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

Puppet Happenings of 2015

It’s the last day of 2015. Time to look back at the puppet happenings of this year!

Although I haven’t been writing here all that much, it’s actually been a year of firsts for many things. (I will write longer blog posts about some of these later.)

Puppet Karaoke

puppet_karaoke

Puppet School put together this fun outing of Puppet Karaoke. Basically, we went to this karaoke bar called Dimples in Burbank (which, unfortunately, after 33 years is now closed… but supposed will be back open after remodeling) with our puppets. I mostly just hung out with friends, but did go up with the group at one point.

In this picture, you see Laura, Jared, Krista, and I in the front. We were singing Bohemian Rhapsody. Yeah, I know, one of the most over-done song in the history of karaoke, but it was fun. The lyrics actually cut out in the middle of it. Good thing we all knew the words well enough to just keep going. Puppets and karaoke always make for a fun night.

Singing Happy Birthday

bobby_birthday

One of my puppet sang Happy Birthday for a lovely girl on FaceTime. She said it was the best birthday FaceTime call ever. I’ve actually toyed with the idea of doing this regularly for people I know, and people I don’t. More of this next year, maybe?

Skirball Puppet Festival

skirball_center_puppetry_day

For the past few years, Skirball Center has been doing this puppet festival. Usually it’s a family event that takes place on a weekend. There would be multiple shows performed in different rooms and also outdoors in the quad. Parents can bring their kids to watch, and also create their own puppets.

Due to an alumni event that took up most of the day, I was just going to go, say hi to my friends and hang out for an hour or two before it ended. But then I ran into my friend Jared, who was just like his usual enthusiastic self, saying to me, “hey, I have a spare puppet! Put it on and talk to kids!” So I did. Kids are so full of imagination. You can really just talk to them about anything and they go along with it. Fun times.

When I was leaving, I ran into Heidi Hilliker, who was a classmate for many of my puppetry classes. It was nice to see her. It turned out that I already saw her earlier that day… sort of. She was inside that elephant in the picture. She tried to get my attention because I was one of the people that helped the elephant off the ground. I didn’t notice her though. This kind of stuff happens in puppetry, you know… “Hey, good job… whichever puppet you were. I couldn’t tell.”

Tech for Puppet Slams

running_cues

In the beginning of the year, I volunteered to run audio cues for the local Puppet Slam. I’ve performed in the slams before, and figured that I would still help out if I was not performing. And after that, I’ve been doing that for all the slams the rest of the year. My tech background made me quite reliable when I do this job. And I’ve also done enough theater to have a good instinct on how to make quick decisions on the spot during the show. One day I should get back on stage, though!

Jim Henson Company Diversity Workshop Audition

jim_henson_company

The Jim Henson company was auditioning puppeteers for a diversity workshop, the reason being that the industry has been white-male dominant, like the entertainment industry in general. It was an admirable thing that they were consciously working on introducing more diversity. They were auditioning males with ethnical minority backgrounds and females of all ethnicities. It wasn’t for actual jobs, but if you made in, you got several weeks of free workshops from Henson puppeteers.

I did not make the cut, but it was still a really fun experience. I got my reel done. I got to see the inside of the studio that’s usually not open to the public. What’s more, I got to do some puppet improv in front of some puppetry legends and had them laughing at my jokes. I was happy to have done it.

It’s also funny to look at my Facebook feed that weekend. Several of my friends posted basically that same picture with Kermit in the background just like I did, and I know exactly what that was about.

National Puppetry Festival

national_puppetry_festival_sign

I’ve wanted to go to one of these national puppetry festivals or conferences for a number of years now. This year, I finally decided to actually do it. A few reasons: One, it had been some time since I used my vacation days at work and I could no longer accumulate more. Two, it was the 50-year anniversary of the festival, which made it extra special. Three, it was at University of Connecticut, the only place in the U.S. that offers graduate level program in puppetry.

