Chicago International Puppet Festival 2017

immaculate

I will be debuting a new piece, AN INTER-DIMENSIONAL LOVE STORY, at the 2017 Chicago International Puppet Festival, as part of the Immaculate, Poignant and Medium Length lineup! We will be performing at Links Hall on:

Mon, Jan 23 @ 7:30pm
Tue, Jan 24 @ 7:30pm
Wed, Jan 25 @ 7:30pm

http://www.chicagopuppetfest.org/event/immaculate-poignant-and-medium-length/

This piece is definitely on the more experimental side for me. The story has changed a little from its initial conception, so the synopsis on the website is outdated. AN INTER-DIMENSIONAL LOVE STORY tells the story of a2, who is a square from Flatland, a 2D universe loosely based on the book ‘Flatland’ by Edwin A. Abbott. A2 follows a monotonous, prescribed routine each day, but his life is turned upside down when he falls in love with a three-dimensional being, Charlotte. In order to reach her, he travels between the 2nd and 3rd dimension, wherein each dimension is represented by a different style of puppetry.

Now that’s a long distance relationship.

Cosmic Events Are Upon Us

After the fall of Imperial Russia, the Romanovs have become the stuff of legend. They are painted as monsters – or saints – or children’s cartoons. Using original source material, this documentary play tells the real story of the people at the center of a revolution. What happens when one family can change the fate of the whole world?

For more information: http://www.waltzingmechanics.org/cosmic-events-production-info

The play is inter-cut with shadow puppet vignettes that are housed inside a pop-up book. There are also mobile shadow puppet silhouettes on dowels.

Photos by Tyler Core for Waltzing Mechanics

Design & choreography:

Myra Su


Cosmic Events Are Upon UsFULL CAST AND STAFF

Written & Directed by: Keely Leonard

Cast: Zach Bundy, Samantha Dedian, Emily Demko, Chloe Dzielak, Elena Feliz, Zack Florent, LaKecia Harris, Maximillian Lapine, Tim Lueke, Julia MacMillan, Adrienne Matzen, Martin Monahan, Bob Pantalone, Gloria Petrelli, Carlye Pollack, Jonathan Rooney, Thomas Sparks, Alexander Utz, Lew Wallace, Tanner Walters

Stage Manager: Alyson Kulin

Second Stage Manager: Margaret Baughman

Associate Director: Kaitlin Taylor

Dramaturg: Nathan Lamp

Shadow Puppet Designer: Myra Su

Props Designer: Emmy Weldon

Costume Designer: Rachel Parent

Scenic Designer/TD: J.D. Ostergaard

Lighting Designer: Karen Thompson

Sound Designer: Grover Gollway

Violence Designer: Chloe Baldwin

Assistant Dramaturg: Symone Powell

Production Managers: Kanomé Jones, Carinne Uslar

Casting Director: Kanomé Jones

Assistant Casting Director: Rachel Paige

A-Squared Asian American ​Performing Arts Festival

A-Squared Festival

SPOT OF BOTHER opens tonight as part of the A-Squared Asian American Performing Arts Festival! We will be performing alongside an eclectic selection of performers, ranging from musicians, comedians, dancers, and installation artists.

The A-Squared Asian American Performing Arts Festival features four evenings of contemporary dance, music, performance art, puppetry, sound art, spoken word, and theatre by American artists of Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese descent.

On Saturday October 22 at 5:15 pm, there will be a sight, sound and taste installation delving into the interaction of memory, rapid development and food inspired by Hoi An’s outdoor night culture and the diverse Vietnamese cuisine derived from China, France, America and the indigenous people of Vietnam.

We will be performing at Links Hall (3111 N. Western Ave) on the following dates:

Thursday, Oct 20 @ 7pm
Saturday, Oct 22 @ 7pm

For tickets and more information, please visit: http://www.a-stw.org/asquared-asian-american-performing-arts-festival.html

Dragon Con 2016

While we are in town for the National Puppet Slam, we will also be participating in Dragon Con programming:

The Shadow Cabaret, September 2 @ 11:30pm

  • We will be performing SPOT OF BOTHER at this late-night shadow puppet cabaret.

Into the Shadows, September 3 @ 11:30pm

  • I will be a panelist on this shadow puppeteer panel.

