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

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!


http://youtu.be/bDG2_P8rODE

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).


http://youtu.be/O-uTTNyWP-4

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

Marionette Workshop (Intermediate): Weeks 5, 6

Hello there! I’m back! There are actually many things to post about with various events going on, but first, the regular workshop series.

In Week 5, I skipped class to go to a Taiwanese puppet show. I’ve already uploaded the pictures and some videos. Will share them once I’m done writing the captions.

In Week 6, I arrived a little earlier than everyone else, so the teacher and I could go over what I missed in the previous week. However, we ended up chatting about the show I went to and also doing repairs on my puppet because a string came loose when I was doing a walkthrough of the dialogue piece. And there were some other strings hanging not quite right, so we ended up mostly fixing strings. But that meant I got some puppet repair tips.

For example, the teacher tied the string to the puppet first, and then to the controller. This way, she could get a feel of what length the string should be and how much tension was proper. That was the opposite of what I did when I attempted the repair once. Maybe that was why I couldn’t get it quite right. Also, she was able to hold the puppet with one hand and tie the string using another hand. That was certainly a good skill to acquire. Also she knotted the string several times and looped the string in opposite directions each time. Whether that actually helped? Not sure.

Once the other classmates came, we started doing the dialogue piece again. Each run was filmed, so we watched it, critiqued ourselves, and did it again several times. (Isn’t technology awesome?) The same stuff again: be more specific and intentional with each movement. At the end, we also ran through the song and dance piece again, but since we have been working on the dialogue piece the past two weeks, there was definitely some rust.

That concluded the intermediate marionette class. There might be videos online in the future (… eventually) but I will leave you with a sneak peek from the song and dance piece (from Pinocchio):

pinocchio_marionette

And the dialogue piece (from Batman):

batman_marionette

Marionette Workshop (Intermediate): Weeks 3, 4

In Week 3, we worked on the same choreography that we were doing in the previous week. Since we already got the general structure down, we were working on polishing the moves some more. There were the usual things we were watching out for, such as maintaining the height of the puppet so it was more in a standing rather than a sitting position. We were also working on making the movements more precise. Having familiarity with the piece certainly helped, since we knew exactly how much time we had to get to the next movement. We could take our time and just flow into the next movement instead of grasping for a string in a hurry, causing jerky motions. We also made the choreography more in sync by paying attention to one another and by working out the exact counts.

Speaking of counts, we were also doing some formations, walking in circle, flower, and figure 8 patterns. I wonder if someone with marching band experience would have an natural edge for this. An additional thing (and important thing) to pay attention to was that there were puppets walking along with the humans. You would want your legs to block the puppet as little as possible while walking in various patterns. Those were things to watch out for as well.

In Week 4, we worked on another group scene. Instead of the singing and dancing stuff, which was heavy on movement, we got to work on a dialogue piece. Here we practiced making the puppets look like they were talking. At the same time, you don’t want to overdo it, either. The bigger movements should be reserved for stressing the important words of the dialogue.

At the end of each class, we filmed the scenes we were working on, so we could actually watch it from an audience member’s perspective. You can certainly see the improvements from one week to another. Now, I am not at liberty to post these rehearsal videos, so you’ll just have to take my words for it. :-)

Also, let me just briefly mention this: yesterday was this blog’s sixth year anniversary. The first post I’ve written for the blog was written back in 2007. At early stages of the blog, I actually tried to stick to a schedule and was trying to get more readers. Now I just don’t bother. That said, I’ll keep happily blogging even if not that many people are reading. To the few people reading (Sara? Raul? Michelle? Anyone else that don’t like to comment?), thank you for your continual support. :-)

Marionette Workshop (Intermediate): Weeks 1, 2

After completing the beginning classes, it’s time for intermediate classes. Whether it was the TV or theater puppetry workshops, I’ve always enjoyed the intermediate ones the most and I expect this to be no exception. What I like in general about intermediate classes:

1) The group work aspect:
When you are not the only performer on stage / screen, you get to play off of one another in a scene. Many interesting things happen when multiple people work together, each bringing his or her unique style and input.

2) Smaller class size:
Since not everyone that signed up for beginning class will sign up for the intermediate class, the intermediate class tend to be smaller. More individual attention!

3) You are always up:
This is the result of both 1 and 2. Since you are always doing group work instead of taking turns doing solo performances, and also because the class is smaller, it’s likely you are always doing a scene, whether you are the main character or a supporting character. Either way, you are constantly doing something instead of seated down watching the others.

4) You already have the beginning class materials down / out of the way (to some degree):
And you get to polish things some more and introduce more nuances.

5) You’ve had the same classmates for weeks already:
Most likely, you are a lot more comfortable with your classmates by this point. I think performances tend to be better when the performers are comfortable playing against one another.

In Week 1, we did a little review of the homework (yes, we have homework) from the beginning class. Basically, we were doing the short choreography together as a group instead of taking turns doing it individually. Then we went over some space work. The tricky part is that you need to be aware of the other puppeteers around you and not bump into them, and that sometimes how fast the puppet travels is based on how fast the puppeteers travel (even though technically the puppet’s legs aren’t as long and steps not as big, this works in group choreography).

In Week 2, we started on the group choreography for a song. The song has several characters in it and they are randomly assigned to us by drawing names out of a hat. So we all did the song together. Each character will have his/her turn as the star and do that one section while the other characters react to it, and finally they join together and dance synchronized steps. We were coming up with some of the choreography as we went. I was pretty impressed with what we ended up with in just three hours. Sure, we could use more polish, but I thought it was quite good for three hours. And you are just going to have to take my words for it.

We will continue to work on this in Week 3. Looking forward to it!

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