Well fans and friends, we’ve got some exciting news! This January the team from The Lovers, the Dreamers and You will be in attendance at The Beat DISH awards to “dish” with you!
Think of us as your Red Carpet Connection – we’ll be there to catch your thoughts during the party and as you walk off the stage clutching your award! We’ll be able to capture your well wishes to those who are nominated and to snap snippets of plugs for your upcoming productions!
We also want you to tell us what you loved about the past year of theatre, what you dream about for the future and how YOU hope to be connected to the whole creativity scene!
Our team will catch you in the action and piece together a night to remember for the 4th Annual DISH Awards, so make sure you clean up pretty, cause some of the questions may just be about your fashion sense!
Certainly there are lots of things that a person could be proud of in their day to day activities. Raking all the leaves, cleaning out their make-up supplies, helping a child with homework, giving back to the community – all sorts of things, right? Well, today I’m proud, cause I helped someone vanquish a Vampire! I did.
You see, my friend Donna is preparing for a show. A very important show in fact. Her first solo venture, ever. She performs at Aeolian Hall this Friday night and her path to this particular performance has not been the easiest… but it’s imminent and I’m certain it’s going to be great.
I’m certain. But she isn’t. She’s plagued with all the doubts that every performer, director, composer/lyricist, musician, artist, whatever…. has ever been plagued with their entire life. She’s 4 days away from what I’m sure is going to be a great night and she keeps hearing the Vampires in her head from every facet of her past existence and she can’t help listening to them. Who can blame her, really? This IS a big deal. Even though she’s already broken even on the event, (her second night in Hamilton is sold out already), even though she knows she’s got the greatest musician’s backing her, (she’s got her final rehearsal with them tonight), and even though she knows that everyone who has told her they are attending Friday are doing so out of devotion and love for her, – even with all that, she’s listening to those demons in her head that tell her she’s a fool to even try this. Well, thank the heavens she broke down and told me about that today, because that gave me the opportunity to help kill a few of her personal vampires. Stake’d em through their shrivelled little hearts, I did!!!
If you don’t know what a personal Vampire is… well, then you didn’t see our performance of [title of show] last September in Procunier Hall at The Palace Theatre. “Die Vampire, Die!” is one of my favourite songs from the show and I take personal pride in having had the opportunity to perform such an inspirational song. I include a youtube clip here of the original company – give it a listen – fair warning – you’ll laugh and you’ll learn and you’ll hear some strong language. But it’s important language. It’s not gratuitous.
Well, I told my friend Donna that those Vampire’s of hers needed to die and I started to explain why and how and what to her… and then I just let Susan Blackwell and the [tos] team take it home for her. It did the trick – at least temporarily. I know that Donna’s still going to be nervous, unsure and stressed – right up until the moment she takes the stage, but she knows she can do it and she knows the alternative is MUCH worse. And that’s to not do it, to not be creative, to stifle her voice and to listen to the Vampires.
So, I’m proud of killing Vampires. I’m proud of singing and spreading the message of Susan Blackwell and I’m proud of my friend Donna. I can’t wait to hear her sing on Friday. Join me, won’t you?
Here’s a link to an editorial about Donna and her concert. Check it out.
Have you ever felt blue, you know, a little anxious for no particular reason? A little sad, a little self-conscious or perhaps even really sad during those long dark times that take us from the beautiful colourful days of fall into the bright sparkling days of rebirth in spring? How do you combat that? What keeps you going?
Let’s face it, it can be difficult to get up in what seems like the dead of night to face whatever challenges your day may bring, but we’ve got to do it, right? We’ve got bills to pay and houses to clean and all manner of other commitments that make us get out of that comfy cozy spot where we’d much rather stay until April. So what keeps you going?
For me, it’s the promise of creative projects. This fall, I have less on my plate than normal, but that’s quite alright as the new year will bring several exciting shows my way and stocking up energy now is vital for all that I’ll need to keep organized.
Of course the podcast and blog will continue, but then there’s also a production of Sullivan & Gilbert with LCP at The Palace Theatre, a staged reading of Under Milk Wood again with LCP, two Original Kids Productions – one which will see me working with one of my favourite things (PUPPETS!) – that’s of course Avenue Q, the alumni show in June of next year and finally just today we received word that our submission to the London Fringe – [THEY FIGHT!] was accepted for this year! It’s going to be a busy six months for sure.
