What a difference a year makes.

I went out for groceries and such today, and the whole time I was running errands, I simply wanted to be at home making puppets. Me, making puppets. I wouldn’t have been doing that a year ago. This time last year, The Muppets was in theatres and I was enjoying sharing it with friends and family.  I was reading about them online, finding out more about muppetcentral.com, toughpigs.com, muppetmindset.blogspot.ca and I didn’t even know that The MuppetCast existed yet. One year later and I have multiple puppets that I’ve made, I’ve helped others to bring their own puppets into the world, I’ve appeared on The MuppetCast and interviewed Steve Swanson for my own podcast. I’ve seen the Muppets perform live in New York and Montreal and I’ve seen a performance of Stuffed and Unstrung.  I’ve also visited The Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta and the PuppetsUp Festival in Almonte. Quite an adventure in one year. I wonder, what will this next year bring?

Adventures in Atlanta

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.

Fun Photo Shoot with Balloons!
The team… looking cool with the shades!

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…

School began.

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?

So, I will. Someday.

I’m going to go back there, someday.

Day of adventure in San Francisco

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.

Stay tuned.

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. www.puppetschool.com

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.