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

Theatre Puppetry Workshop (Intermediate): Weeks 1, 2, 3, 4

Ah, procrastination. This time, I waited till the entire course was over to write about it.

Originally, I thought this would be the most useless class in the entire series, and boy, was I wrong!

I was thinking: in the Beginning class we would learn all the basics; in the Advanced class we would learn about actually rehearsing for a show. In the Intermediate class? I saw it just as a transition since you would just be doing basically the same thing you did in the Beginning class, except you would be sharing the stage with other people. Not too different. But wow, was I wrong. I actually learned a lot from this class. You know what made all the difference?

The nitpicking.

Yup, nitpicking. The best thing about this class was that the instructor, Christian, was really nitpicking in this class. Though he kept apologizing for doing it, I really thought the nitpicking was great. I mean, I paid for the class, so please call out all my mistakes and help me fix them!

How this class was different from the beginning class was that, instead of having all these different exercises and choreography taught to you, you would come up with your own choreography. And then you kept refining it and fixing all the mistakes along the way.

What he nitpicked on was really nothing we didn’t know. Nitpicking reminds me of nose-picking, so let’s use that as an example. We all know (I think) that you shouldn’t pick your nose in public. But some of us will still do it unconsciously. It’s not until someone points out to you, “Dude! Gross! Stop picking your nose!” that you can be aware of it. After this habit is corrected, even if you had a relapse sometime down the line, it’s also more likely that you will catch yourself when your finger is about to violate the restraining order.

It was pointed out to me that there was something a little odd about my lip-sync. It wasn’t very precise and was a little stiff. I tried different things in class and I worked on it at home in front of a mirror. I realized that I probably picked up some bad habits while practicing with a puppet with a thumb-hold that I’ve been procrastinating on fixing, so my hand ended up having to be stiff and stuck in a certain position to grab onto the mouth plate. So I loosened up my wrist and the lip-sync was much cleaner and more natural in the next class.

It was also pointed out to me that I needed to be more specific in the breathing and gestures. As a human, taking a breath, whether through the nose or mouth, is relatively silent for the most part. And then when you talk, you move your mouth and make sounds. The primary thing you do with the puppet’s mouth is, of course, talking or singing. But if you remember to also do a breathing motion before the words, it makes the puppet look so much more alive, even though the addition is really subtle. I still don’t remember to take those breaths every time (and you probably don’t need to if you just have a short sentence), but I am a lot more conscious of it now.

Compared to TV puppetry, where you have a monitor and you are watching your own performance at all times, it’s harder to correct these things in theatre. The puppet is right next to you, so you can’t really see it. You can either use the mirror (which is eventually take away) to correct yourself, or you have to rely on the instructor. This means you have to be a lot more aware of what you are doing, because you don’t have a monitor you can watch to realize that you are doing something wrong.

Another cool thing about this class was that we got to work on those glove-hand puppets (like Cookie Monster, Ernie, and Trekkie Monster). The puppet would take two people to operate. One person would be doing the head and left hand, while the other person got just the right hand. My partner all these four weeks was Andrew. We started out with him on the right hand, but we ended up switching back and forth. It was very interesting to see, because the character seemed to take on a slightly different personality depending on who was on the left and who was on the right, even though we were doing the exact same choreography.

At the end of the last class, we filmed what we were doing. We did one wide shot with all the characters, and we did one close-up for each character. When we watched the clips on TV, I thought, “wow, that actually looked really good!” Things really came together and that was definitely quite a rewarding experience.

Related posts:
Theatre Puppetry Workshop (Beginning): Weeks 1, 2
Theatre Puppetry Workshop (Beginning): Week 3
Theatre Puppetry Workshop (Beginning): Weeks 4, 5, 6

Theatre Puppetry Workshop (Beginning): Weeks 4, 5, 6

Yes, leave it to a procrastinator to write about the beginning class when the intermediate class is almost over.

We continued to worked on the specifics and doing improv. There were some fun games too. There was one where we had to pick a random (fictional) movie title out of a hat and have people guess what it was. And there was another one where we did impressions of one another and then had people guess who the person was impersonating. We ended up doing inside jokes for the most part, but that was fun. Apparently I’ve developed a reputation of showing up to class late because I stopped to grab something to eat. Hm, what do you know? 😛

Each week, we were also introduced to a different kind of puppetry. Week 4 was puppets with glove hands, like Cookie Monster, Ernie, or Trekkie Monster. One person controls the head/mouth and left hand, while another person controls the right hand. It was fun working with a partner. Little did I know that it would become my main focus in the intermediate class.

