Days 11 – 15 1/2: Rehearsal!

Now, I don’t have any photos of rehearsals that you haven’t seen, but I will share some fun things we did in rehearsal for the Czech Children’s Performance:

1) We sang a children’s folk song! Many of my lines were even taken from this folk song.

2) We rehearsed over and over again.

3) We got to be fairies!

4) We spent the morning before the performance doing these great warm-ups! They included a game called Samurai, which is hard to explain but like the theatre game Zip Zap Zop, only better.

5) We did physical warm ups!

6) We practiced puppet manipulation, which we did also at the beginning of the workshop. I just don’t have as many photos because then, my hands were full with puppets.

7) We partnered up and gave each other full body massages! I know that sounds weird, but it was awesome. Don’t worry, Macaulay Faculty and Friends, we were fully clothed!

We also worked with my friend Tomas, who was the director. These are the only photos I have of him, which was taken later on:

Tom & Frida!

Tom & Frida!

Tom & Frida At Night!

Tom & Frida At Night!

Overall, it was a lot of fun, and I realized how hard performing with a marionette can be. But, I really enjoyed myself. The video of the performance is too long for me to post online, but I may be able to take a few samples and post those later on!

Day 15: Zla Vila

On the final full day of the puppet workshop, we got together to perform Zla Villa, the 15-minute play.

Rehearsing Zla Villa

Rehearsing Zla Villa

The story is this: The faeries are all dancing about until a crocodile/alligator wants to join, and she’s a terrible dancer. Queen Titania kicks the alligator out of the garden, and the alligator, announcing, “I AM A BAD FAIRY! MWAHAHAHA!” runs off. Then, an innocent fairy (Maria’s puppet) is sitting by the water. My puppet, playing a Water Faun, warns her not to sit by the river, until the alligators shows up and turns her into wood. I play the fairy voice of this stump, and I convince an unsuspecting Casanova Frog Zabak to kiss me to turn me back into a fairy. Then, the alligator comes, they battle it out, the stump of woods is kissed, and happiness returns to the land of fairys. (With one less alligator, who perhaps moved to Florida.)

Did I mention that the story is entirely in Czech? It wasn’t too hard for me, but it wasn’t the easiest for everyone.

Despite the fact that it’s a 10 to 15-minute play for kids, we spent three days rehearsing, doing movement exercises, and even partner-based massage (with clothes on).

Here are some photos of the posters we designed for the show:

Zla Villa Poster 2 by Sue

Zla Villa Poster 2 by Sue

We made posters for the show, as you can see here.

Zla Villa Poster by Tomas, Nico, and Maria

Zla Villa Poster by Tomas, Nico, and Maria

My puppet made it in the posters above, and below, if you can find him.

Poster by Maria and Myself

Poster by Maria and Myself

It was a bittersweet final day, but after performing it was definitely exhausting!

 

Day 9 & 10: Painting! & Costuming!

What Happened to The Other Days?

No worries! Days 7 & 8 were particularly exciting, so I’m going to do those posts in a moment. BUT I wanted to share with you the finishing of the puppets.

On the two days of painting we had, Anna, who is the daughter of Vacek Sr. and the sister of Vacek Jr., AND the woman who helped with costuming was Vacek. Sr.’s wife! The whole family helped us make puppets! (That’s not entirely true, I have to admit: there are two sisters we did not meet.) Unfortunately, I do not have photos of those two, as that was when I was at my absolute busiest.  You see, I was carving during part of the painting, and painting during costuming – not because I was behind, but because the head was a fairly complicated piece to finish carving and painting.

Fitting the Puppet For Shorts

 

What Size Do You Wear, Sir?

These two days were definitely the most hectic for me. I couldn’t believe, though, how fast the process of physical creating the puppet went. I spent approximately 28 hours carving him, and then boom! He was so much more real with the costume and paint – really, it felt like pre- and post-painting you could end up with two entirely different puppets.

Here is my friend Kazumi’s puppet, post-painting (not the best photo ever, I know):

 

Kazumi’s Puppet

 

 

Day 8: Hradec Kralove, DIVADLO DRAK, and N.I.E. Theatre

On Day 8, we got up at around 6 AM to go to a town called Hradec Kralove, where there was an “open air” theatre festival. Open air means “outside.”