So, while I may be feeling a little non-specific sadness in these months as the days get darker, I know there’s some real creative buzz coming in the new year and that will certainly speed the time towards the longer sunnier days. And that’s my advice, find something exciting that will keep you going and make you want to get up, regardless of the light. Then, share it with others. They may benefit from your creativity as well.
So last week, I gave my students a new, quick, research assignment to find out about voice actors. It was simple and I hoped, fun. It turned out really great – and the best part was, we all enjoyed it and everyone learned something new, including me.
They were to work in pairs to find some basic information about performers who are famous for their voices. The list of names included, (but was not limited to) Nancy Cartwright (The Simpsons), Billy West (Futurama), Mel Blanc (Looney Tunes), John DiMaggio (Futurama), Dan Castellena (The Simpsons) and of course several Muppeteers, such as Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Kevin Clash, Caroll Spinney and Jerry Nelson.
Their presentations were simple and to the point and consisted of Name, Birth/Death (if applicable), where they live, career highlights, and major characters. Then they were asked to find two contrasting YouTube clips to share with the class. In some cases, I helped. In others, they had a myriad of examples. In all cases, the students were impressed with the variety and skill of these performers and their vocal abilities. It was a great week.
This week, we moved on to creating simple props. The Grade 9s were to create something with a basic shape – rectangle, square, round, cylinder – but to represent something realistic. Essentially a brick, stone or stepping stone. They went to town. I’ve now got on display some headstones, a paving stone, several versions of bricks, an oversized hunk of chocolate with a bite removed and a swiss roll. All made from cardboard, florist foam or styrofoam. Incredible.
The Grade 10s get their pick of props to make. It just has to be something that a character could use on stage in some manner. I’ve now got several weapons, including a couple of animation inspired swords, an overly large hammer – it’s hard to describe, it’s SO huge, Thor’s hammer, (complete with leather wrapped handle), Pooh’s Hunny Jar – complete with BumbleBees on it, a diary, a Marauder’s Map, a sorcerer’s collection of goodies, pumpkins made from dryer tubing and an amazing Mad Hatter’s Hat – so incredible and large that it won’t fit in the display case. Most of these creations were made with less than $5 and some with $0! That’s what I call creative prop making! These kids had a blast and were coming to class early to get to work on their creations. It was amazing to watch them work and collaborate and encourage one another. So thrilling.
A few weeks ago I traveled to Chicago to attend another Puppet School workshop. It was great to get to review what I’d learned in the summer and reinforce the good stuff I’d kept in my cranium and reprogram some of the errors I’d built in with flawed memory. I was also very pleased that my practicing had paid off. It was noticeable and I was proud of that.
It’s always good for teachers to be students again. In general, we like that. It is part of the reason we were drawn to teaching in the first place. We are people who like to continually grow and discover new things. But it’s also good for teachers to be students again because we can analyse our own learning and relate it to the students we have in front of us. This really only works though when the classes are based in things we have chosen to learn. If we’ve been sent, (volun-told I like to call it), to a particular session because someone else thought we’d benefit, it is often a sad disappointment – not always, but we definitely will get more out of a session we’ve chosen ourselves. And that makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s the same for our kids. They will do better and put in more effort when the class or subject area is something that piques their interest and when it isn’t, that teacher has to work all that much harder to get them engaged.
Well, there was little effort needed to engage me. I’d already traveled several hours, (and got lost in Detroit at 5 a.m.), in order to attend this workshop. I was already engaged. I merrily made my 4th puppet in 2 months and reviewed some techniques and refined some skills in that process. And during the manipulation class, I was rehearsing and practicing to keep my skills progressing and perfect what I’d started to develop over the summer. It was great. And, I made some new friends in the bargain.
So then, I pack up and get ready to fly home – just a little bit sad that I won’t get to work with Michael again for awhile, but extremely happy that I’d gone to the effort of attending this second workshop. I make it to the airport – whew! And discover that my flight is delayed. Ah well, not by much. As I’m sitting there a trio of ladies comes to sit near me. Grandma, Aunt and little girl.
