The Puppet School, Michael Earl, San Francisco and new Friends

I have had an incredible adventure.

I went to San Francisco and made a puppet. And then I worked with that puppet, (and others) to learn some wonderful manipulation techniques. And I had fun. And I learned loads! And I felt like a kid again – a kid who got to go to summer camp. Finally.

Last weekend I attended The Puppet School weekend intensive.

On Saturday we made a puppet. 8 hours of work, following a pattern and expert instruction and I had a puppet. She’s beautiful. You’ll meet her later. 8 hours of dreaming and scheming and gluing and stitching, (Henson stitching no less!), and the participants all had their own unique and fantastic creation. We all followed the same pattern with the same instructions, but our choices of colour and texture and eyes and hair made them so different and wonderful. I think there’s a special message in that. I’d have been happy to take any one of them home. Our instructor, multi-Emmy winner and former Mr. Snuffleupagus , Michael Earl, was there to guide us through each step. He has great suggestions, but quietly lets each individual choose the direction of their puppet. A great teacher. He was assisted by San Francisco native Andrew Montesano who would help when thread was snagged, or feathers were flying – whatever. At one point Andrew circled near me to ask how I was doing, and without thinking I replied: “I couldn’t be happier than I am right now.”

The next day was Film and Television Puppetry. Again, a full 8 hours of work with our new puppets, (and others there for us to try – thanks again Andrew!!!). Puppet choreography, improv, character, stillness, and of course, working with the fact that the camera flips your image and messes with your brain. Such challenging work – but SO much fun. I, quite honestly, have not felt challenged as a performer in some time. The work I’ve been given to do lately has been fairly straight-forward and hasn’t required me to really exercise any mental, (or physical) muscles. This did all that and more. I felt mentally, physically and emotionally challenged. People say this all the time, but: life changing.

All the participants in the two days were wonderful people. There was Katie, who had made a puppet before and she agonized over her decisions and her work – but seriously, made the most wonderful yellow “Packer-backer” puppet. He was delightful. Her friend, Karen – who she’d pressured to attend, (but is now addicted), made an amazing dark purple, 3 eyed monster. Joan – who’d made many puppets before and brought them with her had a great time learning how to bring character to her creations. Dr. Julielynn Wong, who’d like to use puppets to promote healthy living choices in patients, was a super fast learner, (clearly worthy of the “Dr.” title in that respect), and my new friend Shari who made a wonderful French monster complete with beret and beads in his fur. As of this typing, she’s already started 2 more puppets – I’m behind! There were two other wonderful artists who made puppets with us on the first day, but sadly, could not attend the second day. A small group, but the perfect size for everyone to get a turn to try things and keep progressing. The amount we all improved during this day was phenomenal! (do-doo-do-do-do!) And that day, I again felt like I couldn’t be any happier. By the end of it, I didn’t want to say goodbye and in all seriousness, I told Michael and Andrew that I could be a student of this for 6 weeks straight! No breaks necessary. My heart was SO full.

On my last day in San Francisco, I got to be a tourist – I’ll go into detail with that on another post because that was also amazing, but at the end of the day, a Muppet friend, Seanna – who I met in Montreal at The Just for Laughs Festival, picked me up, drove me around the city to show me some views, took me to her favourite Mexican restaurant and then dropped me off at the airport. How kind and wonderful is that? It was the perfect way to end my visit to the city and my adventures, (at least in San Francisco), with puppets. You see, my flight had a stopover. One that I’d decided to extend. Because my layover city was Atlanta – the home of The Center for Puppetry Arts – a location that I was determined to visit!

More on that later. Stay tuned.


Relaxation & Inspiration…

Taking time away from the hustle and bustle can really help you to re-fire your creative juices. It can also lead to wiping away all concerns and in the process, your creativity.

We’ve spent the past few days up at the family cottage. It’s a wonderful site and we haven’t been here in three years, so we were really looking forward to a good cottage getaway. Mother nature has decided to take this time to end the drought summer we’d been experiencing, but that is not central to my story.

We come to the cottage to unwind. To forget any worries – they will still be there when we get home, and to refuel the body, mind and soul. This time around, the relaxation has really worked. It has worked so well that I am having a difficult time even remembering some of the creative projects I’ve got on the go, let alone thinking about new ones.

I’ve brought my drawing tools and I have used them. Gotta give myself some credit there. Not quite daily, but almost. But sun, (when we’ve seen it), wind and the lullaby of the lake has nearly drowned away all other thoughts.