Naive Theatre & Budulinek

We saw a performance by Naive Theatre, a famous Czech puppet company that performed a children’s show called Budulinek. It’s about a boy who gets kidnapped by a fox – overall, a play about listening to grandparents and not opening the door to strangers. While this production was beautifully rendered and a lot of fun (it included an electric violin and drums, the idea being that the granparents play insturments) it also included electrocuting the fox for it to “become a good, kind fox.” That, I found all kinds of disturbing.

DIVADLO DRAK 

We also went to  Divadlo Drak, a very famous theatre that does amazing and beautiful marionette work. We were given a tour of their space, and museum by Marek Zákostelecký, the director of design at Drak.

Marek Zákostelecký, Director of Design at DIVADLO DRAK

(Though, unfortunately, we learned he is losing his job – despite the fact that the museum initiative I mention below was his idea, he is being replaced by a revolving door of freelance professionals.)

Drak Marionettes

Drak Marionettes

They’re really very famous for their marionettes and their performances, and I found out that Mirek, the man who is teaching us, grew up in Hradec Kralove. I could see how, as a child, this town and this theatre could really create a love for puppetry.

Even though I spent so many weeks in the workshop, and so much time around puppets, seeing the marionettes here really expanded my mind about what a marionette can look like, what kind of plays it can be used for, and how intense and even dark they can be. (Though the one below isn’t dark, haha.)

Frog Marionette

Frog Marionette

These two photos, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are my favorite marionettes from Drak’s museum, THE LABYRINTH.

A Midsummer Night's Dream Marionettes

A Midsummer Night’s Dream Marionettes

Puck from Midsummer

Puck from Midsummer

The Children’s Puppet Museum

Drak has this amazing initiative – the city, Hradec Kralove, paid for the theatre to get a new building, and a part of this new building is a museum – kind of like a Children’s Museum – with tons of interactive exhibits for kids. Children are able to learn how a show is put together, the way a set is arranged, what a set designer, costumer designer, and actor do, among many other theatre professions. I was almost envious of this! I didn’t know any of this as a child, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying a lot of those professions weren’t things I learned until I was already into the theatre.

One thing I have come to really appreciate about the Czech Republic’s tradition of puppetry is the genuine love, respect, and desire to spread the knowledge that exists here. I have felt so inspired and encouraged to explore puppetry work — it isn’t an oppressive history, one that is dusty and weighs down a theatre practitioner (like it might when a playwright imagines being the next Shakespeare). Instead, it’s a history that is used, practiced, and it is for the people. I really admire the approach to theatre that seems to exist here – less about credentials or history, and more about creation.

NIE Theatre’s The Museum of Memories

NIE Theatre is an international theatre  – in fact, the name stands for New International Theatre. The performance we saw, called Museum of Memories, is a space-specific performance in both English and Czech about a boy who killed himself, and his relationship with his brother. NIE’s show features Norwegian director, Kjell Moberg, and the cast of Guri Glans, Iva Moberg, Kieran Edwards, Dagfinn Tutturen/Tomáš Měcháček, Helder Deploige.

This production was really unusual. The set up was tennis court style, so the audience sat on both sides. There was a man with a harmonica and guitar who provided any music needed, as well as background/mood music. The walls of the space were a series of metal filing cabinets featuring mementos from people who have passed on, and they were about 6 or 7 feet high, with the ceiling of the space serving as the actual ceiling.

The brothers, Marcus (who commits suicide), and his older brother, are played by a Czech and British actor, with the other actors speaking sometimes in Czech and sometimes in English. It was a largely English performance, but I found this concept beautiful and interesting.

The performance featured a great use of imagination – being that there was basically no set – wonderful acting, especially on the part of Kieran Edwards, and it really blew me away. That performance was the highlight of my day.

Day 7: The Man of Phillipe Genty

(Note: I’m having some trouble, again, embedding videos; so I’m going to work on that, but you’ll have to excuse the two links below. I’m not sure why they aren’t naturally embedding like the first video. Sorry!)

Cie. Phillipe Genty is a theatre company, from France, that focused originally on puppet work. Phillipe is still alive, at the time of this writing, as well. Now, we had the option, during my puppet workshop, to spend 1 to 6 pm with Simon Rann, a man whose nickname is “The Man of Phillipe Genty.”

The workshop was originally marketed to our group because my Puppets In Prague teachers were paying for half of it, and it involved puppetry. In actuality, only part of the workshop involved puppetry, but I enjoyed all of it. As one of the few – and perhaps the most directly involved – theatre artist in the room, the joy of doing physical acting exercises is one that I relish.

