will be a nine-foot-tall pageant style puppet. (This particular point, how Juana perceived those around her and how this works with the puppets is a point I discussed with Paul. He was rather excited about the idea, and took a copy of my initial sketches to show around.)

Furthermore, we will be designing the puppets and creating an environment informed by the sort of things that would have served as nightmare fuel for a much younger Juana, growing up in the castles and cathedrals of the Catholic Monarchs. Specifically, Late Medieval and Early Renaissance religious art.

21 September 2007

Come one, come all!

I play Moonshine (nee "Robin Starveling.") Pamela rocks the house as Peasblossom, and choreographed the fairy dances. She actually put her fairies through the nuevo stripper paces. Read all about it on her blog.

03 September 2007

Seth on cheap advertising:
Mysteriously, when the ads are cheap (think banners, or cable or AM radio), the content is lousy.

A SuperBowl ad costs a few million dollars to run... so the beer companies and the dot com companies spend millions creating the ad, even if it runs only once. [...]

There's no economic reason for this. You can run that banner ad in a thousand places. You can run that radio ad in 200 cities. If the media is cheap, it might just be a good value. And if you can run an effective ad, you can run it far and wide and turn a profit.
I don't think it's that mysterious at all. When it comes to a Super Bowl Ad, there is much more money at stake. With banner ads or AM radio ads there's virtually nothing at stake.

This is true for entertainment, as well. Compare your run-of-the-mill improv show with Broadway's Wicked. It costs virtually nothing to put on an improv show; very little is invested so oftentimes you literally get what you pay for: an hour or two of diversion. Meanwhile great piles of cash are shoveled into a BIG-TIME BROADWAY SHOW. A huge investment! Also a better bet than your local run-of-the-mill improv show.

It's not just the investment of capital, and here's where the mystery truly vanishes: The artists involved understand the scope. The improv show is playing to friends and family or die-hard improv fans or folks too broke to cross the street to see Wicked at the Pantages. A small pool. The artists involved in a BIG TIME BROADWAY SHOW know that there will be lines around the block. The artists have more at stake with a bigger audience and so bring their "A" game. As for the group playing to a dozen people, half of them comped ... there is a difference.

(HOWEVER, the Broadway show could be a crass, mediocre piece of crap performed by jaded jerks. The little improv show could have more heart and sheer talent on display than all the theatre palaces in the world. These are the exception to the rule. Not every improv is "The Kids in the Hall" back in the day, and not every Broadway musical is "Annie 2.")

The thing to do is to bring your "A" game regardless, to not settle for mediocre, to be remarkable. There was a little show in Hollywood that opened earlier this year titled "All About Walken." It's eight actors doing Walken impersonations in scenes and monologues. The show went up the the Gleason Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard -- I've performed on stage there myself, in a show that averaged five audience members each night. Just a hole-in-the-wall storefront theatre. Certainly not the Pantages.

This play -- a play that cost next to nothing to produce (i.e. no flying monkeys) that features eight people doing Walken impressions for crying out loud -- got major media coverage. The show was consistently sold out. These same eight actors could've just done a mediocre improv show, but they didn't settle for that. They brought their "A" game, and they flourished.

So that's the lesson to take away from all of this: Don't throw away any opportunity to be remarkable, no matter how "low rent" the venue.

[Also posted at www.madtheatrics.blogspot.com.]

18 August 2007


Here we go: Andrew's World Famous Tennis Ball Rod Puppet.

(Also known as "the puppet design that saved my college German Language grade.")

One day, while trying to teach Holly how to play fetch I noticed that the springy tennis ball our reticent dalmatian refused to run after had a curious "seam" that almost looked like a down-turned mouth. Since Holly was having more fun destroying a pair of Pamela's boots than playing fetch, I took her tennis ball to my puppetry workstation (our dining room table), grabbed a nearby x-acto knife, and cut open a portion of the seam.


I mounted the ball on a dowel, gave it facial features, and dressed it in a red hood. I gathered together a few random puppets I had laying around, pounded out a short play script ("A Not So Grimm Fairy Tale"), and enlisted fellow theatre major Scott Black in the ensuing madness. We had to present a "final project" in our German Language class, something about or involving German culture. Dr. Mitchell, our Yoda-like professor, was absolutely delighted by the little puppet play, and Scott and I got passing grades. The play was in English.

The design has evolved a bit over the years. Little Red Riding Hood (wish I had a picture!) had no arms and no body to speak of, just a red felt hood that hinted at structure underneath. I've solved the problem of body and arms using simple items you can find around the house.

[NOTE: Do not follow the bellow instructions. They are grossly irresponsible and dangerous. I mean, using an x-acto knife in the way I describe is absolutely insane! Don't do it.]


Tennis ball
16" long, 5/8" diameter dowel rod
Fishing line
Plastic or metal ring, 1" diameter
An empty 25 oz liquid dishwashing soap bottle
Strut hanger (wire hanger with paper tube)
1/4" stretch elastic (or ribbon)
Googly eyes, pom poms, yarn, etc. (puppet face making stuff)
Small nail, small screw eye
Tools (hammer, cordless drill, etc.)

1. Using an x-acto knife (or other similarly dangerous cutting device) on the tennis ball, I cut the puppet's mouth.

2. I then cut a "neck hole" in the bottom of the tennis ball. This needs to be big enough to accomodate the dowel rod.

3. Now I shove in the dowel rod. (If I want to earn extra points, I paint the end of the dowel rod black, so that it can't be seen when the puppet's mouth opens!)

4. I then tap a nail into the end of the dowel rod, through the crown of the puppet's head.

5. Okay, this is really dangerous. I make hole in the bottom of the soap bottle, big enough to accommodate the dowel. I hate to say I how I do this. The plastic on the bottom of a soap bottle is fairly thick, so trying to melt a hole with a red-hot screwdriver takes forever. I use a 5/8" paddle bit ... vary carefully!

6. I make a hole just under the top rim of the soap bottle. This is for the screw eye. I make two more holes to accommodate a control line for the mouth.

7. Time to assemble the puppet head and body. The soap bottle body is held in place by the screw eye. Neat, huh?

8. Using a pick, I make a hole in the puppet's lower lip.

9. Time to string up the puppet mouth! Sometimes I'll make a small loop on the lower lip, and tie the fishing line to that. Makes it easier to replace the fishing line as needed. Usually I'll just knot the fishing line inside the mouth.

Feeding the fishing line through the bottle is a pain. I have yet to come up with the perfect solution for this. Once it's fed through, I tie on a little plastic ring.

10. Arms: This is something new that I'm playing with. Take the paper tube off of the strut hanger, and cut it into arm and hand pieces. Cut the metal part of the hanger in two, and straighten the two parts out except for the ends that go into the paper tube. These are the arm rods. Dummy up handles on these arm rods, and set to the side.

From the paper tube I cut two 3" pieces, two 2" pieces and two 3/4" pieces. I string these arm pieces together, and attach to the body.

The bent ends of the arm rods insert into the puppet's hands.

11. Ta-da! A puppet! Paint it, glue fabric to it, give it facial features, etc.