One event that did spark some creative juices was the Puppets Up! Festival in Almonte. This is the first time I’ve ever attended this event and thank the heavens the weather agreed with our decision to drive the distance. It was a lovely day. Filled with puppets, music, nature and art. Wonderful vendors had their creations on display, many which tempted me to open my wallet, and the puppet shows were fun and informative. I went to gather tales to tell my students for the fall. I went to see what could be done with different puppets and spaces and audiences. I saw a lot of wonderful work. One artist in particular was most impressive. His new piece Adrift was beautiful, thought provoking and definitely inspirational. If this was a ‘work in progress’, (as we were told), I would love to see the final piece. His name is Zach Fraser and he’s studying to obtain a Masters in Contemporary Puppetry in Quebec. Based on the work I saw this weekend, he is one artist to watch.

So, relaxed and somewhat inspired… I’ll head back to reality and the very fast approach of fall with some new ideas, and at the very least, be a little more rested.

Muppet Central Radio Game

Here’s a little game I play, with myself… (don’t be dirty)

I like to put on the Muppet Central Radio channel when I’m working on some chores. You know, the dishes, laundry, whatever. Something that would be great fun on Sesame Street, but at home, by yourself, it’s mundane and depressing. Then I play a little game.

First, I have to be a distance from the computer or my phone – which is easy, cause I’m busy doing some chore. But as each song comes on, without looking, I run through as many details of the tune as I can possibly think of whilst listening. Now sometimes this is easy. For example when the Oscar winning Man or Muppet is played, I can remember who wrote it, for what purpose, who sang it (character and performer), and of course the scene plays in my mind. And I sing along at the top of my lungs.

Sometimes it’s not so easy. For example, I may hear what is unmistakably Jim Henson’s voice, but at first listen it may be difficult to tell if the character is Kermit or Ernie – he’s not given away a tell tale character giggle yet or said “Hi Ho!” So, without looking, I try to decipher the setting, the character and everything I can from simply listening. It’s also fun when a “What-not” song comes along, to determine which character is Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt or Louise Gold, etc. Or, when it is clearly an Ernie and Bert segment – is it Jim & Frank or Steve & Eric, etc. Again, often easy, but still enjoyable.

This evening a segment from an early Veterinarian’s Hospital came on, and without Piggy actually before my eyes to distract me with her beauty, it was so easy to tell that the voice was Richard Hunt. This is, of course, how I knew it was an early episode.

I do frequently check to see how close I am in my guesses and what info might be there on the station, but if I’m stumped, then there’s always the good ol’ reliable Muppet Wiki to help me along. If you’ve never explored the Muppet Wiki – you are in for a treat!

It’s a simple and fun trivia-esque game that would be hard to play with another person – unless they were in the room with you, as their load rates could be different and they might be one song ahead or behind you – should you ever try to play this with someone while chatting or skypeing. Just a thought.

But of course, no one out there is quite as nerdy as I. Are they?

Let me know if you are.

Montreal was Muppety!

This is the tale of my second Muppety adventure of this year. My first was to see Jim Henson’s Musical World at Carnegie Hall in the spring where I was thrilled to attend and SO moved by the performances. This second adventure was also a real treat and I’m happy to say that it isn’t the last Muppety adventure I will have this year.

On July 26, 2012 my husband and I were in Montreal. We were staying in the cheapest hotel I could find, and that happened to be a 2 minute walk to the Just for Laughs Festival area! It was a lovely day, overcast, but mild, and we went for a stroll to explore our surroundings. (And to purchase tickets to the Star Wars Exhibit at the Science Centre – but that’s a different adventure).

The Just for Laughs area was a market of booths for interesting food, jewellery and even a spa tent! We sat on a patio and sipped Rose wine and watched the world go by. Later we had some dinner at a fabulous Brasserie across the street from our hotel and walked back down to the theatre.

There were two shows at 7 and 10 pm and I had purchased tickets to both. I didn’t want to miss a thing. The performance was recorded for television and will be broadcast in the fall, so I’m not going to go into detail on the show, except to say that it was perfect. I was worried that there would be too much of the guest comedians and not enough muppets – but those fears were quickly put to rest.

Before the 2nd performance my husband and I sat in the lobby to sip some more Rose wine and met some new friends. Kendal, Jordan and Bosko. I feel it was fate that we met. Jordan is an aspiring puppeteer and Kendal was filming and photographing their entire adventure. Lucky them, they’d seen rehearsal of the performance earlier in the day and Jordan had some Muppeteer signatures already. He graciously allowed me to snap a picture of his treasures.

The second performance was every bit as good as the first with some extra flub ups that made the show even funnier, plus our seats were much closer than the first show, so the angle of the performance was a very cool change.

I did manage to snap a couple of shots – trying not to ruin any performance, but just get their company bow at the end and the stage before the show began.

