Archive for May, 2005

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…

Handspring Puppet Company

Friday, May 27th, 2005

handspring puppet company

Slowly I am getting ready to leave for South Africa. The latest excitement is finding the HANDSPRING PUPPET COMPANY. Dan, my puppet teacher from school recommended I look them up. I’m having way more fun than I deserve looking at their website and having fantasies about going to see them.

the end of a chapter

Friday, May 20th, 2005

I moved out today. School’s finished and if I hung around much longer they would have chased me off campus with a big stick. I hate moving (I think I’ve mentioned this a couple times), but this time around to add to the excitement I had to paint my wall back to it’s original boring white.

adinkra painting

At the beginning of the year I moved in over three weeks before classes started for RA training, so I had LOTS of time to spend doing things like painting my room. I borrowed some paint from one of the other RAs who was painting her whole wall and painted an Adinkra symbol on my wall. Adinkra is a kind of fabric made by the Ashanti (parts of Ghana). The fabric is covered in pictorial symbols. While these are not an alphabet, the symbols mostly connect to a idea or proverb.

The symbol I painted on my wall I have always translated as meaning “to accomplish the impossible or unusual.” Here I’ve found another understanding, though its easy to see the connection. I felt that was a good theme to have over my school year.

ID troubles

Monday, May 16th, 2005

red sox fan

I’ve been getting a lot of flac lately about the fact that I have an out of state ID. So when I went to buy beer yesterday and the man behind the counter began mumbling when I handed him my ID I was prepared for trouble. He mumbled “hurmf. Massachusetts…” to himself and continued to look at it. I asked him if there was a problem and he responded by asking how I felt about the Red Sox. I suppose I shouldn’t be terribly surprised considering that the NY Yankees are scraping the bottom of the list these days (the fact that I am aware of that though is a little surprising). After it became clear that he was going to sell me the beer as long as I wasn’t a hard core Red Sox fan. So I replied, “Oh, I don’t care about baseball enough to make it worth offending someone.” He told me I had answered wisely and sold me the beer. I’ve been living in Yankee territory for a while, but that is the first time thats ever happened to me.

lots o’ puppet pictures

Thursday, May 12th, 2005

I had my last puppetry class yesterday. That was sad… I’m not really ready for that part of this year to be over. Among other things we took lots of pictures of all our puppets before we had to clean out the shop.

Here is my marionette (finally dressed) sitting in his apartment. The apartment has ropes attached to it, so it can be dragged on and off stage. During the show the marionette has a funny little moment where he bangs his fist on the tv to get it to work.

marionette at work

This was our largest puppet. We call him George (I’m not really sure why) and he is a TV news anchor. In the piece he spends a lot of time talking about “foolish artists.” In other parts of his life he likes to look people in the eye and make creepy noises. It was very weird building a human puppet that was life size… especially when working on it alone in the middle of the night.


This is the finished shadow scene. We had a really nice moment in the show where before the light behind the screen comes on, a candle gets lit right behind the fire, which makes the image of the fire flicker and move on the screen. That was really nice.

shadow scene

And when it’s all over, most of the puppets end up in the dumpster.

puppets in dumpster

My partner and I each took home some of the smaller elements. I really only wanted to keep the marionette. I have some of the cardboard protesters too, but I’m not really sure that I’m going to keep those. We’ll see.

Well, thats an overview of the pictures… there may be more comments coming later.

coasting to a smooth finish

Wednesday, May 11th, 2005

Last night was my final puppetry performance for the year. It went really well, which was a little surprising. In a small way I kept expecting it to all collapse around me. Anyway, I will write more about that shortly. And there will be more pictures. I have to go take lots of pictures today before I trash a lot of things that aren’t really savable.

Meanwhile it is the last week of classes here, so insanity abound.

Phoenix debut !

Sunday, May 1st, 2005

funny you should ask… Today was supposed to be May Fair at my school. Every year the student senate organizes a children’s carnival for the surrounding area. Last year I was in charge of this event… it’s lots of fun. Yesterday I realized that this would be the perfect event for my phoenix puppet. In a sudden flurry of inspiration I built a backpack for wearing the puppet. Sadly the event got canceled due to weather, but I still took the Phoenix out for a spin.

phoenix puppet

phoenix puppet

The back pack I made out of part of a foam mattress pad (it’s been sitting in my closet since last winter, I knew it would be useful some day). It’s folded in half with tough fabric over it. I held it together by poking holes in it and tying string though it. The strap is just one long piece of fabric that threads through the foam piece, over my shoulders, around the bottom of the pack, and then around my chest to tie in front. I didn’t expect it work as well as it actually did. It held together pretty well.

I don’t actually think the puppet is finished yet. I’m hoping I’ll do that before the end of year festival happens (Bacchanalia). The wings still need to be glued down to the body, he needs a tail, and I’d like to put a clear coat on the paper mache, so I don’t have to worry about the wet so much.

Liz asked my if the puppet had a name. She is the editor of out school paper – The Phoenix – and so she was really excited when I told her it was a Phoenix. Mythologically, there is only one Phoenix, and so I feel like he doesn’t need a name. Liz didn’t seem to agree. Any thoughts?? If he does need a name, I don’t know what it is.