March 2016 while in Huémoz Switzerland I had a chance to give a lecture with slides called A Brief History of Puppetry at L’Abri. Now I have met people involved with puppetry who know an awful lot about the subject. This lecture isn’t really for them, though I suspect they’d appreciate it. This is for the multitudes who only have a glimmer of an idea about puppetry. A couple of years ago I uploaded my Puppetry As Antidote Art, which was essentially my personal apologia for puppetry to be considered as a serious art form. And I’ve been surprised by the number of people who have watched it and in some manner contacted me as a result. And so I present to you a more detailed follow-up. Not a particularly scholarly history but nevertheless more involved and detailed than anything else to be found in video at this moment.
(It’s over an hour and a half long. The best way to watch it might be to download it and spend some time with it. I’ve added much more visual material than when I gave it live so that should help.)
If you find it worthwhile let me know. And if you want to correct my dates and facts also get in touch. Leave comments below or on the YouTube page.
And remember I must get back to Europe this year to continue and hopefully get closer to wrapping the interviews for Gravity From Above, our documentary on European puppetry. We do need financial help if you want to donate to the cause use the “Make A Donation” button above. It’s simple, painless, direct and absolutely needed. Plus I will put your name on the final film.
Stay tuned, more will be developing as we go. And thanks to all those who have already helped out or followed our progress in some manner.
April 9th 2017
Time for an update on the progress of Gravity From Above. I’ve meant to write sooner but I’ve been intensely busy trying to finish the editing for my short feature film Arca. (And that will be worth watching!) Nevertheless things haven’t stayed still.
So I will be going, by hook or crook, to Charleville-Mézières France for a three week residency to the International Puppetry Institute and ESNAM, their school, in October. And I have decided as long as I am there to visit a few puppet theatres and friends and try to get so more filming done. So far here’s what I know. I’ll be visiting Paris, hopefully to reconnect with Pascal Pruvost and the Petits Bouffons de Paris. I’ll will of course find my good friend Paulette Caron, who’ll help at ESNAM as well. I might drop down to Lyon. I will certainly get back to Brussels to visit Dimitri at the Théâtre Royal du Péruchet and Nicolas at Le Théâtre Royal de Toone.
In London I will have a chance to visit the Quays, who are working on a mysterious project on actual film again. While there I’ve also been invited by filmmaker Matty Ross to consider making a puppet sequence for a rather intense half hour film of his. So I’ll pop round and officially make his acquaintance. And there are other possibilities as well. (Of course I must get back to Georgia again sometime as well!)
A lot will depend upon financing. If I get the Rasmuson Foundation grant I’ve applied for that will help. But you can never count on grants until the money is in the bank. If I can get more support I’ll try to film the final stages of the documentary. Even if I can only get a few more clips it will make the work left to be done that much less.
(That PayPal donate button above this somewhere has come in handy so far, and right about now it would be a real encouragement to know that some of you are willing to contribute a bit more. I truly can’t go back to crowdfunding for quite a while. But why go through a middle man (Well PayPal does take its cut too.), when you can donate directly to this project today. Think about it.)
Meanwhile back in Haines I’ve been teaching a class of five students a serious course in puppetry studies. We are studying puppet techniques, history, films, materials etc. And at the end of it in late April we will be putting on a comic 21st Century version of Faust. It’s a step towards more puppetry education.
Speaking of puppet education. Very soon I will have a new YouTube video to share with all of you of the Brief History of Puppetry lecture I gave in Switzerland at L’Abri last March. Stick around and you’ll have a chance to watch another hour and a half video. (The last lecture Puppetry As Antidote Art is linked below. And so far it has received 15,500 views. Not bad eh? Now if each of them had contributed five dollars….)
I’ll be back very soon with A Brief History of Puppetry.
How did GRAVITY FROM ABOVE begin? Read about the original journey that started it all back in 2005. Here’s the seventh part. One more to come. (These originally appeared on my other site, The Anadromous Life.)
Meanwhile Prague was calling. I had been traveling for a couple of months through Europe, visiting friends and hunting down puppet theatres in Europe. The entire time I had essentially been making a Fibonacci spiral towards Prague, the heart of puppetry in Europe. Švankmajer, Skupa, Trnka, Faust, Don Giovanni, Kašpárek, puppetry as history complete with heroic martyrs.
