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

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


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.

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:

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!

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.”


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??


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.

Nasty, Brutish & Short: March 16

Come see my newest shadow puppet collaboration with Mitch Salm (fellow Manual Cinema co-puppeteer) next Monday, March 16 at 7:30pm, in Links Hall!

Set in backcountry America, THROUGH THE LOOKINGGLASS is a psychological thriller of Alec, a young boy on his first deer hunt. In this Midwestern retelling of the classic coming-of-age story, Alec confronts death and the savage power of man for the first time, through the dangerous lookingglass he holds in his hands…

You can buy tickets here:

Also, check out the cabaret’s facebook page:

Nasty, Brutish & Short: September 29

Nasty, Brutish & Short (9/29/14)Check out a preview of my newest project, THE CAT DAYS OF CHRISTMAS this coming Monday at Nasty, Brutish & Short! The project is based on real cats, inspired by my experience as a cat sitter last Christmas when I was taking care of an obscene number of cats – enough to designate one cat for each day of Christmas. My final goal for the project is to create 12 episodes surrounding the relationship between a cat sitter and the 12 cats in her care.

The preview I will be showing is one episode of the planned 12. More information about the show is attached below:

Monday, September 29 at 7:30pm

Links Hall 3111 N Western Ave
Chicago, Illinois 60618
Tickets $5-$8

Fantastical beasts! Humour! Ribald language! Forget your plagues and your woes. Take a break from your lowly serfdom for an evening the finest contemporary puppets in all the land! Behold the magicke of:

Michael Montenegro
Angry Young Men
Sea Beast Puppetry
Allyson Gonzalez
Theresa Dewey
Myra Su
Taylor Bibat

With honoured guest, the renowned puppet Queen of clowning, Lady Anna Fitzgerald of Baltimore.

Recommended for adult audiences only. Few if any puppets will use pseudo-medieval language.

Presented by Links Hall and Curated by Taylor Bibat and Mike Oleon

Nasty Brutish & Short is an evening of contemporary short-form puppet and object based theater for adult audiences. The cabaret is a low risk environment for artists to perform new and experimental work and foster artistic exchange between puppet artists of different generations and mediums.

This event is funded in part by the Puppet Slam Network (a project of IBEX Puppetry).

Hope to see you there!