Since I was in this class, there was an extra type of puppetry that was introduced… by me. I did a little show-and-tell with some Taiwanese puppets in class. I brought several puppets and showed videos of a recent performance I went to (more on that later). Always glad to share the art form that made me fall in love with puppetry, and performance arts in general.

In Week 5, we played with a marionette. It was heavier than all the other puppets we’ve played with, since the puppet needed to have enough weight in different parts of the body to be balanced properly and have a good illusion of weight. I wish we spent more time on this. If there were a whole class on marionettes, I would be interested in taking it. Probably not this year though, unless I get really rich.

In Week 6, we played with black-light puppets. This kind of puppetry is performed in the dark. UV light is used to shine on puppets covered in fluorescent materials. The puppeteers are supposed to dress in all black, and the background is supposed to be all black too. And then you’ll just see puppets floating around. When that’s done properly, it’s very cool-looking. But of course, we didn’t really dress in all black. And we couldn’t block out all lights completely and the curtain was not black-black. So it didn’t really work well, but at least it kinda worked. That goes to show you that how important it is to prepare the venue properly when you do this kind of puppetry.

Overall, the course was a fun introduction of different types of puppetry. I think I would still recommend the TV puppetry class more. However, I am totally biased. Since I already took the TV puppetry class first, naturally I would not learn as much in this class. It’s simply the law of diminishing return. Also I am part of the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry so I already have opportunities to be exposed to different kinds of puppetry. So perhaps it’s not entirely fair to judge which class is more valuable. I would say that it’s probably better to start with the TV class as the beginner, because you get to see your own performance on a monitor while you are doing it. You get immediately feedback for what you are working on. In theater puppetry, you have no monitor so eventually you’ll need to learn to trust your hand to do the right thing, even though there’s no visual feedback to verify it. So maybe it’s better to get the basic mechanics down in the TV class.

Related posts:
Theatre Puppetry Workshop (Beginning): Weeks 1, 2
Theatre Puppetry Workshop (Beginning): Week 3

Laughing Myself Awake

So, I have been very busy working on an iPhone project for a client which should be submitted in the near future. And I am also doing some consulting on the side for another client. Work has been pretty busy for me. I have a few blog posts that I’ve been meaning to write but just don’t have time to get to them yet, but anyway, here’s a quick one.

Have you laughed yourself awake before? I have. Sometimes, I have dreams that are so funny that I wake up laughing. This has only happened to me three times before (as far as I can remember) but it’s really fun when it happened.

The first dream that cracked me up so much that I woke up laughing was set in China’s Ching dynasty. To give a little bit of a background, in ancient China, emperors kept eunuchs (castrated men) in their palace as servants. The idea was that they would not touch the emperor’s women. So, young emperors and princes that are still kids also had eunuchs that are also kids as playmates.

China was at war with a neighboring country/tribe (probably not historically accurate, by the way) and the really young emperor (still a kid) decided to lead the troop himself. As he gave the command, the two armies charged at each other and engaged in an epic battle, while he and his playmate watched from the sideline. Then the emperor turned to his playmate (also a kid) and said “Xiao ____ Ze (very common nickname for eunuchs), you go too.”

And the kid hopped on a little donkey, let out a battle cry, and charged toward the battlefield in slow motion. That imagery was somehow so hilarious to me that I laughed myself awake.

That was a fantastic experience.

The second time I laughed myself awake also involved the Ching Dynasty. Why the Ching Dynasty is so funny to me is another blog post. I am just going to describe the dream. So I was on a busy street with shops, street vendors, and people going up and down the street. Then a horse and carriage pulled up to the curb. Yes, there was a parking meter too. The person driving it then handed his keys to a valet guy. (Why were there keys? Beats me.) And then the valet guy took the horse and carriage to the back lot and proceeded to try to parallel park. He failed at it, epically. And then he tried to make three-point turns and back into the spaces too. But he just couldn’t do it. I woke up laughing because that was so hilarious to watch.

The third time happened more recently. It took place in modern times (finally). I was either getting interviewed or surveyed by a person. She had a clipboard with a long list of questions. I don’t recollect what we were talking about, but she asked “How would Confucius’ teaching influence your decision?” Somehow the idea of dragging Confucius into this discussion really tickled me. I totally cracked up when the question was asked and then I woke up laughing. I laughed so hard that tears came into my eyes. That made me want to cry… for half a second, then the thoughts of the Confucius question took over and made me crack up again, and I repeated that a few times.

So, conclusion:
1) Laughing myself awake is awesome.
2) I am weird and have weird dreams.
3) Somehow ancient China is very funny to me. I don’t know why. (Actually, I kinda know why Ching dynasty is so funny to me. I’ll write about that later.)

Have you laughed yourself awake before? What was your favorite dream?