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Puppet Kaos - where Kelvin Kao plays with puppets and tell random stories

Oh, Christmas Tree! Merry Christmas!

So, here you go. This is the Christmas video for this year.

Sure, I didn’t finish it until an hour before actual Christmas (in California, anyway), but hey, it’s done. I guess having done it two years in a row encourages me to keep the tradition going.

Enjoy! Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

We Have to Go Back: A LOST Musical Parody

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing We Have to Go Back, a musical parody based on the popular TV show LOST, which ran for six seasons from 2004 to 2010. It was quite a fun show. I went with two friends who were big fans of the TV show, while I was mostly going because my friend (Will Choi) was in the show.

For those who didn’t know, LOST opened with a plane crashing onto an island. The survivors had to come together to figure out how to live on the island, which was full of mysteries itself. Throughout the series, there were flashbacks, flash-forwards, and flash-sideways that intertwined with the current time line to tell stories about the characters and the world they faced.

Because I haven’t actually seen the show, Will highly recommended watching this 80-minute TV special that was the summary of the entire series up to the final episode, probably what they aired right before the finale:

When the cast came out for the opening number, before they even open their mouths, I was able to recognize most of the characters just by the appearances of each cast member because I watched that recap TV special.

Since the special had many of the key moments and characterizations from the TV show, which the stage show also focused on, I was actually able to understand most (I thought) of the references they were using. And I knew exactly what they were parodying for the most part.

I talked to my friends during intermission, and they were surprised that I’ve never watched the show. “How are you even understanding anything at all?” But they did a great job with the recap TV special that I had no difficulties at all.

What I loved about theater was that immediacy and shared experience. You could tell that the cast was really having fun with it. You could also tell that the audience members were enjoying it. And by the reactions people were having, you could tell that the audience consisted mostly of fans of the TV show, because they were responding to all these references that were being made fun of.

Of course, to me, there was the added bonus of watching a friend perform, which was always fun. I thought he did great. He happened to have a solo that was really fun too. I remembered talking to him when the show was still in rehearsal stage. He was a big fan of the show, and this was his first time performing in a musical so it was definitely meaningful to him. I knew he spent a lot of time preparing and had already cut dairy products (which was not the best for your voice) during the run of the show. It was a lot of hard work, I was sure, so it was great to see it come together.

Here’s their website:

And if you are in the Los Angeles area and want to see this very entertaining show, here’s where you can purchase your tickets:

The show runs from September 18 to October 26. Catch it while you can!

Me + Her (AKA “Cardboard”)

Want to see something really cool? How about a film where the entire world (characters and sceneries) were made of cardboard?


Click on the link to the film (11 minutes long) that was accepted into Sundance, and is now part of The Short List Film Festival:

Yes, I helped out a little bit on this (you can see my name in the credits among a big list of puppeteers).

Last year, my friend Keiko sent me a message telling me that she had signed on to be the lead puppeteer in a cool project named Cardboard. She would need additional puppeteers for some more elaborated scenes and said it would be great to have my help. Of course, I said yes. Later, she sent me some pictures of the characters and set pieces, all constructed out of cardboard. I was really impressed by how good they looked and the attention to detail.

Although what I did only showed up in the film for several seconds (a mouth movement here, a hand movement there, etc.), it was just nice to be involved with a cool project and work with fellow puppeteers (many of whom old friends). I will write about this experience later, but for now, enjoy the film!

PS. Oh yeah, I haven’t posted in like eight months. For the first half of the year, I was very busy working on major overhaul of an iPhone app that needed to be wrapped up before Apple’s big WWDC conference. But really, blogging just hadn’t been my top priority. And it looks like lots of communications and discussions just take place on social media now. But hey, I still like blogging and will still post here. So for the two (?) of you that’s still reading this blog, well… Hi!

Merry Christmas! Deck the Halls!

Been a while since I posted anything. But hey look, a new Christmas video!

Last year’s Christmas video was pretty well received among my friends, so I’ve decided to make another one. Enjoy!

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Marionette Workshop (Advanced): Weeks 1, 2

We took a break for a few weeks between the intermediate class and the advanced class, but now we are back!

In Week 1, we reviewed what we worked on in the previous classes. We ran through both the song and dance piece (Pinocchio) and the dialog piece (Batman). And man, we were rusty! Sure, we still remembered that we needed to walk to this spot, do something, dance to another spot, etc. but the timings were sometimes off. For example, we would forget that a walk from the starting position to our first mark was 12 counts in the music, so the puppets stopped on their marks at slightly different times, so the movements didn’t look as crisp. Of course, all the memories came back after we ran it a few times. I said that it was like “presenting… the understudies!” where everything would be mostly good but could be a little off. (Of course, there had been shows where the understudies were actually better than the stars.) But anyway, good review.

In Week 2, we got to work with a puppet that had moving eyes and mouth! If you’ve seen the video we did, you would’ve noticed that those puppets had no faces. Well, one of the main focus of the advanced class was that we would be using a different head that enabled us to do lip-sync and basic facial expressions. This was very exciting to all of us.

Now there was a new string connected to the mouth. When you pulled it, the mouth would open. And there was another string attached to the eyes. When you pulled it, the eyes closed. What was tricky was, the mouth string was close to the shoulder strings, and the eye string was next to the hand strings. So if you were not careful, you could very well pull the wrong one (and we all did from time to time), and hilarity ensued. And the other thing was, they were all tied to the same control bar. So now moving the control bar would cause more strings to move at once, so there were more to be aware of.

We got to try lip-sync for the first time on a marionette. I thought we all did pretty well (for people doing it for the first time, that is). I think the fact that we’ve all been previously trained in Muppet style puppets helped a lot. The basic idea of when to open and when to close the mouth was the same. There were syllables that you should hit, and there were syllables that you could fudge a little bit, especially when the speech was fast. The ideas were the same, although the mechanics were different, since they were different kinds of puppets.

That was pretty fun. We lip-synced to the song we were all going to practice as a class. And then we discussed our individual pieces. In this class, we were all going to each pick a piece, whether a song or a monologue. We would work on it over the course of the course and have some finished piece at the end.

I am really looking forward to the rest of the course!

Marionette video – Scene from Batman

So, earlier I mentioned that we were doing a dialogue piece with marionettes. Well, here it is – a scene from the 1966 Batman movie.

To give you a little bit of background (since all these puppets look the same), this is the scene where Catwoman, Riddler, Joker, and Penguin are discussing how to set up a trap to get Batman. Catwoman is not shown in this video (since she has few lines) but she is assumed to be sitting a seat with her back to the camera. From left to right, you have Riddler (Toby Rogers), Joker (Farah Griffin) and Penguin (yours truly).

There might be some confusions watching this video since all the puppets look the same, and they all have crazy cartoonish villain voices. Still fun to watch though!

Of course, watching it closely, there are still things that I can pick on, particularly my own part. Not necessarily because I am the most harsh on myself, but because I know my part best. There’s definitely parts where I should’ve been more still when my character wasn’t talking, and I should’ve landed the feet and butt better when the puppet is standing up and sitting down. But overall, I thought we did great for the limited time we spent rehearsing. There’s always room for improvement, of course.

Next level of classes begin this weekend. I’m looking forward to it. :-D

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