I’m sitting and listening to my Muppet selections, surreptitiously practicing lip sync as I do, when I notice the little girl next to me is listening to Disney tunes. She’s adorable with her American Girl backpack and doll and her Strawberry Shortcake suitcase. So I say to her, “Disney, eh? I’m listening to Muppets.” And she replies, “I’ve got Muppets!” and to prove it she goes through her MP3 player and sure enough pulls up John Denver and the Muppets. She tells me it’s her favourite. So, I can’t resist. I say, “I’ve got something to show you…” and I pull out my new puppet – Rosie, and put her on so they can meet.
For the next twenty minutes or so, Rosie and Samantha talk and become friends. There is no one else in the room for Samantha and she doesn’t even seem to remember that I’m right beside her, talking and that she watched me put her on. There’s even whispers around me, and I’m sure, people pointing in the airport as we have our conversation – but I’m only focused on Samantha. At some point in our discussion, Grandma decides to “sneak” a photo of her granddaughter talking to this puppet. I am amused. I’m thinking, “Is this what it’s like for a Muppeteer? If so, I’ll take that.” And I’m thinking, why is she trying to sneak a photo? Why don’t we just pose? So I have Rosie suggest that to Grandma and we do. Rosie puts her arm around Samantha and Grandma takes the pic. It was great. We talked about movies and Muppets and music and American Girl and her vacation with Grandma, etc. etc. And when it was time to get on the plane, Samantha gave me a wave and I felt like I’d made some new friends. I didn’t get anyone else’s name though. Who cares? They were smiling and so was I and we barely noticed having to wait longer for the plane.
All that time, I was being a student and a teacher. I’m planning ahead to how I’ll use this experience with my kids at school and I’m learning as I watch Samantha react to my puppet. I’m thinking about how Samantha is at a cognitive level to have a conversation with a puppet, but completely willing to personify that puppet and ignore the manipulation that makes it come alive. I’m practicing my skills that I’ve been developing as a student and I’m wondering what my teacher would say to this whole event. It’s amazing how all of that can happen in the same instant. But it does. And it’s thrilling. So, I hope that all my teacher learning this year is that fulfilling and worthwhile.
This week I took my cat to the vet and while I was standing there waiting to pay the bill I was admiring the artwork on the wall. It’s a beautiful illustration or watercolour, and it captures my attention every time I’m there. While I was admiring this piece, that critical voice in my head started to reprimand me for not practicing my drawing last weekend or for several days before that. I started to think that I was quite the failure for letting “other things” get in the way of my creative work. Then I remembered… I didn’t draw anything last weekend because I was in Chicago making Puppets and practicing performing with them. Cut yourself a little slack, eh?
But this happens all the time, doesn’t it? Even though I try to live a life that is perpetually creative, I become more and more jealous of my time to create my work – be it theatre, art, sewing, drawing, music, podcasting – whatever the work, there’s always something mundane that’s going to get in the way. Bills, laundry, dishes, yardwork, workouts, ordinary dayjobs, illness, … whatever.
It’s easy to understand the workaholic when you are trying to be creative. There’s never enough time to do all the shows you want, or catch all the photos, or write all the plays… so what to do when that Critical Voice starts to get you down about all you’ve not accomplished?
I don’t really know, actually. At least, today I don’t. Because that voice did manage to get me a little down yesterday. On sensible days I have a plan, I have a schedule and I just keep plugging and keep creating. It’s like living Sisyphus’ life – the Greek King condemned to pushing a boulder up a hill to see it roll down again before it reaches the top. I’m constantly rolling my stone up the hill. It’s a “punishment” of my own devising, really, and most days I don’t view it as such, but there certainly is a sense of the never-ending to living creatively. The task will never be done.
How long do you let yourself celebrate after a creative task is complete, before you begin the next? Or does that ever really happen?
Creativity isn’t easy. It’s hard work and anyone who creates theatre, dance, music, or any form of art will tell you that good creative work takes time. It also takes money. Effort, time and money – that’s what good art needs. So what happens when one of these is missing?
