Friday, October 26, 2007


Ahh, look at his green face. Never more to be seen.

It's been awhile, sports fans. By which I mean, Improv fans.

I think one of the reasons that I haven't posted in so long, is that I've been in mourning, I think, ever since a HORRIBLE THING happened. OK, it wasn't that horrible, AND, I wasn't that upset. But let us take a moment to remember Mel: oh, green, fuzzy, two-handed, softhearted puppet. Where are you? Some BASTARD broke the window of my car and stole you, along with your friends the little penguin, the little crab, and a whole host of storebought hand puppets. WHAT KIND of PERSON breaks into a car to steal PUPPETS? And ONLY puppets? It was a snatch-and-grab; had anyone looked in there, they might have found other stuff to steal, including a set of well-hidden keyboard speakers. But no, the door was never even opened. &$%#@. It could have been worse. Mel was the only one taken who I actually made. But still. They broke my WINDOW! Bastards.

Study that picture well, ladies and gentlemen. If you see that green puppet anywhere, get him the $%@& back for me!

Anyway. We've moved on. Next show is Let It Snow, and I'm the dance captain. Hooray! It's a super fun show, we have a lot of great guests, and I get to make people dance! Heeeee hee heeeeee. :o) It's my favoritest thing to do. I say that about a lot of improv-related things, but dance is right up there. Curious, since I HATE going "clubbing," or other kinds of freeform dance. I need structure.

I even took a couple of classes from the venerable Richard Powers (he's not that old, but he sure is venerated) at Stanford, in Club Two-Step and Cross-Step Waltz, so I would remind myself that I know what I'm doing, social-dance wise. Since we're kicking the dance up a notch (bam) this year, I wanted to go more in-depth about dancing together, to complement the things we already know about diamond dances, and other kinds of formation-based improvised choreography. It's great to get people to dance together, especially in a social-dance mode. It gets people to know each other, stand together, touch, etc. It makes people do something they don't know how to do, and that maybe they can't get right away. Plus, it makes other dance stuff that we do seem way easier. I'm a sneakypants.

And just in case you're missing the puppets, never fear, boys and girls. There's been some talk at season-planning meetings about . . . wait for it . . . Improvised Puppet Bollywood. For the HOLIDAYS. (Improvised Puppet Bollidays?) It's just talk, right now.

But it could happen.


I'm just sayin'.

Friday, June 1, 2007

The End . . . of the Beginning.

Man oh man. Who knew this show would be such a hit? (well, me. ahahahaa!) Selling out a weekend that wasn't even the last weekend is certainly an awesome thing. And the shows have been great, to boot. There've been some amazing theatrical moments that I've never seen onstage before, and that I'm really proud we created. We made people laugh AND cry. Seriously. People have cried. And not with laughter. I think I can die happy. I really learned a lot from the directing process in creating this show, and I think that all the castmembers have really made the show how I dreamed it could be. Good job, everyone! Hooray, us! Yay puppets! This is the last weekend. But it's merely the end of the beginning.

On a completely separate note: I'm always confused by people who think that improv is scripted. I mean, this is a topic I've gone over before. But still. Why would you go through the trouble of writing some of a script, when you could just not write one at all? True, I've done work with commedia dell'arte, where you do figure out the scenario beforehand. But those plots tend to be so basic . . . anyway, it was less fun than just improvising the whole darn thing. Takes longer. Then you gotta remember it . . . too much pressure! Just keep your eyes open and do the next obvious thing, and you've got it made; that's what I say.

Case in point: last night Aaron Loeb, friend of a castmember and author of the neato play First Person Shooter, which is playing at the SF Playhouse just down the hall from us, cane to see the show. Tim was talking to Aaron after the show, and apparently he was asking, "So which parts did you rehearse?" None. "So you practiced the songs beforehand, right?" Nope. On his way out he told us, "You guys HAVE to make sure you tell everyone that the Whole Fricking Thing is improvised."

I mean, Alan did say he would take suggestions to "influence" the show. But I always wonder: what about the play do they think is pre-scripted? How would we know what the audience would say? How would we know what kinds of songs to practice? Too much to remember. It is pretty cool, though, to get those comments from someone who makes story-crafting their business. What does it matter, in the end, whether it's improvised or not, if the audience enjoys it? Would they enjoy it any more or less? I dunno. 'Tis a question for the philosophers. (Or the comments section.) So anyways, thanks for coming, Aaron! Glad you enjoyed it! (sorry if I egregiously misquoted you. :o)

Ah, puppets. Truly you have taken on a life of your own. Look out, people, cause it's just the beginning.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

We got reviewed!

One weekend down! And already a good review! Yeahhhh! Thank you, Pat Craig from the Contra Costa Times! We're glad you enjoyed the show. How cool is it to have our show described as "the ultimate theatrical experiment?" Very cool. That's how cool.

