Archive for the ‘General’ Category

the board above my desk

Friday, September 9th, 2005

this picture was actually taken a few weeks ago.


you can note the pictures of folks, the flyer for the play in Xhosa that I didn’t have time to go to, my growing collection of tickets from shows at the Baxter Theatre, and some shadow puppets I’ve been working on in my few spare moments.

Spice Root – my first puppets in South Africa

Wednesday, July 27th, 2005

This past Friday I went and saw a show at the Baxter Theatre, called Spice Root. It was a piece about the colonization on Java, and the subsequent slave route between Java and the Cape of Good Hope. The piece employed all sorts of traditional Javanese performance: music, dance, food, and shadow puppets! Between studying Javanese shadow puppetry, and the fact that there is a Gamelan (a Javanese music tradition) at Sarah Lawrence, I know far more about Javanese culture than your average American, who doesn’t even know where Java is. That being said, I was really excited to see the show.

I was not disappointed. The group employed traditional puppetry techniques to tell the story of the war between the Dutch and the Javanese. They used three screens in the shape of waves/sails, which echoed against the repeated images of the boats. The center screen was the largest, and told most of the story, with the two smaller screens flanked the stage with details. For example, while the large screen showed the Dutch army firing cannons on the Javanese, and the Javanese returning fire with arrows, the two smaller screens would show an individual Dutchman battling an individual Javanese. It was really powerful.

The show as a whole was really inspiring. A lot of performance I have seen strives to involved audiences through multiple senses. This is maybe the first I’ve seen where it worked. Throughout the show a woman sat to one side of the stage cooking. As a result, but 20 minutes into the show the theater was full of wonderful smells that I could not recognize. Then at the end of the show they fed up what she had been cooking. It was wonderful.

I left the whole show feeling inspired and reminded of why I love theater so much. And I was further pleased by the fact that my friend I brought along who “doesn’t like theater” enjoyed it greatly. While I was reveling in the intellectual things like the puppeteers use of traditional forms, he kept saying, “Well, I didn’t understand any of it, but I know I liked it. I liked it a lot.”

Table Mountain

Monday, July 18th, 2005

Table Mountain

There you have it, Table Mountain. That is a photo I took when we hiked up Mountains Head (the smallest of the mountains in the area) as the sun was setting. The peak in the center of the photo is Devil’s Peak. UCT, where I’m living now, is just on the other side of that. Then Table Mountain is actually the one on the right. So many people commented about how beautiful is was here before I left that I sort of stopped listening. But, they were right. It is really beautiful. Everywhere I turn there seems to be beautiful panoramas of mountains and ocean. Of course being new here its really striking, while all of the other UCT students seem unfazed by it.

UCT is built right at the base of Devil’s Peak, which is beautiful, but means that everything is uphill. In Boston we have a joke that if you ask for directions the answer will always be “go to the Dunkin’ Donuts and take a left till you see the next Dunkin’ Donuts.” At UCT the answer seems to be “Go up the stairs, around the corner and up the next set of stairs.” It really changes the way you think about walking around campus. Not to mention that the campus is many 20 times bigger than my campus back home. All things to get used to.

here I am.

Friday, July 15th, 2005

Well, I made it. Sitting in the computer lab at UCT, just finished with two weeks of orientation, and am finally ready to go here in Cape Town. I have yet to get my computer hooked up to the system here, so pictures will be coming later (prepare yourself for a lot of pictures of Table Mountain!). So far the most exciting things about being here have been getting my UCT student ID and going to Robbin Island this morning. The most frustrating thing has been sifting through the paranoia/advice about safty issues. Of course there will be much much more to come, but for now I’m going to scurry off to get paperwork signed and go grocery shopping (where last week I bought “Black Cat Peanut Butter” – reminds me of the Black Panthers).

the things I carry

Monday, July 4th, 2005

I leave in about a half an hour, and so the bags are down stairs and by the door.


The small backpack is open because I had to take out my camera in order to do this. Other than that, everything is set. I’ve been wavering back and forth between feeling really proud of how little I’m taking, and thinking I’m taking way too much. So, you can vote now. Does it look like a lot of stuff for a year??

Yard Sale find

Sunday, July 3rd, 2005

What my mother and I were doing stopping at a yard sale just two weeks after we finished having our yard sale, I don’t know. But we stopped anyway. Low and behold, I found something I’ve been wanting since January!

backpack-1 backpack-2

This is the frame of a hiking backpack (it came with the pack part, but I don’t need that, and it came off easily). It’s what I’ve been looking for to mount parade puppets like the Phoenix I built. I had a conversation with a friend about how the puppet would be much more secure if there were two points of contact between the puppet and the person. The Phoenix only had the one rod which held the puppet in the air. If there were two I think it would wobble less. The other plus is that then, when the puppeteer moved, the puppet would move more closely in response (similar to the relationship between marionette and airplane). Generally with the Phoenix, there is so much give and take, that its hard to know where the puppet will end up.


Anyway, those are my thoughts. I’m really pleased with this find. Not that I’ll be using it anytime soon. I leave for Cape Town tomorrow afternoon, so the frame is going into my parents attic. The small picture is my passport upon it’s return from getting my student visa, with a note that says “With Compliments of the South African Consulate.” I couldn’t resist keeping it.

small projects

Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

Departure day is nearing, and I’m working on getting things together to leave for South Africa (read “freaking out”). I haven’t been able to get myself to start any big projects, though I probably had time to do one if I had started it by now. Instead I’ve been doing a couple of smaller projects.

The best one was this project:

reddress-1 reddress-2

Sorry the pictures are so funny – thats me taking pictures of myself in the mirror. My mom had a dress she didn’t want. I liked the fabric, but not the fit, so I decided to try altering it. It worked out way better than I expected, though it turned out a little shorter than I planned somehow.