When I decide to commit to a play, especially a big one, like say The Three Musketeers, or something of that scope, I know it’s going to take all three of these elements in order for the final product to be good – you know, something I’m willing to put my name on and share with the world. So, first of all, I know it’s going to take time and lots of it. For 3M, I started work a year in advance of the production. Now the beginning work was not as intense as the end, but still, in order to really be on top of everything, I knew I needed to start the thinking and planning. This amount of time, for me at least, really pays off. I like to know the subject area as well as I possibly can – even before the cast and some of the crew join the project, otherwise, how can I project the vision of the play to lead them to a product THEY will be proud of in the end? So, as much time as possible is what I like to have with a project.
Then I know I need a lot of support. Now support comes in many forms – in the shape of talented people who help to bring the project to life, but also in the form of dollars – and generally, more is better. But you don’t always have more. So you plan and you get creative. But as we all know, money can really help a production turn from a decent amateur show to something that looks worthy of much more than a $25 admission. Spending funds wisely, raising some extra, or finding those donations to help a project can make all the difference.
And then there’s that effort and skill. If you’ve got the expertise, then you can think creatively and save a few pennies or dollars, or precious minutes or hours in the process. If you’ve got the best people on your team and you trust them and empower them, you can save tons of funds and time. You may also get an even greater product because you gave them the chance to explore your initial idea and take it further. But if you are just starting out, and you are still learning the tools of the trade, you’d better have reserves of time and some extra pocket change.
So, what’s the point of this examination, you ask? Well, simply this – you don’t always get all three – Skill/Expertise, Time and Money. So, sometimes you have to choose because here’s what it boils down to… If you want your product to be good, then you need lots of time to get it there, OR you need lots and lots of money to buy a good product. Cause without the whole equation, your end product will likely suffer in one way or another. It’s a compromise. So on any project, you have to ask yourself, “Where am I willing to make that compromise? Is it with my time? Or is it with my money?”
So… it’s been 3 solid weeks since I left for my puppet making adventure in San Francisco and a lot has happened since then.
First, I had that adventure. Then I returned and immediately recorded a new podcast, which hopefully many of you are enjoying. We also had a fun photo shoot scheduled for our team, which was great – I’ll post a few shots here.
Second, Jerry Nelson passed away and that sideswiped the Muppetverse for a bit. Me included. All other thoughts and projects seemed to take a back seat. But he’d want us to continue to create, so we do… and then…
Wow. I think this feels like a potentially good year. We’ll see how it goes with the theatre projects and the masks and the puppets and the rehearsal, etc. etc. But as I’m here at the end of the first week, I’m feeling pretty positive about 2012-2013. And while I’m looking forward, I realize I still have one story to tell that is in the past, and that’s my trip home from San Francisco, via Atlanta – and the Center for Puppetry Arts.
You see, I had a layover on the way there and the way back. Both in Atlanta – which is a pretty impressive airport, let me tell you. It has a train, for heaven’s sake! It takes you from one gate to another. Wow. It is definitely planned with the comfort of the traveler in mind. But that’s not the point of my blog – just a compliment to the Atlanta Airport Design Team.
You see, on the way home, I paid extra for an 8 hour layover in Atlanta, just so I could get to the Center for Puppetry Arts. And BOY, was it worth it. If you’ve not been there, and you like puppets, even a little bit, then you NEED to get yourself there. Or at the very least, sign up for a webinar from their site – I’m going to do one in the next couple of weeks.
So, here’s what I did….
If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that on Monday I was up and exploring San Francisco as a tourist and went to the Academy of Sciences and bought pretty shoes and had Mexican dinner and then got on a plane – at 10 p.m., on the same day, tired but happy. By 6 a.m., (the next day), local time, I was in Atlanta, where I left the airport and took public transit into the centre of town. I had advice from a lovely lady at the turnstile as to how to buy a pass and I was on my way – luggage and all to find the Center.
Well, that took almost no time at all. Off the train, up one block, around the corner and… there it was as plain as day. And it’s now only 7:30 a.m. They don’t open until 9. So, I’m off in search of a coffee shop, which I found about a block away and I sat nursing my coffee and nibbling at a muffin and wondering how long I could survive on no sleep and tons of excitement. Finally, I trekked back to the Center – but I was still too early, so I had to wait outside for about 15 minutes until they opened. And when they did, I was it. The ONLY guest. And I mean ONLY! So, were they put out? Were they disappointed? Absolutely NOT! They were beyond generous. Beyond.