Our audience had a great time making finger puppets before Saturday's show; who knew craft projects and theater would go together so well? In fact, so well that we'll probably make it an ongoing Thursdays treat. And we may be incorporating some of the NUMEROUS scraps that we have from our own puppet construction, so you could be making a puppet that has Official Un-Scripted Puppet Parts. Yowza! You too could have a tiny part of Marcel . . .

Being a perfectionist and an improvisor at the same time is often difficult. :o) Usually the two sides of myself take turns. The perfectionist spends forty hours on the graphic design, for instance. While the improvisor cheerfully strays from the lesson plan when confronted with cranky fifth-graders. YET, when directing a show I get to be both at once, and so the uberperfectionist is at war with the playful, intuitive side. Clearly I want the show to be the best it can, so I notice all the tiny little things that I'm supposed to. But I'm SO pleased with how the show is coming together.

We've had some simply amazing moments. On Friday, the whole audience rose for the entrance of the bride (a puppet), and then when she was all the way down the aisle, everyone sat down. (And then giggled because they were so delighted by what they had just done.) On Saturday, a puppet was at its human psychiatrist talking about something difficult in its life, and the doctor held out some finger puppets and asked, "Would you like to show me with the puppets?"

Hooray! Twelve shows to go! (Plus, look for us at the Maker Faire next weekend!)


Friday, May 4, 2007

Open for Business!

We're open! We're open!

As I told someone earlier tonight: opening a show is like birthing a child. Or, birthing three children in three separate places at once. Stressful, confusing, a whole lot of pushing near the end. And then when you're done, you get to relax and enjoy the child you just birthed. Plus, this show neither cries nor poops as much as a real child. So that's something.

We had our first show tonight, which also happened to be the first time we ran through an entire show from start to finish. Yeeha! Well, it is improv. There's such a thing as overrehearsing. I am SO happy with how it went. The singing was super pretty. :) There are only fourteen more shows . . .

As is our tradition, after the first performance in the run we had a talkback with the audience, both to answer their questions, and to ask some of our own. It's like a preview performance, where audience input actually has the power to influence the development of the show. We ask people whether the show was how they expected it to be, whether they'd come back, what would have made the show more enjoyable for them, etc. Audiences are smart. It pays to listen to them. The talkback was very interesting, among other things because audience members confirmed some things I'd been suspecting, about the show. (Made me feel like I was being properly perceptive, as a director. Woo!)

For starters, it was pretty unanimous that a puppet can't be playing multiple characters--and not just that, but basically if it's been characterized in a scene, it also can't go back to being neutral. If Marcel gets endowed as the landlord, for example, and then he appears in a backup dance for another song and scene, people said they would wonder, "what's the landlord doing singing backup?" Unless, of course, there's a symbolic reason why he would. But the implication is, they'd still be thinking of him as the landlord, not as a random bystander. Hence, we need lots of extra puppets. As somewhat of a corollary, none of our people ended up playing multiple characters either; if they needed to be someone else, they grabbed a puppet. Maybe that should be a thing . . . is this a one-character show?

We still need to work on how to get the suggestion to start the show; I like the idea of a theme without a positive or negative spin on it, and I had been thinking we needed to ask for something else concrete as well, like find out about someone's job or something . . . someone in the audience independently echoed that statement. She felt we should pick one specific anecdote to tie down the theme. (We haven't really been focusing in rehearsal on using all the info in the suggestion, which maybe means we have to do that, or change the way we get information.)

While writing this, I had a thought. The last few times we've gotten stuff to do, we've had the characters working in an office that seems kinda generic. Tonight we also had an office, though it had more character and specific details than before. Yet, just now I realized why those generic offices might crop up in our stories: wait for it, are you ready?: almost none of us actually work in an office. Crazy theory, huh? I know we all work, and some of us work in offices, but not really in an "Office." As in, "The ___," or "___ Space." So I know I for one wouldn't really know what it's like. Huh. Interesting.

Welp, time to just keep bringin' it. We know we can do it, now that we've done it once. I can't wait for the rest of the shows! (And does this mean we get to make MORE puppets?!? Look out, living room. Here I come!)

Monday, April 9, 2007

Under Construction

Yesterday was an epic puppet construction-stravaganza at my house! Many of the castmembers stopped by to craft to their hearts' content. Many fingers were burned by hot glue. Many cookies were eaten. Many puppets finished and begun. Good times had by all. (Pictured at left: Tim's puppet head in progress. He's got a great ogre-ey style underbite, so I thought he might be at home in the dungeon. Alas, poor Yorick.)