And it was a lot of fun. For the entire week, I was immersed in puppetry. It was also a lot like going back to college. I stayed in a dorm room. Every morning, I went to puppetry workshops. I ate at a college dining hall with fellow festival participants and talked puppets. In the afternoon and at night, we watched one puppet show after another. Did I say puppets? Puppets, puppets, puppets! It was great to spend an entire week doing just what you are passionate about.

national_puppetry_festival

One of the things I looked forward to the most at the festival was finally meeting David Manley of Up in Arms. We’ve been corresponding on Facebook a lot, but have never actually met in person since he is in New York. When we met for the first time, it felt like we were old friends that just haven’t seen each other for a while. That was definitely one of the highlights of the festival for me.

Guild Winter Holiday Party

The Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry puts on a winter holiday / Christmas / end-of-year party every year. And what do puppeteers do when they get together for a party (you know, besides eating)? They put on little shows for one another. Earlier in the year, the guild hosted a backlight puppetry workshop and it was a lot of fun. (Blacklight puppetry was when you turn off all the lights and just have glow in the dark puppets perform. It’s really cool to see.) I was part of the class so we did a number we learned in the workshop at the party. It was interesting that you want to do everything well, since you are performing for fellow puppeteers, but at the same time, they are also the ones that are going to be the most understanding when things go wrong. I had fun performing, and had fun hanging out with fellow puppeteers and enthusiasts.

R.I.P. Michael Earl

michael_earl

My first puppetry teacher, Michael Earl, had been battling colon cancer for some time now. On December 23, we got the news that he had passed away. At that point he had moved into a hospice, so we knew it was sooner or later. We were just waiting for a miracle. Well, since my Facebook was full of people that knew Michael (according to Facebook, we shared 110 connections), my feed was flooded with memories and stories about him. He was definitely loved by the community. He was a great mentor to many, a dear friend to more, and one of the kindest soul you would meet. He will be missed.

Another Christmas Video!

CaliforniaChristmas End

I’ve made Christmas videos the past three years. Now there are people expecting it, so that’s more reason to keep it going. This year’s video was a first of many things: composing and arranging the music myself, sketching all the backgrounds, animating a character, etc. It was a ton of work but I am pretty happy with the outcome.

The fact that I haven’t blogged too much made me initially think that I didn’t do all that much. But now that I took a closer look, well… that was actually quite a 2015! 😀

Blog Anniversary

Today is May 14, 2015.

On May 14, 2007, I posted my very first post on this blog. In the archive, you can see even earlier posts, but they were moved from another blog, so I’m counting that one as the very first one.

So yeah. It’s been eight years. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

A lot had changed in the blogosphere (whoa, spellcheck thinks “blogosphere” a legitimate word? cool!) in those eight years. Back then, blogs are the thing. There are so many discussions and attempts at writing a blog to generate traffic, advertise for affiliates, make money at home, and build passive income streams. Whether the ultimate goal is to monetize, or just to share thoughts with the world, the blogosphere is definitely a-buzzing.

I don’t know if there are more or fewer blogs these days, but the focus had definitely moved on to social media a lot more. With Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and all these other sites, people are increasingly building their networks there, and less focused on driving traffic to their blogs using reddit, StumbleUpon, and Delicious. I used to visit people on their blogs, and they visited back. That doesn’t happen so much anymore.

A lot of these people have stopped blogging altogether. As for me, even though I am still posting, I can go months without posting sometimes. I guess we all go through phases.

But I’m glad to say that many of these people I still keep in touch with, except now all the interactions are on Facebook.

I still post from time to time, and in a way, this is actually going back to what it was before. A lot of this grew from my sister giving me a paper planner she didn’t want. Since I wasn’t the type of person that plans their day down to the hour, I often only used the first line in the box for each day. I thought, why not use it as a journal instead? I did that for a few weeks, writing down thoughts and events that happened on that day. And I thought, it would be much faster to just type, so I got a Xanga. (Remember those? Some people even created empty blogs, just so they could friend their friends’ blogs. This is before Facebook, and Friendster. Remember Friendster? Oh, and MySpace?) After WordPress became a thing, I decided to create a WordPress blogs and moved all the puppetry related posts over. That’s how this site was born.

In some ways, this is like going back to those days. I didn’t have a schedule. I wasn’t always posting about puppets. I had thoughts that I wanted to share from time to time, and I wrote it down. Half for my readers, half for myself to go back and reminisce. So why not?