First, they offered to store my suitcase. Thrilling. Second, I was offered two kinds of tickets – either a normal admission to the exhibits for about $8 or a special passport for the day with events, etc. for about $10. I had to clarify – “You mean $8 plus $10?” I asked. No. They meant $8 OR $10. Ridiculous. I went for the whole hog and after selling me my ticket, I was told to meet with the guide at 10 o’clock beside Big Bird. (I ask you, who else gets to say things like that every day?)
So, there I was… alone in the Jim Henson exhibit for 1 hour. It was devine. Despite the sleep deprivation. I soaked it all in. I actually couldn’t really decide where to look first. But look I did, and at every little detail, without having to elbow or crane over anyone or navigate around people.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather they were a bustling, busy empire. But it felt so special to be alone with those creations for an hour. It really did.
When it came time for the adventure part of the day, I didn’t even know if they’d run the program with just little old me there… but that was a silly worry that was put to rest, right quickly by the adorable and generous staff. Most especially Aretta. Ladies and gentlemen, this is one special lady who loves her job. And I don’t blame her. It seems like a really great job. But she went above and beyond the call of duty. She showed me around like I was some impressive VIP who’d just given millions to the place. It was an incredible visit. I played for the day. We had shadow puppets. We told stories. They showed me African puppets and toured me through the collection and opened up a few doors that would have otherwise remained closed. It was just great.
By the end, I was just overwhelmed and couldn’t take it in anymore – and even though I didn’t want to leave, my head and heart were too full, and of course, there was a plane getting ready to take me back home. So, I departed. But, as Aretta kept saying, “when you come back…” well, now I have to, right?
The day after my wonderful time with The Puppet School, I was able to be a bit of a tourist. By myself, which might seem lonely, but it is one of my favourite ways to explore. Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling with others, but sometimes it’s nice to set out to see new things on your own. True, you can only share the memories with yourself afterwards, but sometimes that’s okay. Besides, I’m sharing it here with you, now.
So, on my day of adventure, I had to plan ahead. First, I had to check out of my hostel as I was flying out of San Francisco very late that night. That part was simple. They stored my bag and I was ready to head out. I had directions to the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate park – where I intended to see some animals, but I didn’t know how wonderful that was going to be.
I walked down to the bus stop – one of two recommended to me. And waited. And waited. For at least 45 minutes I waited. Several other buses came,but not the one I needed. Very frustrating. When one finally came, it was so full the driver would not let little old me on the bus. So, at this point, I walked the two blocks to a different location and waited for a different bus. Turns out, this was a fortunate choice. On the bus were two other groups not from San Francisco all checking their maps and going to the same location. Also, someone from San Francisco was going there as well. It wasn’t hard to find, but it is always reassuring to look for something with others.
When I stepped off the bus and walked into the park, I was struck, yet again by the scent of San Francisco. It is a very fragrant city. Every corner you turn there is another smell. The cool scent of being near the ocean, the scent of the sewer, marijuana scent – almost everywhere, and at the park a floral/sweet scent that I sowished I could identify. But could not. That is one thing I will remember about San Francisco – all the smells.
Then I walked – with some urgency to the Academy. You see, I wanted to see the Penguins being fed. And I was late – due to the bus thing. But as I made it to the doors, more lovely people directed me to where they were and I found them. The session was still going on – although the instructional part had concluded, but I was able to visit with them. It was marvellous. I don’t know why, but I love penguins. I think there must be something wrong with a person, if they didn’t like penguins. They don’t have to love them, like I do, but if they disliked penguins, I’d be suspicious. Anyway, I was so incredibly happy to see them and talk with the guide about them, (and probably really overtired), that I started to get weepy at the sight of them. It was strange, but lovely. I could have spent hours watching them – and in the end, I did. I also came home with several penguin related items. Strange, I know.