[Note: I have a great photo of Simon and me, but I can’t find it, so I’ll add that here when I do have it.]

The Beginning of the Workshop

It involved a physical warm-up of sound-making and ritualistic movement that I can’t honestly do justice to in writing, then the Cups game, and these games that are hard to describe, where we had to cross the room and point in all four directions, or an exercise where we had to move our head counter to the movement of our arms and legs, and another exercise where we moved our limbs opposite of the natural walking movement.  Cie. Phillipe Genty is all about using movement, acting, and puppetry in an interesting way. I thought these exercises were difficult, and helped to build a rapport when many in the room spoke different languages.

The Puppets

Simon Rann was a wonderful person to work with – he was calm, guided people gently but firmly, and kind of reminded me of an Australian version of my dad.

We used a Bunraku style puppet called Albert, who you can see with Simon, below. (I apologize that the audio quality is so poor – we were in DAMU, and they have really high ceilings.)

Moving a Bunraku puppet is challenging because it takes three people to move one, sort of like this:

– 1 person moves the legs

– 1 person moves the left arm and head

– 1 person moves the right arm and body.

My Puppet Workshop Friend Manipulating Albert

We were practicing by having the puppet get up, walk around, and then stop on a cliff, then turn, and walk around. We also tried an exercise where he was supposed to recognize one of the puppeteers.

I found this workshop challenging, inspiring, and perhaps thought-changing. Certainly it was one of those moments where I felt at home, inspired, and in love with the work we were doing.

A secret — I tried to figure out a way to go to France for two weeks to study with Simon in a workshop, but due to my current theatre projects, it wasn’t possible. BUT I will definitely find a way, somehow, to study with him in the future. This was an amazing experience. I can’t fully put it into words right now, but it is why and how I love theatre.

Day 2: Project Runway for Puppets

Day 2! New Challenges: It’s like Project Runway for Puppets! 

Today, we did technical drawings of our puppets. This means that, on a sheet of paper, we draw a life-size/real-size rendering of the puppet. The head, on paper, will be how it is carved. The eyes. The distance between the top of the mouth and the chin. We also draw in the kinds of joints we will use, and a front and side view of both the body, and the hands (or one hand, at least). Everything is done by measuring to exact centimeter and millimeter-based detail.

Because of this, most of the drawing is best done standing up, and while it’s effective, it causes intense physical exhaustion.

No, It Can’t Have A Volcano Made of Hair and Long, Sideways Horns And A Disco Ball For a Head

Volcano Head from Power Rangers

Then, there are things to consider. My character, as you may be able to see in an image below, has horns. Those horns can be an issue because if they’re too wide, the head becomes heavy, leading to all sorts of complicated problems. The horns can also catch the strings that move the legs, thus leaving the character to do a suspended moonwalk 90% of the time.

Originally, my horns were wider, and I was going to design the puppet on a string-base instead of a wire. I find that we cover about five or six ways of doing one thing – there are, for example, three main ways to create a neck. And whether or not the puppet is ‘on a wire’ (like the traditional marionettes with a rod coming out of their head) can change how it moves. If the puppet is head-heavy, then it being on a string creates lots of potential problems. BUT Mirek is very helpful in his suggestions. During the process, I was constantly reminded of Project Runway – when Tim Gunn says, “Make it work!” We have to work with the challenges and obstacles presented to make the best, most well-crafted puppet for our needs and the puppet in its design.

Tim Gunn, not Mirek, but in my head, they’re one and the same sometimes.

From there, we trace over and copy the head, body, and leg shapes onto paper that we cut out, so that the shapes are like weird little Halloween decorations. These are then used to carve blocks of wood into the right general cuts, which we then carve into PEOPLE/PUPPETS!

My First Puppet Show In Prague

This looks nothing like what I saw tonight!

Today in class we went to see a performance by students studying at a summer theatre program at DAMU. It was a lot of fun – their puppets were very different from ours, not marionettes, but puppets with legs and cloth bodies. I took some photos of them, as well – don’t worry, my aghast theatre friends, it was allowed! Apparently DAMU, the drama school of Prague, offers summer intensive courses (that cost money) and this was like their final.