So here we are. I am still going to post, even if no one other than my future self is reading the blog. Still though, knowing that there are friends that stop by from time to time definitely makes it more fun, and provides motivation to write more. So, for the two of you that’s reading this, namely, Sara and Chris, let me say that I appreciate you guys visiting. Thank you for your support. :-)

Text-Based Game

Before there were video games with fancy 3D graphics, there were 2D games like Super Mario Brothers. Before those 2D games, there were text-based games. How do you play those? Basically, the computer describes the settings you are in (instead of showing you graphics) and you type in your actions (instead of using a joystick).

Today, I read in this article that emacs, a text editor (available via Terminal on the Mac), contains such an Easter egg. So I gave the game a try.

It was amusing. See this transcript: (The lines that start with ‘>’ is what I typed in. The rest was provided by the game.)

kelvinkao$ emacs -batch -l dunnet

Dead end
You are at a dead end of a dirt road. The road goes to the east.
In the distance you can see that it will eventually fork off. The
trees here are very tall royal palms, and they are spaced equidistant
from each other.
There is a shovel here.
>pick up shovel
I don’t understand that.
>take shovel
Taken.
>walk
I don’t understand that.
>walk around
I don’t understand that.
>walk forward
I don’t understand that.
>dig with shovel
Digging here reveals nothing.
>go on dirt road
You can’t go that way.
>go east
E/W Dirt road
You are on the continuation of a dirt road. There are more trees on
both sides of you. The road continues to the east and west.
There is a large boulder here.
>climb tree
You manage to get about two feet up the tree and fall back down. You
notice that the tree is very unsteady.
>climb tree again
You manage to get about two feet up the tree and fall back down. You
notice that the tree is very unsteady.
>climb boulder
You can’t climb that.
>push boulder
You can’t push that.
>kick boulder
I don’t understand that.
>bomb boulder
I don’t understand that.
>go west
Dead end
>go east
E/W Dirt road
There is a large boulder here.
>use shovel
I don’t understand that.
>dig
Digging here reveals nothing.
>play piano
I don’t understand that.
>play flute
I don’t understand that.
>walk north
I don’t understand that.
>go north
You can’t go that way.
>go east
Fork
You are at a fork of two passages, one to the northeast, and one to the
southeast. The ground here seems very soft. You can also go back west.
>dig
I think you found something.
>pick up
I don’t understand that.
>take
You must supply an object.
>take thing
I don’t know what that is.
>dig
Digging here reveals nothing.
>take what i found
I don’t know what that is.
>take thing
I don’t know what that is.
>inventory
You currently have:
A lamp
A shovel
>use lamp
I don’t understand that.
>go northeast
NE/SW road
You are on a northeast/southwest road.
>walk
I don’t understand that.
>run
I don’t understand that.
>go northeast
Building front
You are at the end of the road. There is a building in front of you
to the northeast, and the road leads back to the southwest.
>enter building
You don’t have a key that can open this door.
>find key
I don’t understand that.
>dig
Digging here reveals nothing.
>knock
I don’t understand that.
>knock on door
I don’t understand that.
>find key
I don’t understand that.
>climb
There is nothing here to climb.
>climb building
I don’t know what that object is.
>ring doorbell
I don’t understand that.
>open door
I don’t understand that.
>open window
I don’t understand that.
>go back
I don’t understand where you want me to go.
>go southwest
NE/SW road
>go southwest
Fork
There is a CPU card here.
>take cpu card
Taken.
>use cpu card
I don’t understand that.
>go southwest
You can’t go that way.
>go northeast
NE/SW road
>go north
You can’t go that way.
>go northeast
Building front
>enter building
You don’t have a key that can open this door.
>use lamp
I don’t understand that.
>go southwest
NE/SW road
>go west
You can’t go that way.
>go north
You can’t go that way.
>where can i go?
I don’t understand that.
>go east
You can’t go that way.
>go south
You can’t go that way.
>go north
You can’t go that way.
>go west
You can’t go that way.
>go northwest
You can’t go that way.
>go northeast
Building front
>go southwest
NE/SW road
>go southwest
Fork
>take fork
I don’t know what that is.
>go fork
I don’t understand where you want me to go.
>go southeast
SE/NW road
You are on a southeast/northwest road.
There is some food here.
>take food
Taken.
>inventory
You currently have:
A lamp
A shovel
A computer board
Some food
>eat some food
I don’t know what that is.
>eat food
That tasted horrible.
>puke
I don’t understand that.
>throw up
I don’t know what that is.
>go southwest
You can’t go that way.
>go northeast
You can’t go that way.
>go southeast
Bear hangout
You are standing at the end of a road. A passage leads back to the
northwest.
There is a ferocious bear here!
>fight bear
I don’t understand that.
>punch bear
I don’t understand that.
>dig
Digging here reveals nothing.
>use shovel
I don’t understand that.
>hit bear
I don’t understand that.
>shoot bear
I don’t understand that.
>touch bear
I don’t understand that.
>look at bear
It looks like a grizzly to me.
>say hi
I don’t understand that.
>say hello
I don’t understand that.
>fight bear
I don’t understand that.
>punch bear
I don’t understand that.
>run away
I don’t understand that.
>inventory
You currently have:
A lamp
A shovel
A computer board
>use shovel
I don’t understand that.
>use lamp
I don’t understand that.
>start fire
I don’t understand that.
>look at bear
It looks like a grizzly to me.
>eat bear
You don’t have that.
>fight bear
I don’t understand that.
>take bear
You cannot take that.
>kick bear
I don’t understand that.
>hit bear
I don’t understand that.
>hunt bear
I don’t understand that.
>go southeast
The bear is very annoyed that you would be so presumptuous as to try
and walk right by it. He tells you so by tearing your head off.

