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 . . .