It was a half-hour adaptation of “uh, shall I call it, The Famous Scottish Play,” which amused me and I appreciated so much. I love a good theatre superstition. The only downside to calling Macbeth, that is that many people in our group are foreigners, and I don’t think that everyone realized which play the professor meant – I learned this after talking with one of my friends/workshop-mates, who didn’t realize it was supposed to be Macbeth.

One cool thing was one classmate, named Fairouze, designed costumes for the puppets. I met her today and she will formally join the class tomorrow, so that’ll be neat.

 Pictures! And Upcoming Adventures!

A puppet in one of Mirek’s other workshops!

I don’t have photos of carving yet – that is what we are doing tomorrow. And I don’t have my technical drawing pictures uploaded yet, but will soon.

In the mean time, here are some pictures of the workshop, and some drawings, and my classmates!

Puppets made by Mirek, for sale!

Puppets made by Mirek, for sale!

An odd puppet carved by Mirek
An odd puppet carved by Mirek

A close-up of my sketch

A close-up of my sketch

The workshop cat!

The workshop cat!

Everyone working diligently!

Everyone working diligently!

My artistic sketch of my puppet

My artistic sketch of my puppet

IMG_2498

Marionette joints, arms, and legs!

Marionette joints, arms, and legs!

Photo 2 of Workshop - See all the puppets?

Photo 2 of Workshop – See all the puppets?

Photo 3 of Workshop

Photo 3 of Workshop

Photo 4 of Workshop

Photo 4 of Workshop

These are some buildings near where I am staying.

These are some buildings near where I am staying.

Puppets made by Mirek, for sale!

Puppets made by Mirek, for sale!

 

For those interested in the structure of my course, I have class from 9 am to 6 pm, with a break at 1 or 2 for lunch. There is a lecture, sometimes a visiting speaker, and then in the afternoon we work.

Tomorrow evening we are going to see a movement and physical based theatre performance by the Novy Cirkus, or the New Circus company, which combines puppetry in a more modern way, along with movement. I’m very interested in it. It reminds me a bit of “extreme action choreography,” and I found out that the main character in the show is performed by an actor who is in a wheelchair. As someone who thinks our lives should be reflected on stage, I wish that all sorts of people were in shows more – not because it is odd or to fetishize them, but because I don’t think there is enough support, and roles, and industry discussion, on including those with handicaps/challenges/human bodies of many kinds. The show is called RISK. 

Tomorrow we are also supposed to go visit a woman, whose name escapes me, who is very famous for having a gigantic puppet collection. This will be very exciting!

Check back in the next few days for more photos!

 

My First Morning: Day 1

I woke up at 3:40 am, Prague time, unable to sleep any more. I decided to hunt for potential Internet access and was able to Skype with my family, back home.

I arrived at the hostel yesterday evening after stopping to visit my aunt and uncle. Though some might wonder why I decided to stay in a hostel when I could easily stay with my aunt, there is more space at a hostel and I wanted the experience of rooming with others in the workshop and people I didn’t know.

What am I doing in Prague?

I am taking part in a “professional development” program where I am learning to build marionettes, part of Puppets In Prague. I applied and am one of eleven students. Though it might seem like a vacation of sorts, I am in classes from 9 – 6 every day.

The workshop is taught in English, and there are no set requirements to do it – other than having your application accepted – so the other people aren’t necessarily college students.

——

My biggest surprise so far? Realizing that I don’t have weekends off until the workshop is over! We do get two days off, but other than that, it’s 9 – 6 until 5 July!

I will post photos of my puppet sketch soon.

I am rooming with a woman named Sue from a town called Perry, Illinois. I met her after just arriving in the hostel. I learned she wants to learn to build marionettes in order to build a set for her grandchildren. i thought that was really cool. She’s a retired (I think) German teacher.

The hostel, called Pension Jana, is nice. There are some rowdy American college students (oh, the irony) that I had to ask to quiet down, as they hang out in a dining area right outside my room. One of the PIP organizers, a woman named Leah, even said some other students from the first session of summer puppetry ended up moving out. I haven’t paid for my stay in full, but hopefully I will get accustomed and not have to move.

I’ll post photos soon! I want to show my hostel, and the area.

I have experienced some homesickness, but the reality is that I’m grateful to be immersed, for the next three weeks, in puppetry – it also won’t leave much time for me to be homesick, or bored, so I’m looking forward to that.

It’s 6:30 am here, now, and I’m going to get ready for my first European jog!