For the full puppetry track schedule at Dragon Con, please visit: http://puppetry.dragoncon.org/?page_id=281

PHOTO UPDATE:

National Puppet Slam 2016

THROUGH THE LOOKINGGLASS was selected to participate at this year’s National Puppet Slam in Atlanta, GA! We are extremely honored to be invited to perform at the Center for Puppetry Arts, the largest organization in the United States devoted to puppetry.

September 2 @ 8pm
September 3 @ 8pm
September 4 @ 5pm
http://www.centerforpuppetryarts.com/

A big shout-out to Mike Oleon who nominated our piece. Thank you so much, Mike!

PHOTO UPDATE:

Illinifest 2016

My short film version of SPOT OF BOTHER was selected for Illinifest 2016, a film festival at the University of Illinois! The festival will take place on April 24 at the Urbana-Champaign campus.

http://illinifest.illinois.edu/
https://www.facebook.com/events/1062093547183887

Apparently there were 120+ submissions this year, so I was pleasantly surprised that SPOT OF BOTHER got chosen, especially since it is basically my first film. Hopefully it fares well in the competition!

Update (4/19/16): The nomination list just came in…SPOT OF BOTHER is in the running for the Grand Jury Award and for Best Editing! It is the only animated film nominated in these categories.

Spot of Bother Poster

Nasty, Brutish & Short: March 28

I performed my first non-shadow puppetry piece at Nasty, Brutish & Short! This was a solo show called TOLERANCE 101, featuring Sir Arthur Harringford, a rat that I taxidermied into a puppet with movable limbs and jaw. Prof. Harringford gives a seminar on tolerance at a cardboard lectern, that is projected onto a large screen via live camera feed.

For more information on the event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1092624864093008

This piece was extremely nerve-wracking, being my first piece that so heavily relies on speech. Not to mention, literally using a dead animal as a puppet can easily dip into bad taste. With my shadow puppet pieces, I’m so used to having my back towards the audience, so this kind of performance forced me to exercise a very different set of puppeteering skills. I’m so grateful for the audience’s positive response and I took away a lot from the experience. Even though the speech was entirely scripted and rehearsed, performing in front of a live audience made me realize just how difficult it is to negotiate between being a “performer” and a “tool” for the puppet. It was like rubbing my stomach and patting my head at the same time.

Major kudos to puppeteers out there who can do stuff like this!

Tolerance 101

Sir Arthur Harringford, a taxidermied rat gives a seminar on TOLERANCE 101. To accommodate his small stature, his lecture will be projected via live camera feed. As mankind’s most reviled creature, Sir Harringford feels he has much to share on the topic of tolerance.

Photos by Mike Oleon
Photos by Julia Ko

Script and Design:

Myra Su

Puppeteer:

Myra Su

Venue:

Nasty, Brutish & Short at Links Hall on Mar 24, 2014
(Chicago IL)

Rhinofest at Prop Thtr, opening for ‘Josephine the Singer, or Mouse Folk’ on Feb 9, 2018
(Chicago IL)

The Nine-Tailed Fox

This past November, I visited the Kansai region in Japan for the first time! After discovering that the National Bunraku Theater is located in the heart of Osaka, of course we HAD to go see a show there. The theater is right near the Nipponbashi stop on the Sennichimae train line (pink).

When looking for ticket information, we found that a Bunraku play doesn’t follow the typical 1hr30min standard length. The theater had two shows scheduled: The Vendetta by Two Sisters and The Nine-Tailed Fox, but they were advertised as Part 1 and Part 2 respectively. Part 1 is a matinee, and Part 2 starts later in the afternoon. Both shows are a whopping 4hrs30mins long! Meaning, that if you wanted to see the entire performance, you would be in the theater for 9 hours! Tickets are thereby sold by “section.” Each Part is divided up into 2-3 sections that have intermissions in between and tickets are priced according to the length of the section. A long 2hr section costs something like ¥2,400 (~20USD) and a short 25min section costs ¥500 (~5USD).

