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

Taiwanese Puppets at World Games Opening Ceremony

The World Games is an international multi-sport event held every four years. This event is meant for mostly sports that are not in the Olympics, for example: korfball, fistball, Tchoukball, softball, beach handball, trampoline and tumbling gymnastic, and sumo. Yeah, I bet you haven’t seen half of these games, which makes it even more interesting.

This year’s World Games is held in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. And as we know about these kind of events, the opening ceremony is often a big performance put on by the host country showcasing their culture. And of course, one of the most Taiwanese thing is its puppetry. The opening ceremony features two of the most popular singers for today’s TV puppet shows, five people dressed as puppet show characters, over 200 puppets and the puppet master who provides the voice for each speaking character. To summarize the premise: basically it’s a good vs. evil story and they are fighting it out. Hence all the dry ice and fireworks for special effects. It’s really cool for me to see puppets performed in an occasion like this. Unfortunately, the lighting is not good, and really, the puppets are hard to see from such a distance. But it was cool nevertheless, especially the huge video projection in the very beginning.

Here’s another clip from a rehearsal. You can see the puppets and how the puppeteers are manipulating them so much better.

One Thousand and One Nights of Stupidity

I am going to start posting random stupid stories on this site. Some of you might like it; some of you might not. But I think I am going to keep doing it because I love writing really dumb stories. So here is the first chapter (or whatever you call it). After you read it, feel free to leave me comments and random suggestions, such as “bananas!”, “pirates!”, “I am so sick of this toast and cannot even believe that it’s not butter!” and I just might include them somehow in the next story. Now, the story:

Once upon a time, in the Kingdom of Bendan, there was a king named King Shagua. King Shagua was married to a Queen but day after day she wanted to talk about philosophy and the meaning of life. The King was very annoyed because he could not keep up with the conversation. One day, he heard the Queen and his Chief of Philosophy discuss global economy and social issues. When he tried to pretend to be interested in the conversation, he said, “Is global economy all about the sale of snow globes?” The Queen and the Chief of Philosophy both bursted out laughing for ten minutes straight. Feeling deeply insulted, the King banished the two upon the eleventh minute. They were still laughing as the Prime Minister escort them out. You see, the Prime Minister was the King’s former bodyguard and still acted as the bouncer for the King’s mighty castle. He was loyal to the King and helped kick out whoever the King did not like.

The King was now lonely at night because he had nobody to talk to. So he asked his Prime Minister to bring him a new girl. Unfortunately, the girl wanted to talk about poetry which the King had no interest, no desire, and no capability of understanding. The King banished her the next morning. The Prime Minister brought another girl the next day, but all she wanted to talk about were the arts, you know, like how the arts was the way people existed through their senses in this world and so on. The King would not hear any of it and banished her as well. Night after night, the girls came in to talk to the King, but unfortunately all the girls talked about intellectual topics that he did not understand. They were all banished. This gave the Prime Minister a prime headache.

The Prime Minister had two daughters, Jane and Violet. Jane was well-read in all kinds of classics and world literature, and knew a wealth of stories. Violet was quite well-read in the literature of the Berenstain Bears, as she was much younger. When Jane heard about her dad’s dilemma, she said, “Send me to the King.” The Prime Minister was like, “What? Are you crazy? You are going to get banished and we’ll have to pay out-of-state tuition. Oh hell no.” But then, Jane insisted. She whined and whined and whined, so the Prime Minister said, “Okay, okay, do what you want.” So she was sent to the King. Before she went, she told her sister, “Make sure that you join me on web cam tonight, and ask me to tell you stories.” Violet agreed and they huggled goodbye.

At night, the King wanted to talk about dinner tables while Jane wanted to talk about the multiplication table and periodic table, because she was intellectual like that. This was when Violet contacted Jane by video conference on the royal laptop. “Hey sis, would you tell me a story?” Jane knew this was her chance to tell stories that the King would like. Of course, she needed to stop herself from telling Shakespearian stories where everyone killed one another at the end because it would easily confuse the King and be too likely for her to slip into a discussion of the meaning of life, literary themes, and all the melancholy of everything. She knew she would have to tell stupid stories.

“But my dear King, I have a request first,” she said.
“What would you like?” asked the King.
“I would like to have a sign that says ‘Story Time with Jane’ and it would be fabulous. I’ll make the sign and we’ll frame it and put it on the wall.”
“But I can’t find a frame that fits it.”
“That’s easy,” she said, “I just need to glue four bamboo skewers to the four sides and put plastic wrap on top instead of using glass.”
“Okay, do it. But what a stupid framing device!” The King laughed.

Jane knew for sure now that the King dug stupid. So she must tell a stupid story or put stupid elements into a regular story. So here it goes.
“My King,” she started, “today’s story is about the _____ and ______.”

Request For Comments:
And this is where I ask for suggestions:
1. What better title can I use in place of the working title “One Thousand and One Nights of Stupid Stories?”
2. What random objects (banana?), characters (pirates?), quotes (“It’s time to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and I am all out of gum”?) should appear in the story?
You shout random things out, and I’ll pick some and use them in the next installment.
3. Do you feel insulted by this story because it’s too dumb?