My next project is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. And since my mother just came into the inheritance of more zippers than any person could ever want, I figured it was a good time to use some of them

zipper bags

Anyone from the SLC theater department will recognize these. When you take theater at SLC they make you take a intro to technical theater class, in which each of the tech teachers gets you for six hours total. The costume design person uses that time to teach basic sewing and everyone makes one of these bags. In my group of three I was the only person who had ever touched a needle and thread before, which put me at the top of the class. As a result everyone in the theater department has one. I found mine to be really useful, and I really wanted more of them. I kept switching it back and forth between storing my paint brushes and using it to travel. Now I’m using one for craft tools (pliers, glue, thread, and so on), and one for toiletries. The spare two are going to be gifts.

something to look forward to!

Saturday, June 11th, 2005

The new Miyazaki film is being released in the US, and I’m thinking I should throw a party!! Howls Moving Castle had just opened in Japan when I was there and I saw billboards for it in Tokyo. I thought about going to see it, but didn’t.

Howls Moving Castle

When Disney bought the rights to do English releases of the Studio Ghibli movies I was in high school. To celebrate the release of Princess Mononoke (the first one they did) a local theater did a festival where they showed two Miyazaki movies every Sunday for about six weeks. I went to almost every one. Every week I would try to find odd jobs to do so I could earn the money for the movie tickets and the pizza we would buy to eat between the two movies. Partly I did it because it was a social event (some of my friends were really into anime at the time), but ever since then I have been an avid Miyazaki fan. His films are flawlessly magical and captivating. They are fantastic in a way that is really rare in other movies. I highly recommend anything of his you can get your hands on!

This is a good list of the Studio Ghibli films.

This site has a nice collection of stills from the movies if you want to see more. They are really beautiful.

what I’m doing these days.

Saturday, June 11th, 2005


I’m trying to make the most of a short summer break I have between my semester at SLC ending and leaving for South Africa. Things I’ve been doing:

- Getting a sunburn working at a gig with this friend.

- I got two of my six (yes I have six of them) wisdom teeth pulled.

- Marveling at this incredible theatrical event. (Thanks to Hil for pointing it out) This morning I sat eating lunch and my dad came in and said “Did you see THE puppet thing?” which I hadn’t yet. Thats it!

- Feeling like this as I read the newspaper more. Having more time and home delivery makes it easier to do.

- eating good food (see above picture)

- I voted in a local referendum (which passed!) – actually walking to the town hall to vote is way more fun than absentee.

Basil Twist

Monday, May 30th, 2005

Since someone asked, I thought I’d write up another post about Basil Twist. I suppose I should start by saying that I didn’t actually end up meeting him. The day he was supposed to teach our class, everyone arrived just as nervous as me, and after about fifteen minutes Lake Simons showed up instead. Lake is a puppet person who has worked with Dan and Basil, and had come to teach our class the week before. She was fabulous as a teacher, but I’ve never seen any of her work, so I can’t really say much about it. She came and told us a story about how Basil was totally stressed out because he was loading out a show he was working on with life size puppets. I don’t know anything else, so let your imagination work with that.

Last winter I went and saw Basil’s production of Symphonie Fantastique. When I saw it, it was the second or third time they had produced it. The piece is a sort of underwater ballet of objects set to a piece of music by the same name. The piece is abstract (has no plot line), which I found a little funny, since one of the innovative things about the symphony when it was that it has a story. You sit in the theater in front of a huge black wall. In the middle of the wall is a small curtain. When the piece begins the curtain rises and through the hole in the wall you can see into this huge tank of water. Since you can’t see the puppeteers, and your seeing it all through a piece of glass, I found it oddly like watching a flat screen tv. Partly the piece seems to be an exploration of what you can do with a really large tank of water. There are all sorts of different materials that interact with the water differently. They use air bubbles and light, and lots of other things I couldn’t identify when I was in the audience.

One of the thrills (I think) of watching puppetry is the part of your brain that spends the whole show going “so, how do they do that?” In a show where you can see the puppeteers sometimes you can indulge in figuring out how they make the objects do what your seeing. But watching Symphonie Fantastique there was no way to figure it out. After about the first 20 minutes I gave up and tried to get my engineering part of my brain to stop. That worked until they started doing things which I was sure were impossible. (The thing I thought was impossible I later learned included a refracting mirror) The whole piece was really awe inspiring and magical. And when it ends, after seeing this whole very clean refined performance, suddenly six very wet puppeteers in black wet suits come running out to take their bow. Afterward you are allowed to walk backstage. There is is water everywhere, puppets hang from every available space, everything is dripping, and the sound of a pump fills the air. The chaos is totally overwhelming.

There are some pictures on Basil’s site, but since you don’t get the movement, I don’t think it really does it justice. Another way to try and get the idea is to look at his work in the Harry Potter movie (the third one). I had read somewhere that he worked on the Harry Potter movie, but I didn’t know it what way. I saw the movie about a month after I saw Symphonie Fantastique, and it was really obvious where his influence was. Apparently the director really didn’t want to use CGI for the Dementors, and so got in touch with Basil. They did a whole series of experiments with underwater Dementor puppets, but it became clear that it wasn’t a practical method for film. So the director took the videos of the underwater puppets to the CGI people and asked them to base their work on that. The dementors in the movie, the way they and particularly their clothes move, is very much like some of the work in Symphonie Fantastique.

Basil has done tons of other things. He seems to be one of those people who has done it all, but thats the only work of his I’m really familiar with. His other stuff is also supposed to be amazing…