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

Puppet Jukebox II (point five?) – The Return of the Return of the Gaga

This past Friday, we were invited to the WhiteFire Theatre to do one more night of the show that we did in December. Since we already performed the show three times (and certain portions seven times) before, we didn’t really rehearse for this one. We just met up a few hours earlier for a review.

The show went well and it was pretty fun for me. I thought it was better than the ones we did six weeks ago. Not sure why. Perhaps it was because that everyone already knew full well what exactly was going to happen next. At least that was how I felt after the first performance of this show. I didn’t feel rushed with anything. I knew the order of the show by heart and I knew how much time (plenty) I would have to do costume changes and so on. I’d say most of the cast members had that too. Besides, I have performed with these people and I know I can trust them to improvise if something happens to go wrong. I was pretty relaxed overall. And the show went really smooth.

I did, however, flub my lines in one of the songs. I performed “Hound Dog” as performed by Elvis Presley, with a dog puppet, of course. This is a song that’s really repetitive. There’s very little to memorize but somehow I forget the lines all the time. I guess I just couldn’t get my head around how repetitive it was. Basically you sing the first verse. Let’s call that A. And then you sing the second verse. Let’s call that B. And then you sing A again. And then there’s an instrumental interlude (dance break!) and you sing B again. Really simple. But I guess this is what goes through my mind:

I would sing A correctly. I would then sing B correctly. And then I would want to sing A, but then I would second guess myself: “Wait, didn’t I sing that part already? Maybe I should sing the other one.” And then I would proceed to sing B, which I just sang like, two seconds ago. And then I would be thinking “ah, crap” and now I got a decision to make after the interlude. Do I sing A again, since I accidentally left it out? Or do I sing B again, since that’s what the lyrics said? But then I had just finished singing B twice. Maybe I shouldn’t do it a third time?

Maybe that’s why I often messed up there. So this time, I started singing B and thought “ah crap, I am just repeating myself”. And that’s when I started making up new lyrics while interacting with the audience. After the interlude, I actually forgot to resume singing, so I ended up making up more stuff. The audience seemed to really like it though, more than the original, since it became really silly. Oh well. Although that was kinda unprofessional, it somehow worked out for the better, in my opinion.

I had a lot of fun, but initially, I was somewhat ambivalent about doing the same show again. I was excited to see everyone together again, but didn’t care as much about what we would be doing. To me, I just feel like seeing and hanging out with these people. Everyone looked like they had fun at the end of the night, but before the show, some of us were feeling like “this again? can we do something else now?” I guess we will never make it in a professional theater career where we do the same show over, and over, and over, and over again. It seems to me that it’s time to shelf this one for now and do a new show. And then we shall be more excited to bring Puppet Jukebox back sometime down the line for Puppet Jukebox 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and to the infinity and beyond.

And it was always good to see friends swing by to see the show! 😀

Chinese New Year Lucky Greetings

Happy lunar calendar new year! Even though I always jokingly say, “Chinese people, stop hogging the new year, other countries celebrate it too!”, it is undeniable that the Chinese traditions and sayings for the new year are the most well-known. As someone that speaks Chinese, here’s a cultural lesson for you.

During the New Year, families have reunions. They have food together, and play with firecrackers. It’s the beginning of the new year, so they decorate the place with symbols that represents good luck, and they tell each other these lucky greetings. Here’s a list of commonly used ones:

  • “Gung Hay Fat Choy”
    Wishing you to earn lots of money and great wealth in the new year.
  • “Xin Nian Kuai Le”
    Literally meaning “happy new year”.
  • “Kung Fu Pan Da”
    Used to wish your fat relative to exercise more and find a direction in their lives.
  • “Shut Da Fuk Kup”
    Used to bring more conciseness into your in-law’s life.
  • “Luk Ing Aou Sum”
    Used to praise someone’s great outlook.
  • “Pea Nut But Ter”
    Used to wish someone good breakfasts throughout the year.
  • “Teh Leh Ta Bi”
    Used to wish someone a colourful and happy new year, again, and again.
  • “Co Mi Mei Bi”
    Used to encourage people to have a year of better communication.
  • “Get Da Hel Out”
    Used to wish someone to embark on a great journey in the new year.
  • “Yo Ma Ma So Fat”
    Used to encourage a healthy family feud and rivalry in the upcoming new year.

And to all my readers: Hap Pee Nu Yir!

New Year Resolutions

… or the lack of.

There have been years in which I have a long list of new year resolutions, and surprise, surprise, I didn’t complete it. And there have been years in which I have a really short list, and still, I managed to not complete it. So this year, I am not going to have any. I mean, why lie to myself?

Besides, sometimes announcing that I am going to do something has the effect of making me feel like it has already been done. I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed that it’s a fallacy that my mind falls into.

That is not to say that I don’t have any goals that I want to accomplish though. I now have something better – a ticket system / bug tracker!

What the hell is that, you asked?

