24 March 2008

Marionettes vs. Hand Puppets

Saturday I performed with a certain children's marionette show (whose name I omit only because this blog is sometimes loose and free with profanity [not to mention links to disgusting videos made by Eli Roth,] and I don't want kids to Google the name and wind up here.) This was the official "coming out party" for the "TTs", and we performed a 15 minute, high energy, all singing-all dancing set. It was very well received! And I believe it will lead to further gigs.

I am by no means an expert marionette manipulator. My co-puppeteers, Mirna and Jonathan, they are really top-notch. I've learned a lot from working with them and watching them. I have discovered that many of the same principles involved in manipulating hand puppets translates to marionettes. But there are some major differences.

First and foremost is the puppeteer's relationship to the puppet. This almost goes without saying, but the implications are quite interesting in practice. With a hand puppet, you are almost always positioned below the puppet. With a marionette, you are always positioned above.

For a tall guy like me, marionettes are instantly easier to manipulate, if only because I don't have to keep my big, stupid head down. How many times has my big, stupid head bobbed up into frame or over the top edge of a screen? Too many to count.

Also, with hand puppets your hand is elevated for extended periods. The blood rushes from your fingertips, your arm gets strained ... it's painful after a while. With marionettes, you're holding them up. Yes, there is still a considerable amount of strain on your arms, but most of the muscular strain seems to center on the upper back, around the shoulders. And you can easily shift a marionette from hand to hand during performance, something you just can't do with a hand puppet.

I find it easier to keep an eye on my puppet and my performance with the marionette. I don't know why, but looking down is easier than looking up for me. Maybe it's because the looking up is oftentimes accompanied by contorting myself to fit under a piece of furniture. Hmm.

The principles of eye-focus and lip-sync are the same. The best bit of advice ever passed my way on eye-focus came from Disney's master puppeteer Jeff Conover who told me and a crew of new recruits to the House of Mouse to drop the downstage ear when looking to the side. This principle applies to marionettes, and is quite effective.

There are some things a hand puppet can do better than a marionette. The big thing is with a hand puppet you have instant control over what your puppet is doing. You don't have to work with (and against) gravity to manipulate the puppet. I can move an arm rod and know exactly where my puppet's hand is going. With the marionette, it's a more delicate operation. I don't know quite how to describe it ... it's like there's more physics involved in the action of moving the marionette's arm.

Although the marionette is far more mechanical than your run-of-the-mill hand puppet(i.e. more moving parts), marionettes have a sublime gracefulness. It's a beautiful artform, and I'm happy to have the opportunity to work in it.

14 March 2008

What the hell happened to Seth Godin?

From his recent blog entry, "The Needle in a Haystack Problem":
Google is amazing partly because it goes so far in helping with the haystack problem. Want a part for your 1957 drill press? You can find it on Google.

But Google doesn't help with finding experts when the problem is hard to define, or when interactivity is required. And just about any solution you can dream up has a friction problem: once the system is in place, it will get used too much, by too many questioners, and suddenly it won't be interesting enough for the masses to listen. For example, Craigslist suffers from a decreasing signal to noise ratio (it's a lot less fun to browse than it used to be).
As a matter of fact, Google does "help with finding experts when the problem is hard to define, or when interactivity is required." Pamela and I bought a used Saturn last year that turned out to be more of a "project car" than we have bargained for. It had something wrong with it, something hard to define. We googled the symptoms, and found http://www.saturnfans.com/. Saturn Fans has a forum devoted to interactive troubleshooting of mechanical problems. I've seen where people have even shot video of of their running car, uploaded it to YouTube, and solicited advice on how to fix that pinging noise, or whatever it was.

Google is not a panacea. It's merely a gateway. True, if no one has established a destination, you're pretty much SOL. My Mistubishi's transmission acted up last year as well, and I searched for a forum similar to the Saturn forum. Nonesuch exists.

But hey ... isn't that why Seth Godin started Squidoo? So that people could find and fill those niches? He references this at the beginning of his blog entry, for crying out loud!

You know what I think the problem is? We have grown to expect that the universe of knowledge is 1) one click away and 2) absolutely free of charge. We forget that we live in a world where individuals aggregate content provided by other individuals, and this body of information we call knowledge. When someone hasn't taken the time to aggregate that content for us, well then. It's time to post a bitchy blog about how unfair life (or Google) is, rather than seeking out example of where it's done right, and attempting to duplicate those successful actions to satisfy an overlooked need.

Then Seth drops this gem:
Let's say, for example, I was an executive recruiter. Surely, I would benefit from interrupting every person on the planet to advertise a great new job. But I couldn't do it every day or every hour...
I don't even know what to say. This statement flies in the face of everything I thought Seth stood for. An executive recruiter would benefit from blasting every person on the planet? Even my Grandmothers in Arkansas? My sister-in-law's toddler? The guy who sold me a cheeseburger yesterday?