The rest of the day, for the most part, was spent exploring the Academy – which is an amazing place. I saw strawberry DNA separated, I saw all manner of animals – both on land and water and I visited their Planetarium. If my feet had not been killing me by 2 or so, I’d probably have managed to see more. I finished my time there back with the Penguins for their second feeding of the day. I was a little more composed this time, but in general I was just feeling extra special and privileged in my trip in general. I’d fulfilled a sort of dream, – working with and making my own puppet, a flawless trip, an easy time of things and though it was coming to close, I had to remind myself that there was another leg to my journey still to come.
After the Academy, I strolled through Golden Gate Park to make it to the Haight/Ashbury area. Fun. I was really fatigued and didn’t have much time, but did get a feel for the area a bit. And, best part of all, found a pair of lovely Miz Mooz shoes – on sale! More wonderful luck. And this time, when I went to catch the bus in came in about 5 minutes.
For the last few hours of my time in San Francisco, I had a real treat. My new friend, Seanna, (who I met in Montreal after watching the Muppets!), picked me up and took me for dinner to her favourite little Mexican restaurante, (Kerry – it was as good as Loco!) But not before she drove me around San Francisco to see it from different angles. It was great. Up to that point, I’d had a very narrow view of the city – just the core and the park and it was so neat to see and experience what it might be like to be a local person. The hills! Oh, the hills – and not just walking up them, but driving – a manual! up those steep, steep hills. We had a great dinner, a lovely visit and she got me to the airport in lots of time to check in for my flight. Again, such a very, very lucky girl.
Now, at this point it was almost 10 p.m. and I’d been up since 9. But, no rest for the wicked, cause the next leg of my adventure was to fly to Atlanta and during my 8 hour stop over, leave the airport and adventure to the Center for Puppetry Arts. So, I’d be exhausted – what else is new? I tell ya, if I felt lucky at this point, I had no idea what was in store for me in Atlanta.
Like many Muppet Fans, I have spent this day in reflection.
This day marked the morning where we heard the news of Jerry Nelson’s passing.
We knew this day was coming, as his health had been in decline, but as Muppet Fans, we enjoy a sense of fantasy, whimsy and denial of things “sensible”, so, I think, many of us decided that this day was still a long way off. Or we hoped it was.
Waking up this morning was tough. I mean waking up. I didn’t have foreknowledge of any sort. I hadn’t stayed up late and heard the news, I just have allergies and I’m tired. When I went to my computer and saw the Muppet Central update, well, tears sprang to my eyes. Literally. And yes, teacher friends, I mean literally, the tears sprang there and quietly and consistently ran down my cheeks. This has repeated itself on and off throughout this day.
It’s not the same as when Jim died. Then, I was in denial and anger. (In a way, I still am in denial and anger…but… ). Today was profound grief. Today is the loss of a great, gentle and supportive talent who was suffering and didn’t deserve to do so. Jerry was ill. And now, he’s not. I’m happy about that, but I’m sad for the cure to his illness.
I’m sad for his close friends and family. I’m sad for the Sesame Street Gang and the Muppeteers who will feel this loss so keenly. If I am feeling this loss, I can only imagine their woe at this time.
I’m happy for his fans. His many, many legions of fans, who don’t even know they are his fans. These people still have hours and hours and hours of recordings to enjoy. At least he was able to continue to work to a decent time in his life. I wish he could have continued longer.
I spent most of this day traveling and working, so my connection to the discussions and sharing of memories were via smart phones and wifi, (thank heaven we have these things now, for immediate commiserations). Only now have I had some time to put my thoughts into words. And this is a good thing, as this morning, I had none. Just dumbstruck silence at the loss.
I will revel in the sharing and the celebration. I will remember and rejoice that we were so lucky to share his genius. I will research, repost and reblog to keep his memory alive. This won’t be difficult as he left us so much to enjoy. I will continue to follow and create and share joy, because it seems that’s what Jerry did best.
I am humbled to have been entertained by this wonderful person. I am profoundly sad that he has gone on to another adventure. I am extremely grateful that he left us some of his magic. I am inspired.
As one tweet said today….(@ToasterBoy – Grant Baciocco)…
“Listen, Jerry Nelson’s gone. We all gotta ramp up the nice about 110% to make up for the deficit.”