I’ve seen ticket systems used in engineering, customer service, etc. but it’s probably the most widely used in software development, the line of work I am in. The work flow usually goes something like this:

1) Developers (people like me) make software.
2) QA (quality assurance) tests the software, and when they find a problem, they write up a ticket with the descriptions (such as “button doesn’t work”), mark it new/open, and assign it to me.
3) I read the ticket, and either work on it or decide why I won’t work on it. I then mark the ticket as “resolved” and give a reason such as fixed (“There, I fixed it”), cannot reproduce (“I don’t know what you guys are smoking”, or not a bug (“That’s right, quit wasting my time”). I assign it back to QA.
4) QA will double check to verify if it’s fixed. If it is fixed, they “close” the ticket. If it’s not fixed, they write a comment about it and assign it back to me.

It can also be used as a todo list. I can also write a ticket for a task that I want to do, and assign it to myself. And when it’s done, I close it or assign it to QA to verify.

One thing I noticed was that I am quite organized when it comes to work. Notes are taken. Charts are made. Tasks I’ve done are usually better documented than that of my co-workers. And stuff gets done. I also noticed that I am organized when I treat something like work, such as helping family members with car shopping or planning out videos. So I figured, if I want to get more done, I should treat those items more like work.

So now I have a constantly updated list of tickets with more serious tasks like “gather documents together for filing taxes”, “pay rent”, “go over credit card statement”, as well as errands like “take out the trash”, “return the phone call”, or unimportant (or rather, REALLY important) things like “watch last week’s ___ (insert name of TV show)” or “watch ___ (insert name of Youtube video that I meant to watch but was at work)”. And yes, I also have one called “write blog post about new year resolutions”.

With that, I should get more stuff done this year. So no new year resolutions. Whatever that’s going to be done is just going to be broken down into subtasks. I will write them up, assign them to myself, work on them, and close them when they are done. This is more concrete and productive for me, anyway.

Let’s see how long I keep this up!

PS. If you are technologically inclined and want to know which system I am using: it’s Mantis. It’s not bad. I also looked into Bugzilla and Trac, but in the end, I just wanted to get something working and was too lazy to figure out how to get to my server’s shell and all the other settings. In the end I just picked Mantis because it’s based on PHP and MySQL, and I am already familiar with how that was set up on my server.

First Lines from 2011

Inspired by this post, here is a list of the first sentence from the first blog post of each month. Interesting way to look back at last year. I also did this in 2008.

January: It is a little late for Christmas specials now, but recently I came across this video of bloopers from Jim Henson’s 1977 special Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas.

In my true procrastinator fashion, I was still talking about Christmas when it was already the new year. Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas was one of the best Christmas specials of all time though!

February: (none)

Hm, an entire month without any blog post. I guess I have been very busy working on something…

March: So, I have been very busy working on an iPhone project for a client which should be submitted in the near future.

Ah, that explained it. I went on to talk about hilarious dreams that made me laugh myself awake though. That was fun.

April: So the other day I was thinking about my professional life.

This was sort of a lame attempt at an April Fools prank. The one from 2009 was sooooo much better.

May: And it’s time for our graduation show!

And it was fun!

June: This video is made by fellow cast member Herman Gonzales.

And it was fun!

July: (none)

Hm, not a post for the entire month. Wow, I certainly neglected this blog for quite a while.

August: Wow, I certainly neglected this blog for quite a while.

Yes indeed.

September: Over the weekend, I played once again the first computer game I played as a kid.

And it was fun!

October: I recently read this article called “Eight Ironic Effects of Thought Suppression”.

Hm, talking about dreams again. I sure love dreaming, don’t I?

November: Once upon a time, a Pilgrim and an Indian were discussing the upcoming Thanksgiving party.

Ah, another one of my dumb stories. Unfortunately, no happy ending (for the turkeys anyway).

December: Isn’t that a cool picture?

We did the Puppet Jukebox sequel and it was fun!

Quite a busy year with plenty of work, and lots of weeks spent rehearsing and performing.

PuppetVision: The Movie

From the IndieGogo page:

My name is Andrew. I’m a filmmaker and puppeteer and since 2004 I’ve been writing a daily blog called PuppetVision that I’ve used as a platform to share thousands of great puppet films, videos and performances with close to half a million people around the world.
From the giant Dinosaurs that roar to life in arenas, to the amazing horses that have taken Broadway and the West End by storm to the the Muppets making a comeback, puppetry is in the midst of an incredible renaissance right now. In an age of cutting edge technology audiences seem to be enthralled with the magic of good, old fashioned puppets.

All of this work is being done by different artists, in different cultures, often working in radically different artistic traditions, but collectively they’re part of an amazing cultural legacy that stretches back tens of thousands of years to the very dawn of civilization.

Inspired by my PuppetVision Blog, I’m making a feature length documentary called PuppetVision: The Movie that examines puppetry as an art form and the common threads that link these artists. Using interviews with and performances by over sixty puppeteers from at least fifteen different countries, this film is going to share amazing work by amazing artists and have them talk about how they create it and why.