Weak, Seth. Weak.
Her iz Pipr. Shez not teh Doodlebug. But shez pritee gud, anyway.

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

13 March 2008

And now for something completely different:
funny pictures
moar funny pictures
Check out more Doodlebug mania here.

11 March 2008

I've been hearing a growing amount of bellyaching over check cashing services. Today, Seth Godin says (in a blog about 'fear'):

  • Why do people struggling for an income end up using an expensive check cashing service when the bank right next door will let them have a checking account for free?
You want to know why, Seth? Because you can't put a lien on it, and you can't be turned down if you've written bad checks in the past.

Look, I think Seth Godin is the bee's knees, but this has to be the most ignorant thing he's ever written. His argument is essentially "what? Have they no bread? Why then, let them eat cake!"

When Pamela and I first moved out to L.A., we managed to overdraft funds from two bank accounts. A simple clerical error on our part resulted in a few overdraft fees. We've all been there, right? Add to that the expense of moving halfway across the country, the fact that only one of us had a job lined up in L.A., and the substantial increase in our cost of living (our rent in L.A. was almost twice what we paid in St. Louis.) We resolved the issue, but due to our altered financial position it took us two years to do so.

I'm not saying all this for any kind of pity, but just to show how easy it is to work yourself into a messed-up situation. Our situation was our situation. We took responsibility for it and fixed it. But were it not for the check cashing place around the corner from our apartment, things would have been much stickier.
I think in every case the answer is the same: Internal noise. [I got a few notes about check cashing services, by the way. In many cities, there are banks that have sensible policies for low income customers, and most jobs that use a payroll service like ADP offer direct deposit. The combination would save a large number of people a lot of time and money, and my point isn't that there are enough financial services available to the less fortunate (there aren't) but that if it weren't for a fear of banks, plenty more people would take advantage of the services that are available. $5 a week for check cashing might account for 30% of someone's disposal income, which is a sin.]
I call 'bullshit'. Those of us who have actually used check cashing services, and I would venture to say Seth has not, did not do so out of 'fear.' Many of us did so -- and continue to do so -- out of some neccesity.

And there is some benefit to this. Look, when you're living hand-to-mouth, and your resources are limited, living on a cash basis actually makes sense. You can't spend what you don't have, and you have to keep your priorities straight. "Checking account" plus "modest means" can easily equal bounced checks, and then you're not talking "$5 a week", you're talking overdraft fees in excess of $20 a pop. So god help you if the last item that clears was the one large purchase you made, and the ones that bounce are $5 here, $10 there. I think B of A's maximum number of overdraft items is 7. So in such a case we're talking at least $140 in fees.

(BTW, even banks charge to cash checks for non-customers, $5 last time I checked. This is a relatively new phenomenon, one no doubt fueled by the fact that people aren't idiots, and if a bank will cash the thing for free, why go to a check cashing place? Check cashing places offer other services, such as pre-paid debit cards, Western Union, and pay day loans. I don't recommend the latter, but if the bank won't approve a small loan due to credit issues, what choice do you have?)

What truly astonishes me about Seth's blog is that he is endorsing a brown cow, banks, instead of addressing an actual need, and proposing/seeking out a purple cow: a check cashing place that doesn't suck.

I can see how using the check cashing service becomes a routine, something that some people never break out of. I believe the answer is better education. Remember "home ec?" How about teaching kids how to budget and stick to that budget, and little by little improve a bad financial situation? Teach them how credit ratings and lines of credit function, and how to avoid financial pitfalls?
I'm not endorsing check cashing places. They do suck. They are far from ideal. But when you need them, they're a godsend. A piece of paper with a dollar amount on it is worthless if you can't convert it to cold hard cash.

10 March 2008

It's been a busy few weeks around the Moore house!
  • Pamela's burlesque career is building up steam. Four performances this month, and her Miss Exotic World entry video to be shot this week. This means costumes, people! I've never seen her sew so much. Our Singer sewing machine has seen more use in the past month than in the [deleted so as to hide our true ages] years since we bought it.
  • We've been building a theatre company! Theatre Unleashed by name, and populated with many wonderful and talented people we've gotten to know over the past few years. I'm President pro tem of the Board of Directors!
  • The children's marionette project I'm involved in is gearing up for a HUGE public performance. I really love working with marionettes, almost more than hand puppets. I'll have to blog about the differences (and similarities) some day soon.
  • I'm still taking film classes! I actually had to drop one of them, because it was interfering with the burlesque schedule. Thursday night is a good night for Burlesque.
  • I'm making my burlesque debut this week! Oh, don't worry. I'm not pulling on a banana hammock with one strategically placed tassel. I'm building and performing eight singing spermatozoa puppets, an accompanyment to Pamela's number at Bunnylingus this Thursday.
  • I'm trying to get a draft of Pin-Up Girls done. This is a play I've been working on for a couple of years, set backstage at a burlesque show in WWII-era San Francisco.
As busy as I've been, I have had time to grow a moustache:

Then Pam made me shave.