I’ve always been interested in kitsune-yokai legends, where supernatural foxes are able to shape shift into people, so naturally, I was more interested in seeing The Nine-Tailed Fox, 玉藻前曦袂 (Tamamo no Mae Asahi no Tamoto). Because bunraku typically consists of humanoid puppets operated by three puppeteers, I was very curious to see how a mythical beast would be translated into a puppet. After asking the box office in broken Japanese when the fox’s appearance (kitsune no deban?) would be, I decided to see the middle section, consisting of acts The Shinsen Garden, The Corridor, The Trial, and The Prayer. Even though we came in the middle of the show, it was relatively simple to pick up the story where it left off, ironically because the play is hard for a foreign viewer to follow anyway, being full of characters, sub-plots, inter-textual and historical references. Down to its bare bones though, the story is based on the legend of Tamamo no Mae:

 

“Tamamo no Mae is one of the most famous kitsune in Japanese mythology. A nine-tailed magical fox, she is also one of the most powerful yōkai that has ever lived. Her magical abilities were matched only by her trickiness and lust for power. Tamamo no Mae lived during the Heian period, and though she may not have succeeded in her plan to kill the emperor and take his place, her actions destabilized the country and lead it towards one of the most important civil wars in Japanese history. For that reason, Tamamo no Mae is considered one of the Nihon San Dai Aku Yōkai—the Three Terrible Yōkai of Japan.”

(from http://yokai.com/tamamonomae/)

Basically, Tamamo no Mae kills the emperor’s daughter and assumes her identity. She conspires with the emperor’s brother to overthrow the country. However, under the suspicions of the royal adviser, she is tricked into participating in a ceremony that reveals her identity as a kitsune.

Bunraku Theater InteriorThe theater was quite large and had traditional lanterns strung along the mezzanine. Concealing the stage was the iconic black, orange and green curtain, which I previously thought was only used in kabuki. Off to the side of the main stage is a small revolving stage, where each narrator and shamisen player duo perform. There were probably 6 different pairs that performed in the section I saw, each with their own introduction ceremony. A pair bows after their piece, and while they are hunched over, the stage rotates, revealing a new duo from the other side of the wall! I wasn’t expecting this at all, and had to stifle a laugh the first time it happened. Why are swiveling doors so funny??

z_01

The main stage is comprised lowered tracks so that you can only see the upper torso of the puppeteer. This allows the whole body of the puppet to be manipulated by the puppeteers at a full standing position. There was a clear hierarchy among the puppeteers – who are all men by the way – with the older, more senior puppeteer controlling the head and right arm, and his masked apprentices manipulating the left arm and feet. Not only is the head puppeteer unmasked, but instead of a stark black kimono, he also wears a more elaborate kimono. Junior puppeteers only take the lead when performing minor characters.

7-0The main attraction, the fox puppet, is single-handedly manned by perhaps the most experienced member in the troupe. Usually only very minor characters are operated by less than 3 puppeteers, so it was interesting to see such a central character assigned to just one guy. To keep a sense of continuity, the same guy was also the head puppeteer for the fox in disguise as the princess. Amazingly, the two transitions in the play, from fox to human then human back to fox, were both pretty much done onstage. The first transformation was done by having the fox attack the original princess behind a screen door, the lights flash, and the fox reappears as a fox-human. The final transformation back to the fox however, was done even more swiftly. Once the fox’s guise is forcibly revealed in the prayer scene, the fox-human reels forward and is quickly swiped away as the head puppeteer pulls out the fox from the same spot.

Kitsune Illustration

The highlight of the show was definitely towards the end when the princess is forcibly reverted back to her original fox form. Being at the “National Bunraku Theater,” I thought that the performance would be done as traditionally as possible. So to my surprise, the fox puppeteer was hoisted up into the air from a wire harness for the kitsune’s escape! It fit the mythical dimension of the narrative very well so I’m glad they took advantage of modern theater facilities.

RyomenI have no idea how it was constructed, but the fox in human form had a special flippable head mechanism (called menketsu) that could switch back and forth between a fox and human face. Even the hair changes between white in her half-yokai form and black in her human form. I’ve never seen a puppet head switch like this so fast and smooth. It reminded me of bian lian performers who can almost instantaneously change their masks with a quick swipe of a fan or head turn.

 

20090809-Bunraku jnto z_03Male and female puppets also have different mechanical designs. Female puppets are literally designed without legs (and even arms), which is perhaps eerily reflective of the constrained life of female royalty at the time. To create the illusion of limbs, the puppeteers would masterfully gesture with the puppet’s kimono by clenching the sleeve in a certain way, etc. When walking, female puppets are able to naturally glide across the stage by the movement of her hem.

 

National Bunraku Theater
This is all to say that should you ever find yourself in Osaka, you must check out the National Bunraku Theater. The tickets are affordable and you can even see a short segment for just ¥500 if you’re on a super tight budget. The narration is accompanied by Japanese surtitles, but you can ask for a program in English/Chinese/Korean. You won’t get a line-by-line translation, but you’ll be able to get a rough idea of the story.