Well while I’ve been sidelined on Gravity From Above I haven’t been idle. Now I just have to get to where I’m going by a new route. I’ve exhausted the crowdfunding route. I just don’t have the name recognition, a big enough pool of acquaintances or friends with deep enough pockets to be able to go through that again in the near future. But still it was good to know that I could raise the funds, twice(!), to help me get this far.
But here’s what I have been doing… Someone did get in touch with me about an idea. It didn’t quite work out but it was a good connection. I’ve also been going through documentaries from the last 20 or so years that I have appreciated to see if there’s a producer who might be worth contacting. I did come up with about 10 solid names.
I realized that I need to make a new trailer to give this producer and new backers an idea of what exactly I’m up to. And so I spent about 50 hours working on a this small feast for your eyes.. This trailer is not meant to announce the film. But it does serve to show how much work I’ve done so far. Some of the images are from animated and live puppet films that I wish to use in the documentary, but will need to obtain the rights in the future. There are many images from interviews which I’ve already conducted. What’s missing is great footage from a few puppet shows to bring the whole project home. But consider this a taste of what’s to come. This is somewhat the mood of the forthcoming film. More poetic than didactic. But let me know what you think of it? I’d appreciate your thoughts.
And here is where I could really use help. Who do you know who can help get Gravity From Above made? Do you know a hungry producer? Do you know someone who’d love to donate and get involved? (We can even work it out to make it a nonprofit contribution if that’s an issue.) Do you have or know someone with ideas? Think with me on this. I need to get back out there as soon as possible. And one of you might have the key.
In the meantime enjoy the new trailer!
Thanks to those who have contributed by using the PayPal ‘Donate’ button up above.
My last few days in Prague were spent battling a fever and it’s various symptoms. On a day when I still felt I had a bit of strength left I went on a morning walk up Hradčany hill with Wang Jue. Our stated goal was to look for Jan Švankmajer’s Gambra gallery/home beyond the castle complex. Sadly it seemed shuttered. Closed for ‘technical reasons’ read some internet search engine. I hope Mr. Švankmajer is in good health. We ended up exploring the rooms of the Strahov Monastery, with books made of wood and a dried baby dodo bird. (Described elsewhere.) And ended up with some authentic Shanghai style food in a little hole in the wall. But soon my sickness made it clear I needed to rest and so I bid adieu to Jue and went to the hotel to rest.
There were people I wanted to see still, but the fever raged on for the rest of the day producing a sleepless night. All of Saturday was given to recovery. I wanted to be in good shape for my final trip to Georgia. I had to get out once though to find food and exchange a bit of my dwindling currency to pay off my bills before I left the city. Sunday morning I stayed in late as well. Finally that afternoon I felt almost good enough to go out, scrounge up some food and go to the David Cronenberg exhibition called Evolution in the Old Town Square at the Prague City Gallery – House at the Stone Bell (Galerie hlavního města Prahy – Dům U Kamenného zvonu). I’ve followed Cronenberg’s work ever since stumbling into the climatic scene from The Brood in a 42nd Street grindhouse in New York City in the very early 80’s and having my eyelids peeled back by the experience. This show contained many of the strange props from his films including some prosthetic beings that could only be called puppets.
Finally it was time to leave the Green Lobster and to get myself to the train to Plzeň to visit my friend Silvie Morasten a Czech artist and singer, the same friend who had helped me interview Švankmajer back in 2012. After the hour and a half ride Silvie greeted me at the train station. She had hoped to have some sort of small concert while I was visiting, since I’d never really heard her sing. European train stations had recently start leaving pianos without casters and seat chained to them so that anyone could play the piano and no one would steal it. As we walked off of the platform she said let me play you a song. Before I could even get out my good camera or recording equipment she began to play. I managed to get out my feeble little camera and set it up on the piano to capture the song. Even with the sound rattling because I had forgotten about the piano vibrations the video gives a flavor of the moment. And what a moment it was. She began to sing a haunting tune, accompanying herself with chromatic minor chords that filled the train station, turning it briefly into something far beyond the mundane. Silvie has an unusual voice low in register yet sharp and clear, with sad emotion in her words. People walked by at first not really paying attention. But a few slowly realized what was going on. They stopped. And I stood there realizing that this was one of the defining moments of my journey as the mournful words of a Slovenian poet drifted through the echoing hall with Silvie’s own music illustrating the mood, changing the dreary station into an epic denouement on the journey thus far.