Hey everyone! We’ve been blowing up our blog, Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter accounts with a lot of wonderful and nostalgic images of the 2011 and 2012 The Dick and The Rose tours. Just in case you were curious about who’s in the pics, who made the puppets, set, choreography, etc…. We do have a page on dickandrose.com that features most of our previous collaborators. Check it out: http://www.dickandrose.com/who
After the most horrendous winter we’ve seen in a good long while, I think it’s FINALLY safe to say we’re officially approaching Summer. Next weekend we arrive at the Vernal Equinox and this muggy week beckons in a hot next few months. To celebrate the warmer days, here’s a collection of our warm Summer Memories from the 2011 and 2012 rehearsals for The Dick and The Rose:
We at the Outcast Cafe are very proud to announce that our short film COYOTE GIRL has been accepted into the 2015 Snake Alley Festival of Film in Burlington, Iowa! “Dedicated to showcasing the best shorts from around the world, with a strong emphasis on story,” we are honored to be a part of a festival recognizing these accomplishments.
This is our second film to go to Snake Alley. In 2013 One Year’s Crop was nominated for Best Documentary ! In celebration let’s take a trip down memory lane:
Artistic director, writer, actor, artist Robert Biggs talks about One Year’s Crop. Very interesting to watch now and draw similar parallels from his interview to our newest tale, Coyote Girl.
Here are some pics of the last time Biggs and Sims were at Snake Alley:
It’s a pleasure and an honor to return to “the crookedest film festival in the u.s.” And let us know if you’ll be joining us at #SNAFF2015 !
It’s rainy in the Berkshires today. The whole world looks black and white. So here’s a celebratory still from our short upcoming film Coyote Girl . Fun fact about our process: Coyote Girl was shot in color and edited to greyscale in post. Check out this shot from the film featuring actor Gail Shalan as Riley Ann and the infamous Coyote in action:
Courtesy of one of our original Ministering Angels, Dylan Wittrock, we are happy to send you on a journey down memory lane. Here is a compilation video of our promotional efforts on the Royal Mile at Edinburgh Fringe 2011, shout out to Bob and Mickey for all their hard work:
With a few raw materials, an old coyote skull, some petty cash, a rough idea, and a good dose of faith in hand, off I went to make a puppet!
When I returned to the Berkshires in late June of 2013, Biggs presented me with the top half of a coyote skull that he’d found and a plush coyote, about four feet long, constructed of muslin and stuffing, by the lovely Emily Justice Dunn, creator of our Drape and Baby Noah from “The Dick and The Rose”. We had discussed, while I was still in New York, the upcoming story he was spinning into play and screenplay form, and that in this story we needed a talking Coyote. He told me to take inspiration from Emily’s sweet pup, mix it up with what we learned in Tom’s workshop, and dive boldly into the experiment of making an approximately life-sized Coyote puppet for an upcoming short film and play.
So home I went to do some research on Handspring Puppet company, the amazing South African group that Tom worked with on War Horse, a company that has been producing incredible animal puppets that move in lifelike ways while maintaining a creative, homespun, story telling aesthetic in their overall look. I knew this is what I felt inspired by and envisioned for Coyote. Before I moved back up to the Berkshires, I’d had the good fortune of being invited to puppeteer with HiveMind Theatre Company in their short puppet play at St.Ann’s Warehouse’s Toy Theatre Festival. Over the rehearsal period, I watched puppets be tinkered with and built from wood, fabric, paper, glue, paint, staples, and pretty much anything else you could imagine. Witnessing the work behind Chan Thou’s Tuk Tuk also gave me confidence to dabble in the unknown.
And so several months of experiments began as I started on what I envisioned as a two to three person, Bunraku-style, life-sized Coyote puppet. I started with a rough, wooden skeleton. I used the size and shape of Emily’s plush Coyote, as well as photos of coyote skeletons found online, to create templates out of large sheets of masonite that I had on hand. Then, I planned to connect them with wire, dowels, and backpack strap (a useful, strong material that Tom suggested). The main part of the skeleton consisted of a ribcage with a front and back piece of masonite and wire “ribs” connecting the two. A hole was cut in the front piece to allow for the neck stick of the head to come through and the back piece was designed with a wrist rest so that one hand could manipulate the shoulders and head together. The rib cage then connected to a spine, which would have some hips constructed in a similar fashion to the shoulder piece, with an identical, dowel-sized hole for the tale. The legs were built of masonite, dowel,and backpack strap with appropriate joints and as natural movement as possible ( this inspiration I pulled from Handspring), and the feet were weighted to potentially relieve the puppeteers of excess manipulation.
