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

Help Mr. Snuffleupagus!

Many of my regular readers know that I have taken classes at Puppet School founded by master puppeteer Michael Earl. Several days ago, he updated his Facebook with some news, which he doesn’t do all that often. It was revealed that he has been diagnosed with colon cancer.

A friend and former student of his set up a fundraising page for him to help with the medical expenses. The outpour of support from everyone was really amazing to watch. The initial goal of $10,000 was reached within 24 hours. I can’t help but think, how much good will has the man built up over the years for this to happen?

He’s always been a gentle, kind soul, and a good friend and mentor to many people. Looking at the messages people left on the page, I saw a bunch of former students (many of us know one another, naturally) and a number of big names (in the puppeteering circle, anyway) too. He has deeply influenced many people.

His classes was where I first received professional training in puppeteering. I still remember watching him do demonstrations in class and being in awe of what he could do with the puppets. I still remember our class singing him happy birthday in class (with puppets, naturally) at a time when Puppet School wasn’t even established and it was just him renting studio time to teach the classes. And we were still blown away with his performances during our shows, even though we were all perfectly aware of how these things work.

Even if you didn’t know him personally, you might have seen his work in projects such as Sesame Street, Muppets movies, and Team America. He was best known as the original Mr. Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street. (You can see him in this interview when the local news came to visit and he ended up talking about it and doing the voice.) Many have been touched by his work, without realizing it.

He’s now taking a leave of absence from teaching, and we all wish him a speedy recovery. (Well, I don’t think these things are ever speedy, but ASAP recovery doesn’t sound right either.)

Here’s a link to the fundraising page, if you would like to help the man in his battle:

I’m A Broadway Puppet

On August 11 and 12, 2012, I went to a puppet show called I’m A Broadway Puppet at The Hudson Theatre in Hollywood. It was the graduation show for the new batch of Puppet School students, featuring 14 songs from musical theater classics like A Chorus Line, The Sound of Music, and Hairspray.

After doing Puppet Jukebox last year, I was thinking a musical theater one would be the natural progression, but instead we had Puppet Jukebox II. So when I was told that the new batch of students were doing a Broadway one, I was not surprised at all. And the musical numbers lent beautifully to a puppet show.

Seriously, these songs already had so much built into them, such as a collection of very distinctive characters, the progressions of different rhythms, a plot, and even some choreography. And many of the pieces were big ensemble pieces, which certainly made the show quite an ambitious one.

Some of my favorite ones:

That Face: This love song from The Producers becomes a hilarious and very adorable one when the beautiful Ulla Inga tor Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson was played by a monster with sharp teeth. But oh well, love was love. It was a simple piece with only two characters but the movements and interactions between the two characters were simply a delight to watch.

Skid Row (Downtown): This song from The Little Shop of Horror was quite catchy and was stuck in my head for days. (Actually, multiple songs from the show got stuck in my head, taking their turns, such as At the Ballet from A Chorus Line, and Seasons of Love from RENT.) And it was beautifully performed by many very talented singers.

Welcome to the 60s: This song from Hairspray was something I was a little partial to since we did use this song for an exercise in class, but it was such a happy, cheery song! And this one was a fun rendition. But I guess they’ve also been hit by the economy. The Dynamites were downsized from three to two. :-)

It was a really fun show. The two friends that went with me actually both signed up for classes afterwards. They really need to give me some commission, hm. Oh, and did I mention that the show was so much fun that I watched it twice?

The show starred Marky Andrews, Ray Busmann, Leah Calote, Zachary Crook, David Dobrow, Michael Earl, Keith Ferguson, Steven Fletcher, Rachel Herrick, Will Kistler, Jennifer Kekumu, Libby Letlow, Josh Livingston, Constanza Mazeau, Tod McClain, Russell Nauman, Janine Pibal, Aiysha Sinclair, and Amy Smith.

Avenue Q – 3D Theatricals

A few weeks ago, I went to a local production of Avenue Q. This production was put on by 3D Theatricals at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton, California. It was great. Even though I already saw it five years ago, and I pretty much knew what was going to happen next, I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

According to the person making announcements before the show started, they were going for an authentic Broadway experience. They got the original Broadway / Las Vegas production set. The puppets were also of the original design (though I doubt that they are the original ones since these things do go through their wear-and-tear). Although I have not actually seen it on Broadway, everything was just like the North American tour that I saw a few years ago, down to the blocking and movements.

I think these local / regional productions are great. They are often in smaller theaters, in terms of the size and the name, so for the same price, you can get a much better view than on Broadway or a national tour at bigger cities. These productions try their best to have an end result as close as possible to the original. The performers are quite superb as well. I don’t know if it’s the same case anywhere else, but here in the Los Angeles area (well, technically the production is in Orange County, but close enough), the pool of talents is certainly big enough to fill a bunch of productions with quality performers.

Another interesting about local productions is that they often have a “wink, wink” at the local audience. For example, when Brian and Christmas Eve were moving away and asked where they were moving, they answered Santa Ana, which would mean nothing unless you are familiar with the area. Also, in the original version, there’s a song about what’s only “for now”, and the examples are sex, your hair, and George Bush. Now that George Bush is no longer president, they chose to replace it with “Prop 8”, which would not make sense unless you are in California. (From what I’ve been told, the script has “George Bush” with an asterisk followed by a list of possible words to replace it with. Prop 8 was one of them.)

To go off on this tangent about productions adapting to the local audience, I also recently saw a production of The Producers at the Hollywood Bowl. In one scene, the main characters were fighting with each other and the microphone of one of them got knocked out of place. They were fixing it while he was off stage, so he made his entrance late. When he finally ended up on stage, he blamed it on that “damn traffic”, which, of course, we could all relate to, considering that most of us had just drove into Hollywood not so long ago. And in one song, the line “don’t forget the balcony” is changed to “don’t forget the people in the cheap seats”, since the Hollywood Bowl doesn’t have a balcony. That was fun, and of course, we, the people in the cheap seats, gave him a big cheer. (By the way, I got the ticket for free. Yay!)

Okay, back to Avenue Q. It’s always fun to see people you know perform on stage. In this production, Camille Chen played Christmas Eve. She was great. And although her character “tried to worked at a Korean restaurant” but she “was Japanese”, she blurted out some Chinese too, which I found really amusing. Also, the Director of Puppetry is Christian Anderson. He was part of the North American tour that I watched (didn’t know him back then), and I later ended up taking classes taught by him. He really emphasized the breathing when he taught us, and during the performance I could see the performers did a great job remembering to have the puppets take a breath before singing. I could tell that he really drilled on those.

And of course, what was really exciting for me to watch was the “I Wish I Could Go Back to College” song. Why? Because we did this in class over and over and I was curious to see if the version they would do was any different. Well, nope. It was the exact same thing! That certainly brought back memories for me…