The PuppetVision blog is a blog that I’ve been reading for quite a while. Lots of good information on puppetry and links to interesting videos people are making with puppets. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it was a starting point for me when it came to puppets (that weren’t Taiwanese). Back then, I literally went through the blogroll on the sidebar of the site to discover other websites and found cool people such as:

  • Naomi Guss: who runs School of Puppetry that has tons of information on all kinds of puppets. Lots of well-research articles and tutorials, especially on puppet making.
  • Stacey Gordon: who makes the most awesome finger puppets on her site Puppet Pie.
  • Tom Stewart: who posts tons of interesting puppet videos on his site Puppeteers Unite. There’s also a directory of puppetry blogs and websites. And the puppet making videos based on the Project Puppet patterns are simply excellent.
  • Mary Robinette Kowal: Puppeteer by day and award-winning sci-fi writer by night. That’s already enough awesome that requires no further elaboration.
  • Gaston Morineau: who builds the cutest puppets and regularly puts on shows in San Diego. And a great guy too.

… and many more. In fact, it got me involved with the online puppetry community and gave me the opportunity to work on a student film. It introduced me to Swazzle, a local puppet making / production company. I started following them on Facebook, which at one point mentioned Michael Earl’s class, which led to me signing up, receiving more training, making more friends and performing in shows. When I traced it back, the PuppetVision blog was a starting point that later led to a lot of things.

It would be great if the film can serve as a starting point for many viewer’s journey for puppetry as well. If you would like to contribute, go to their IndieGogo page.

And here’s some cool footages of Taiwanese puppets shot for the documentary (which reminds me, I still need to upload some Taiwanese puppets footages I have). Enjoy! 😀

Goodbye 2011, Hello 2012

It’s January 1, time to look back at the year 2011, which had been an interesting year for me. Looking at my own blog posts, I noticed that I wasn’t posting as much and sometimes could go a month without posting anything. But when I did, they were often things that were quite memorable for me.

In 2011, I took Christian Anderson’s Theatre Puppetry class. His teaching style was very hyper and energetic, compared to Michael’s more mellow style, and the class was a lot of fun. This eventually led to a show, Puppet Jukebox, that was performed four times in front of sold-out audiences. I’ve performed on stage many times before, but I’ve never performed with so many puppeteers at the same time. It was quite a fun experience and I’ve also met many friends along the way. Some of us came back for Puppet Jukebox II in December. The experience the second time around was quite different, as I felt like I was just hanging out with friends, more so than actually putting on a show. So that was quite fun too. Good times.

In June, I entered a video into a contest for a pair of front row tickets for Les Miserables, one of my favorite musical that I practically memorized. I did not win the contest but somehow Matt Lucas, who performed the show in London, came across the video and Tweeted about it. To me, that was more of a win than actually winning the tickets. Besides, they decided to give every contestant a pair of front orchestra tickets so we still got to see the opening night of Les Miserables. Best consolation prize, ever.

And the Muppets movie was fun. I went with a bunch of Muppets fans to the opening night, and we all brought puppets. A movie is always better when you watch it with lots of enthusiastic fans. I will write more about this later, but I just want to say that I really enjoy hanging out with puppeteers. They are generally not people that are full of themselves. You can tell because they are willing to hide away or put themselves in uncomfortable positions to make someone else (the puppet) look good. They also tend to have a sense of humor and are willing to accept many kinds of ideas. (Come on, who are you to judge someone else when you are an adult that play with puppets?) I love these people.

There were quite some changes with my work situation too. I left the company that I had been working with for six years or so and started freelancing. Actually, it was more like the company fell apart. When your company only had four people, and one was going to Japan for a few months to study Japanese, and the main person who runs the company was planning his wedding and going on honeymoon, it was hard for the company to function. Timing-wise it worked out very well as well. I wanted to go out there and test the water anyway. After freelancing for a few months, I found a job and started working at a big company for the very first time.

Actually the timing worked out pretty well too. The recruiter originally told me that I would need to wait two weeks or so for the interview, because it happened to be a very busy time at the company. I actually didn’t mind at all, since I had a trip planned to go to Pittsburgh for my sister’s graduation. And after I interviewed, I actually took a wrong turn and ended up in the general area of where we rehearsed the show. I was at Starbucks checking my email to see what I should do next when I ran into the costume designer for the show and ended up going in to try on my costumes. Eventually I was told that I got the job but I would need to wait another few weeks for the paper work to go through and the equipments to be ordered. That actually worked out perfectly again, since I needed a little bit of time to wrap up my existing freelance contracts and I did not want work to interfere with me going to see Les Miserables. (The period of freelancing really got me used to scheduling work around play, rather than the other way around, which might or might not be a good thing…) And once again, the timing of everything worked out perfectly. Interesting how everything worked out that way.

So 2011 has been a good year for me, overall. Now how about some new year resolutions for 2012?

Well, I don’t really have any new year resolutions for 2012, because I don’t really keep them. No point in stating them then. Yeah, I do have things that I want to get done, but new year resolutions just aren’t a good way of doing it. I shall write more about this later.

Have a happy new year, everyone! 😀