You are dead.
You have scored 0 out of a possible 90 points.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Here’s lyrics to a song that I performed at UCLA’s engineering school talent show back in 2005. I was the host, not a contestant, but I wanted to provide some entertainment in between. So I wrote this song, because what’s the problems with love songs nowadays? “Not enough science in those songs!”

I can’t find a recording, but here’s the lyrics for you:

Chemistry
by Kelvin Kao

You are a proton,
I am an electron.
Ever since I first met you,
I was so attracted to you.

You are always so positive,
compensating for my being negative.
We have such a strong bond,
you know I will always be around.

Oh, how I fell for you,
and it’s not just due to the gravity.
I want to be your one and only,
so a hydrogen atom we shall be.
(That’s one proton and one electron, get it?)

So please be my proton.
I will be your electron.
If someone asks, what’s between you and me,
I’ll tell them, it’s purely chemistry.

Looking Back At 2012

Looking back at 2012, there were actually quite a few things I did when it comes to this puppeteering and performing thing. I also attended various shows and workshops. Here are some highlights.

January
February
April
puppet_jukebox_2

Puppet Jukebox II
Reunited with the cast for an one night only performance of the show we did months ago.
kelvin_on_KTLA

Went on TV
Was in the background as an alumnus while Puppet School was interviewed.
jay_wedding_performance

Jay’s Wedding Reception
Performed “Life’s a Happy Song” at a good friend’s wedding reception.
April
June
July
jay_wedding_video

Jay’s Wedding Reception Videos
Also helped him with finger puppet videos. My first experience in HD!
war_horse

War Horse
Saw some amazing horse puppets, followed by a cast Q&A as well.
Avenue_Q

Avenue Q
Seen the show before, but went to see it again since two friends are involved with this production.
July
July
August
tony_urbano

Marionette Workshop
Took a workshop taught by master puppeteer Tony Urbano!
Exit

Exit
Puppeteered for a music video for an independent artist. No idea when the finished product would be done.
broadway_puppet

I’m A Broadway Puppet
Saw a Puppet School production. Saw old friends and met new ones. Both people that went with me signed up for class.
October
October
November
poor_pussy

Poor Pussy
Was the translator, an extra, and also production assistant in a Columbia thesis film.
call_me_maybe

Call Me Maybe parody
Puppeteered in a video for a high school theater patron program.
michael_earl_benefit_movie_parody

Michael Earl Benefit
Wrote and performed movie parody with puppets for the show.
December
December
December
being_doug_puppeteering

Being Doug
Puppeteered for a Chapman thesis film, including from under the bed.
puppet_caroling

Puppet Caroling
Sang Christmas songs with puppets at a senior home.
Jingle_Bells

Jingle Bells
Made a Christmas video. Very happy with the final product.