Then came the head. Building roughly in the format taught by Tom Lee, I created a coyote skull out of crumpled paper and masking tape. Mounted on a short dowel (functioning as the neck, and also as a mechanism to control the head from within or beneath the body), I took the rough skull shape and added finesse with fine, transparent paper (similar to the traditionally-used rice paper) and watered-down wood glue. After completing the moveable top half of the skull, I also made a working jaw. Biggs wanted an active tongue, if possible, so I began to play around with trigger systems and got a little in over my head. I’m no engineer and that’s for sure! But, with a little help and patience, I managed to rig a spring trigger inside the mouth to move the jaw from the hand which would be inside the rib cage, and saw potential to make moving ears/ tongue.
However, my patience began to ware thin. I was struggling with maintaining focus and inspiration as well as solving what felt like challenging physics, and I was reminded of why I chose the artistic path that I did. I’m a collaborator, and find my fuel in the melding of my passion with others. I was having a really hard time working mostly alone, in silence, assembling a creature I couldn’t yet bring to life in a satisfactory way. There were other issues, too. The head I’d worked so hard on, was much to large and long for an actual coyote. The body was becoming too complex to manipulate with ease and we weren’t sure that we’d have more than just myself as a puppeteer, especially for the film, so I needed to get back to the drawing board and work on a simpler, smaller, more accurate puppet for a single puppeteer. The good news is that I could focus on just the top half of the body for the film’s sake. I decided to start from a place of necessity, the bare bones of what the puppet needed to do, and to come from a puppeteer’s functional perspective rather than a design-oriented angle. But this a tale for next time…
In light of our upcoming short film, Coyote Girl, we sought out #inspiringfellows for March in the world of puppetry on film. The vastness of applicable inspirations was overwhelming and truly inspiring! If you have some time to kill, search puppets on film in your favorite social media outlet or search engine: there are some incredible films available for your consumption! While searching the hashtag #puppetsonfilm, I most frequently came across the 2014 Puppets on Film Festival presented by the Jim Henson Foundation and hosted by BAMcinematek over this past fall. We had a brief eye on the festival, but were consumed with preparation for If the Vices… at the time. Luckily, the marvel of the internet still spreads the gospel of fantastic puppetry on film through their Facebook page. There I found this incredible video:
Now, I understand if you aren’t the puppetry geek that I am, and don’t want to watch all two and a half hours of this forum, but do yourself a favor and skip to 24:20 to watch our March #inspiringfellow Toby Froud, as he discusses the process of creating his beautiful, artistic, and poignant short film Lessons Learned.
Froud grew up literally surrounded by masterful puppets, making his first appearance as the baby abducted by Bowie in Labyrinth. He is the son of legendary designers Brian and Wendy Froud who were a core part of Jim Henson’s team on both Labyrinth and Dark Crystal. He even addresses (in the video above) working with his mum on the early stages of transforming his character sketches to 3D puppets. His partner in crime on this project is Henson’s daughter Heather (hosting the video symposium above), founder of the Handmade Puppet Dreams film series.
From the sweet and expressive faces of his puppets, to the masterful animation provided by the puppeteers, to the touching story behind Froud’s journey to creating this film we’ve fallen in love. We adore an honest, homespun, heartfelt tale full of imagination, creativity, and a touch of wisdom. Especially when it involves puppets!
You can find out more about Lessons Learned and Mr. Froud on his website: http://www.stripeypajamaproductions.com
You can also join us in following him on twitter: @Toby_Froud
His film is still making the festival circuit so stay posted for a screening of Lessons Learned near you!
Who do you find inspiring? Any recommended #inspiringfellows that we just can’t miss? Tweet #inspiringfellows to @outcastcafe with your inspirations and suggestions.
How long does it take to build a puppet? A minute, an hour, a day, a year? All of the above. The discovery and then simple manipulation of an inanimate object within minutes can create a puppet. The careful stitching and gluing of a collection of materials over several hours, days, or weeks can produce a puppet. The trial and error experimentation with many forms, patterns, shapes, ideas, and animations of a specific character can eventually materialize into an appropriate puppet for a new film and play in development over the course of what has now been a two year process. This hardly marks the end of our development of Coyote, as we are still discovering the ways in which we need the thing and creating more and more uses for it as we continue development of Riley Ann Visits the Outcast Café.