More stories from this series:
Play Him Off

National Puppetry Festival 09

The National Puppetry Festival of 2009 is opening tomorrow (July 14, 2009) and will run till Sunday (July 19, 2009). The event is hosted by the Puppeteers of America, and will take place in Atlanta, Georgia. It will be packed with performances and workshops… and yep, it’s all about puppets.

While I am not going to be there, I am going to be following along online. Puppet-builder and friend Naomi from Puppets in Melbourne will be live blogging this event as it happens on her Natoinal Puppetry Festival diary page. She just landed in Atlanta yesterday after four flights and has already updated the page with some sight-seeing notes. And I am only expecting more interesting info to show up on the page once the event starts.

So let’s follow along! You can find all the updates on this page, or subscribe to the RSS feed here.

Also, on a totally unrelated note: I am writing a story to be posted here. It’s about a girl who is smart, and good at telling stories. She is also the daughter of the Prime Minister of some fictional country. As some of you already know, I don’t like coming up with names. So… anyone want to suggest a name for this smart girl? If I use the name you recommend, you will get brownie points, which are not actually redeemable for brownies. Some restrictions might apply.

Sesame Street Characters on A Capitol Fourth

Yesterday was Independence Day (Fourth of July) in the United States. People celebrated with BBQ and fireworks. While I didn’t have any BBQ that day, we did watch our city’s fireworks show in front of the house since we are very close to the high school that they were releasing fireworks from. There were also TV specials for Fourth of July, among which is A Capitol Fourth, an annual PBS special which airs live from the West Lawn of the US Capitol followed by the finale fireworks show in Washington, D.C.

This year, Sesame Street characters Cookie Monster, Oscar, Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Rosita, and Big Bird appeared on A Capitol Fourth singing a medley of songs. They were introduced by President Barack Obama. Big Bird sang “Sunny Days”, Elmo sang “Elmo’s Song”, Oscar sang “I Love Trash”, Abby sang “Somebody Come and Play”, Cookie Monster sang “C is for Cookie”, Rosita’s sang “Sing” with Natasha Bedingfield. The whole group then sang “Yankee Doodle Boy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag”.

I happened to have caught it on TV while channel surfing. I only found the Natasha Bedingfield part online though. Here it is. Enjoy!

Puppet Building 101: Week 1: Ted Head

Here’s a picture of the simple puppet head that I made for the first week of Puppet Building 101.


While I’ve built several puppets before, what’s different this time is that I am following a pattern this time and doing a lot more hand-stitching rather than using a combination of sewing machine and hot glue. I like the way that it came out. It was a little crooked, I thought, and the fact that I was holding the puppet head in one hand and taking a picture using the other didn’t help either. But I got to practice my stitches and attempt a different way of building a puppet head and that’s all that mattered.

The pattern was supplied in the course material. I printed it out, cut out the different pieces, and then traced them onto a piece of fabric.

The Stitches In the last post, I mentioned that I was practicing different stitches. I tried to work all the different stitches in. The ears were sewn using locking whipstitches. The back of the head was joined together using a baseball stitch. Although I knew that I should have flipped it inside out and do the stitch on the other side, I went ahead and did it anyway, because I wanted to see how it would turn out. And that turned out to be… not such a great idea. But hey, there’s a reason why I attempted this at the back instead of front of the puppet. Most of the other seams are joined together using the ladder stitch (my new favorite). The top of the head piece was joined together using a whipstitch because it was the fastest, and I am allow to do more of a sloppy job because it will be covered by the hair at the end anyway.

ted_head_sideThe Mouth Piece From experience, the mouth piece is the most tricky part of the puppet, and that’s the case this time as well. One reason was that it required me to line up the mouth board with the rest of the head precisely. And the other reason was that I did not leave enough seam allowance and had to sew through the vinyl (which is more difficult to sew through) sometimes. The vinyl mouth board has an interesting effect, though I am not sure if it was intentional. When I was sewing the mouth board to the rest of the head, I realized that there was no “lip”. But the fabric curled in after I pulled the ladder stitch seam tight, while the vinyl correctly stayed in place. I probably didn’t pull on the stitches evenly though, and the mouth came out a little crooked, I thought. Then again, I don’t remember ever making any mouth boards that’s not slightly asymmetrical. It usually isn’t noticeable anyway.

The Decorations The eyes are three layers. They are a piece of felt on top of a piece of white sheet foam over a piece of black sheet foam. They are not totally 3D, but not totally 2D either. The hair is fun fur. The front is glued in place, while the middle and back were attached using several small stitches. I want to allow the maximum flexibility and movement of the hair, so as long as it doesn’t fall off, I am not going to do too many things to keep it in place.

That was a fun project, but of course, the most fun part is seeing everybody’s pictures. Although we are all building from the same pattern, many of the puppet heads build are quite unique. My favorite is still the smiling dog built by a classmate. It makes me smile too.