Don’t know what lies ahead for 2013, but one thing is for sure: more videos! 😀

Les Miserables: Can’t Wait!

The film, based on the musical based on Victor Hugo’s book (and probably my favorite musical of all time), is set to release this Christmas. They’ve just released an extended first look, and I have to say, I can’t wait to see the movie.


http://youtu.be/wwgQjfg0hZw

Same for any movie (or play), you want it to look right and sound right. It’s particularly important for Les Miserables to get these things right, visually because it’s a period piece where the sets and costumes need to put you in the correct time and place, and aurally because it’s a musical.

When I saw this clip, the first few shots immediately caught my eye. The cinematography simply looked fantastic. That’s when I thought this movie looked very promising. I am quite satisfied with how it looks. And it will be interesting to see how the director imagined the entire environment, since what I am familiar with is the stage version, where you can only have so many set pieces and scene/costume changes.

And now, the singing. This is very important for a musical, obviously. I agree with the decision to cast film/TV actors instead of actors that have been mostly doing stage. Performing in front of a camera is still different from performing on stage, after all. However, when Phantom of the Opera was made into a movie, which many people loved, I found the singing to be a little weak and underwhelming, especially considering it’s a story about an amazing soprano and her music teacher. I personally prefer watching the stage version featuring top-notch stage performers who sang this stuff day in and day out.

So yeah, I was just hoping that they would cast capable singers. This is especially important because this musical is more operatic than most. I was happy to hear that they cast Hugh Jackman as the lead. I believe Hugh Jackman can make any musical awesome. I was also glad to hear that they cast Samantha Barks as Eponine. I know she will be great since we’ve already heard her in the 25th Anniversary Concert. (It was at one point rumored that Taylor Swift was being considered for the role. That would just be… really strange.) There’s also this video where someone cut together clips of the actors of all the major characters singing. While I don’t know how well the singing style translates, they are all capable singers, and many of them have been classically trained at one point. So singing wise, I think this cast can delivery.

Another thing that really grabbed my interest was that they are singing every take live, instead of lip-syncing to something that they recorded in studio beforehand. This is an interesting thing to do, because it’s not something that’s normally done. I think it’s a great idea because the performances will be a lot more real and in the moment. It does mean that the actors need to be more capable singers though, since they can’t fix it as much as they do in studio. And the editing is going to be trickier because now you would have more variations among the different takes. Still, though, I think it’s a good thing to do. It’s what I like about the stage, that raw and immediate emotion that’s just happening at that time. Besides, doing lip-sync convincingly is actually harder than you might imagine. I am a puppeteer. I know.

In the interview, Anne Hathaway said, “There seems to be something selfish about trying to go for the pretty version.” When I heard that, the first thought that crossed my mind was “wait, is she talking about me?” At one point, I was thinking, how about we just find the best singers, have them record the songs, and just have the actors mime them? After all, many Disney animated features have two different voice actors for one character, one talking, and the other singing. But now I am buying into this singing everything live, no studio recording idea.

And a few more stray observations:
1) I have never seen such a clean-shaven Valjean. It’s probably because on stage, they don’t have enough time to put on and take off the beard. Probably the first time I see Javert having more facial hair than Valjean.
2) The idea that Eponine was singing “On My Own” in the rain never occurred to me, even though the lyrics did say “In the rain, the pavement shines like silver” and later she did sing “A Little Fall of Rain” with Marius. See? This is what a movie can do better than the stage version.
3) It looks like this pair of Marius and Cossette have great chemistry from the little ways they touch and look at each other. This will definitely add to the film.
4) Samantha Barks looked great as Eponine in this video! I have never seen an Eponine looking that good.

Did I mention that I can’t wait for this film to come out? 😀

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