It's really interesting to construct puppets in a group, as opposed to by oneself. As Tara pointed out, it's amazing to do crafty projects with improvisors. You explain the concept to them, and rather than sit there and go, "Now what? OK, now what?" they run with the information and make something EVEN BETTER, that you would never have expected. Like movable puppet teeth, eye stalks that can droop in sadness, or delicate sewn-in puppet wrinkles. Plus, it's a great help to have a lot of people around that can help steer a puppet's development. I usually start with a vague idea of shape, color, or feeling--but once I start putting it together, it often wants to become something a little different from my original idea. And another person can suggest the perfect thing that makes the puppet POP into life. Like Twitchy's mustache, or purple guy's eyebrows, or Evelyn's eyelashes, or Poodle's orange hair. These little fuzzy guys are a tangible product of improv's creative energy. A little "yes and"-ing between friends, and *poof!* you've got a little creature.

Things I've learned from puppet construction so far:

  • Sometimes simpler is better. Everybody loves Marcel, and he's one (very cute) step up from a sock puppet.
  • It seems like the thing that people react to the most in a puppet is an identifiable essence (even if you can't actually put that essence into words. What a paradox!). You can make a puppet as elaborate as you want, but we all totally freaked out about Amy's purple guy, and we would just keep giggling and saying, "oooooooh, he's just so ANGRY! Hee hee, he's just so ANGRY!" Tara's superpale guy (doh! no photo available) is wistful. That yellow guy with the bug eyes just thinks everything is AWESOME. Or slightly alarming.
  • Construction of a puppet is what makes people take the leap from, "Eeee, puppets are great!" to "Holy Crap. This. Is the Most Amazing Thing EVER." Much like when most people are reading Keith Johnstone's Impro and they get lost around chapter four: the mask chapter. I remember reading that back in my early days of improv and I thought he was pretty cool until I got to that chapter, and then I thought, nope, he's a crazy crazy man. Then I did a whole bunch of mask work with the Stanford Improvisors and with BATS Improv. I reread Keith's Chapter 4 and I thought, "Well, yeah. That's pretty much what mask work is like." Puppet work is a lot like mask work in that it's much more . . . weird . . . than you would think. Like it or not, when you've got a puppet or a mask, you're really not quite the only one in control of the situation. As I would have told my former self, or anyone with similar skepticism, hey, don't knock it till you've tried it.

Most of the puppet cast--so far . . .

Friday, March 23, 2007

Foam, foam, foam, foam-- Thanks, Bob!

Have you ever seen so much awesome foam?

I didn't think so.

Thank you to Bob's Foam Factory in Fremont, who generously donated a whole lot of polyurethane foam that will go towards making new puppets. Bob himself picked it out for us.

Upon visiting their factory floor and seeing all the huge blocks of foam, I was . . . a little overexcited. The dude who cut the foam for me (on the huge foam cutter machine) said with a skeptical sidelong look, "Ummm . . . so, you never seen foam before?" "Errr, well, just not so much of it," I replied sheepishly. Baaaa. Plus, they had the largest bandsaw I've ever seen. The table was the size of our frickin' dining room. Neat-O.

Filling up my trunk . . .

Filling up my backseat . . .

Filling up half our dance/craft area. Sorry, Deb. :o)

Who loves foam? Oh wait, it's me. And Bob.

Monday, February 26, 2007

First Post! PuppetMania . . .

Well, boys and girls . . . this is the first post in my blog, and what is it about? Puppets! Hey, the title *is* "From Puppets to The Moon"; gotta start where the title suggests.

It's truly a puppet sweatshop at my house. We've got a few puppets already, and I have to make more, for the puppet class as well as the upcoming auditions for our next show: The Great Puppet Musical! I am SO Excited. And so are our new castmembers (whom I happened to make all by my own self--mostly).

Here are a few of the fabricated actors you might see onstage soon:

This is Poodle. He is not actually a poodle. But that just seemed like his name. He seems very curious. What's he looking at?

Made on the Un-Scripted retreat this year, we present Twitchy MacPhee. He's an ornery Scotsman, made out of a tube sock and some bright orange ping pong balls. He'd be naked if Amber didn't make him a kilt. But he's naked underneath it, ladies. Point of pride: his awesome mustache.

Evelyn, definitively a girl. Though without the eyelashes, donated by my ballroom-dancer roommate, she looked more like Jerry Seinfeld. Sometimes it's hard to be a girl.

Marcel came with us to the SF Improv Festival last year, where we did You Bet Your Improvisor. He's a sassy one, that Marcel. And definitely a hit with the ladies.

More forthcoming . . . as well as some construction pictures. It's quite a mess in here, I tell ya.

Close encounters of the puppet kind . . .

Thanks to Heraldo Botelho for taking photos of Twitchy, Evelyn, and Poodle. Thanks to Shaun Landry for her photo of Marcel at the SFIF.