If you were to ask me, I’d say this puppet began over a conversation about a workshop held in Williamsburg, BK in April 2013. After closing The Dick and The Rose in the summer of 2012, I decided to return to NYC in hopes of some artistic and general clarity. Biggs continued to develop the next chapter of his tale at home and on the farm, and knew that puppets had become an inviting, compelling, and powerful way to tell his stories. Not knowing the exact form, but knowing that they would return and I’d most likely be the one putting my hand up their butts or wherever else they might call for, he contacted me with a fantastic offer to hone my natural draw to puppets as a storytelling mechanism. Right down the street from my then apartment Triskelion Arts happened to be hosting a weekend long workshop with the incredibly talented and knowledgable Tom Lee and we were to attend!
Tom is one of the original creators and animators of the puppets used in the international hit War Horse. He’s also built puppets for many other renowned works and teaches as a professor of theatre and puppetry at Sarah Lawrence College. Having studied and observed the traditional (rather laborious and extensive) Bunraku form of puppetry in Japan, Tom developed his own form of building, manipulating, and teaching the art of puppets to many others. So, Biggs and I spent an eye-opening weekend with Tom, and a diverse smattering of fellow artists with varying puppetry experience, refining our skills in storytelling through the animation of inanimate objects. We also discovered the magic, the power and delight, of the puppeteer as the puppet maker. There is a certain ceremony in bringing life from scratch to the thing we will call ‘puppet’. From this place comes our inspiration, and our patience and persistence, to embark on a brand new journey with Coyote Girl/ Riley Ann Visits the Outcast Café in which I, as puppeteer, and Biggs as creator, dive head first into the unknown territory of building our own puppet: Coyote.
Stay tuned for the next installment of “The Evolution of Coyote” coming soon!
Outcast Café is hard at work on our future projects. Our team is spread far and wide right now (and so is our film Coyote Girl) before we come together again early this Spring to start work on the next installment of Robert Biggs’ original works. We can’t wait to tell you more about are plans for the Spring of 2015, but first lets all go back to some past adventures in a little image throwback. Enjoy!
Hey, y’all, sorry we missed January! We were busy making the movie Coyote Girl, or hadn’t you heard? While we garnered much inspiration from the expansive Heartland and the howling coyote friends, we didn’t get out to see much. Luckily, we were tipped off to a very cool puppet happening that took place at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in DC by DCist contributor Anya VanWagtendonk (read her article here) while we were half-way across the country making our cool puppet happening. Over the holidays, Woolly Mammoth hosted our #inspiringfellow of January & February: The Old Trout Puppet Workshop:
We feel particularly inspired by this odd and fantastic self-proclaimed: “motley gang of artists churning out ideas for a whole heap of unlikely things: puppet shows for adults and children, sculptures, films, music, books, plays, paintings, and pedagogy.”(source) The show that VanWagtendonk shared with us, Famous Puppet Death Scenes, is a celebration and exploration of the fears, anxieties, and curiosities we have about death through the safe and illuminating medium of puppetry. In a very puppet-y way, the show turns these horrors on their heads and into joy and amusement… the ups and downs of which we at Outcast Cafe know well from our work on The Dick and The Rose.
But we also feel akin to the Old Trout folk, in their beautiful exploration of puppets on film, their ambitious world travels, and of course, their broad exploration of the light and dark, the holy and bawdy, the ins and outs, the passage through the veil.
Old Trout Puppet Workshop, we salute your detailed and gorgeous bravery in storytelling and look forward to taking in a show down the road! Thanks for the inspiration, #inspiringfellows !
Check out this stunning music video they made for Feist’s song “Honey, Honey”:
Can’t get enough of them…Although we may have missed the U.S. leg of the run, if you are interested in catching Famous Puppet Death Scenes, the show is still touring in Canada and here are the dates I pulled from their website:
February 3 – 22, Majestic Theatre, Eastglen High School, Theatre Network, Edmonton, AB
March 13 – 28, Flanagan Theatre, Theatre Junction GRAND, Calgary, AB
March 31 – April 19, York Theatre, The Cultch, Vancouver, BC
Find out more about their past and present work, and about where to see it at their website: http://www.theoldtrouts.org/index.html
and join us following them on twitter: @theoldtrouts