After the performance we made our way to the stage door where we met other enthusiastic muppet fans. There was a lovely couple there and the young man – Liam – proposed to his girlfriend – Sarit and she accepted. Of course we sang “Somebodies Getting Married” to them and continued to celebrate and trade stories while we waited for Muppeteers. The only one I met (if you could say chatting in a crowd was like meeting) was Bill Barretta.

He’d popped out to have a smoke and make a phone call and I pointed him out to the small group of fans, so we went to speak with him. He was gracious and funny and very kind to this crowd (there were about 9 of us – small crowd really). And when we told him of the engagement he went over to congratulate the groom and flirt with the bride – as Pepe, the King Prawn would do.

The lucky bride and groom also got to go back stage and meet a few muppets – Miss Piggy liked Sarit’s ring and posed for a photo with them. It will be their engagement announcement. I can’t wait to see that!

Around 1:15 am, with my husband starting to show signs of weariness, I decided we’d give up waiting. Clearly, I should not have done so, as my new Muppet friends have photos of themselves on Facebook with Muppeteers. So, IF I’d hung on, I might have met one or two – but ah well.

And my new friends, Kendal, Jordan and Bosko….  they’d already been backstage and met the rest of the Muppeteers! AGH!!!

I hope to meet up with these three at my next puppet adventure this summer – The Puppets Up Festival in Almonte, Ontario. I will try to get as many stories from them as possible.

I am very glad I went. I am super glad of the people I met and the creativity and inspiration I witnessed. I am now looking forward to my next adventures! Stay tuned!

Here in Montreal…

So, late last night we arrived at our hotel – which was tricky to find, because even though it is in the heart of the city and on the hotel strip it looks like an older apartment building and feels like one step up from a hostel. It’s not bad, but it’s… affordable.

However, kitty corner to the hotel is a wonderful Brasserie where we had a very late dinner. The food was wonderful – simple but oh so good, and the beers were incredible. And all brewed in house. Very nice service too. Made super suggestions for us to try. Really great.

While standing outside the hotel and waiting for the husband to retrieve something from the car, my Muppetsense began to tingle. I could hear the melody of The Whistling Caruso in the air. I wanted to run in that direction, but I was sensible and stayed. Had I run, I would have discovered an outdoor screening of The Muppets in downtown Montreal. While I was hungry and tired, (and thirsty), a part of me wished I had run. Ah well.

On to new adventures today. We are going to source out some Starbucks and make our way to the Montreal Science Centre to see if we can score tickets for their Star Wars Exhibition. Muppetsense will we on the alert today.

The Muppets in Montreal!

Tomorrow, (or much later today), I travel to Montreal. Now, this is a lovely thing to do at any time of the year and for any reason, but this time I am going to see The Muppets perform live-for the second time this year. If someone had told me a year ago that I’d be doing this now, I’m not sure I’d have believed them. Not the part about me traveling to see them, that is certainly plausible. But more the fact that the opportunity exists for me to see them in person.

I am wondering what they will do. I am wondering who will be there and I’m wondering how I will react. I know I was overwhelmed at the last performance. It was truly profound and I am hoping for something similar this time. It is fairly safe to say that, if Kermit appears and tells a joke or sings, I will be overcome. But I am very interested to see what this Just For Laughs performance will be like. Much different from the celebration of Jim Henson that occurred in Carnegie Hall, I’m sure. For one, they have not recommended the show for anyone younger than 16, I believe. These are comics after all, so it probably won’t be a lot of Sesame Street Skits. Which wouldn’t be right anyway, as they are owned by a different company. Regardless, it is sure to be a special experience. Certainly cost more than Carnegie Hall. But I’ll bet it will be worth it. Besides, a short holiday in Montreal is never a bad thing.

Wish me luck on this new adventure. I’ll tell you all about it as it happens.

Why am I here? Why are you here?

Life’s like a movie, write your own ending. Keep believing, keep pretending…..

I lead a pretty creative life. I regularly make things that have music, drama or dance involved in them. I teach the arts. I am surrounded by creative folks all the time. And I’m privileged to work with them. But I felt Ike something was somehow missing. I felt I needed a forum for my own creative impulses to take shape and a place where I could explore the creative impulses of my own work and my colleagues. I’ve been creating and staging work that others have written and I felt it was time to write something of my own.

I’ve been thinking about creativity, inspiration and leadership and wondering where that all comes from and how you can cultivate creativity and inspiration. This year I was reminded of one of my greatest sources of inspiration and I began to explore his philosophy of creativity and leadership. Mr. Jim Henson.

This is the source of my inspiration for this podcast and website. I want to explore creativity and the different ways that people are inspired to fulfill their dreams. I hope to to uncover some interesting stories and philosophies during the life of this blog, website and podcast. I hope that you will join me on this exploration and participate in the discussion.