Fellow puppet enthusiasts,
I wish you had been a fly on the wall at Beyond the Sock. If you had, then you would know that the $1350 price tag for attendance would be worth saving for. I can’t think of any place better to enjoy myself while developing my professional skills than this program hosted by the University of North Texas. A brain child of James Martin, a professor in the Radio, Television, Film & Performing Arts portion of the University, Beyond the Sock is sponsored by two different departments at UNT: Department of Media Arts and the Department of Dance and Theatre. It features the teaching talents of Sesame Street puppeteers Noel McNeal and Peter Linz, with the puppet building talents of Pasha Romanowski of Project Puppet. To say that these guys are my professional heroes, is an understatement. The first year I attended the workshop in 2013, I was a nervous admirer. Now I have the pleasure of calling these teachers, my friends. These gentlemen are not only talented, but kind and down-to-earth.
The previous two years attendance have increased my skills professionally, and this year was no exception. Pasha’s online patterns are in a class by themselves, the best available. His patterns at the workshop are even more exciting. Each year I have learned a new technique to add to my skill set as a builder. The pattern you receive is not available outside the workshop and should be considered one of the valuable take-aways of attending. The monkey pattern from this year is now one of the most complex in my personal collection. It’s amazing that beginners and experienced puppet builders alike complete their puppets each year in time for a final video production at the week’s end. Pasha’s instruction and a massive scramble by week’s end ensure that every participant has a video ready puppet to perform on Saturday’s live Sesame Street style professional taping.
With a max attendance of 24-26 students, and classes split in two groups alternating between building and performing each day, each attendee gets plenty of individual attention from the instructors. Daily practice in front of monitors teaches participants the art of puppeteering in the style of Sesame Street, the best in the business. Peter Linz and Noel McNeal have both professional experience as puppeteers on Sesame Street and as teachers of puppeteering for Sesame Street’s international television offshoots. The puppeteering portion is a delightful mix of hands-on practice with the polished and playful demonstration of key concepts by two very funny, talented guys. I love watching Noel and Peter. I laugh and smile as I tackle the concepts with their encouragement. With monitors as a reference for puppeteering in frame, this style is not an easy one to master. You and other participants slowly learn this craft in preparation for a final show taped on the last day of the workshop.
Everyone at Beyond the Sock knows I love this workshop. I wear my smile every day because I’m tickled to be there. During BTS, I live, eat and sleep puppet for 5 days straight. It couldn’t be more fun. I plan to attend Beyond the Sock 2016. I wouldn’t miss it. Hope to see you there!
Check out “Beyond the Sock” video highlights CLICK HERE to see what you are missing!
Review by Pam Groom
In 1997, Drew Allison of Grey Seal Puppets along with Donald Devet created The Foam Book (now on Kindle). I probably purchased my copy around 2006. It was one of the first guides for creating polyfoam mouth/rod puppets geared for the newly minted puppet-making enthusiast. The book was filled with practical tips and tricks and was a must for the puppet-maker’s bookshelf. I still have my copy with pages of resource material stapled together and shoved inside that I printed from the internet as well.
Since The Foam Book’s release, the internet has come alive with information on mouth/rod construction, dozens of puppetsmiths showing their wares and countless tutorials and workshops. New tips and tricks are scattered about, ready to be collected in a new volume. Enter “Dressing The Naked Hand…” Familius © 2015 by Amy White, Mark H. Pulham, and Dallin Blankenship.
The book is 184 pages and includes an instructional DVD. Since I’m reviewing an advanced copy of the book, I’m unable to review the DVD however, the inside paragraph regarding the DVD reads “We’ve done our best to create easy-to-follow instructions, but there’s nothing to compare with actually watching a puppeteer at work. Fortunately, we’ve included video tutorials for most of the puppets and acting tips in this book. You’ll find them on the DVD located in the back of the book. Trust us—they’ll save you a lot of time and frustration…”
I was excited to recognize a couple of Dallin Blankenship’s creations on the cover when I first saw an image of the book. If you’re not familiar with Dallin’s work, he began making puppets as an intern at Puppet School in Los Angeles and apparently soaked up all there was to know about puppet building like a sponge. Dallin began churning out wonderfully creative and captivating puppet characters that he sold in his etsy store and featured on his puppet making blog. I was pleased to see the book start with a bit of a history lesson. In it, they made the space to give a brief nod to shadow, Wayang, parade, marionette, glove, Bunraku and mouth puppets. It’s always good to remind those of us who might be attached to one specific style that there is a whole family and history of puppets out there.
The chapters progress with methods for the beginner puppet builder and continue with more advanced technique. Each chapter begins with what you should have in your tool kit for the job at hand. This was valuable for all the trips I made back and forth to the craft store and fabric store when I first started building. The first project in the book is turning a stuffed animal into a puppet. I recall seeing a few of these online when I started as a puppet builder and they can certainly be practical. Some puppet builders are looking for a simple solution for a character to accompany a story hour or populate a show with easy background characters. The book explores making simple hand/glove puppets from smaller stuffed animals to transforming a stuffed animal with a mouth into an actual moving-mouth puppet. The moving-mouth puppet is expanded on in the following chapter where instructions are included for building your first basic humanoid style puppet. Patterns are provided in the resource section in the back of the book. The chapter includes ideas for mouth-plate materials, inside mouth detail, eyes, ears, hair and costuming.
Among the advanced techniques in the next chapter is how to pattern from an object (in this case, a fish figurine) which can also be used in patterning from your own sculpted, clay character as suggested. This is followed by instructions on carving a puppet from a block of foam and how to pattern it for a fabric covering. A section on advanced mouth-plate designs contains a couple of mouth-plates to help your puppet perform. Naturally, arm rods and hand grips follow. This book really has EVERYTHING the beginner might need in one place. Next chapter – stages. Everything is included from a simple sewn stage to a PVC pipe stage to a more advanced wooden stage with tips to customize for your specific needs. The next section of the book even includes performance technique and the pitfalls to be aware of to help your character come to life convincingly and put on a quality performance.
The final chapter is a valuable resource for all beginning builders. Working with different fabrics including fur, sewing techniques, basic stitches and, what to have in your puppet emergency kit are all covered. A basic list of suppliers includes a few of the old standbys for purchasing fur, foam and fleece and other odds and ends. The requisite need-to-know materials definitions are included along with the aforementioned patterns.
“Dressing The Naked Hand” is another great addition to your puppet-maker’s bookshelf. It’s well suited for the advanced beginner to the budding professional builder. Retailing just under $20 on Amazon, the advanced builder might pick one up for the additional mouth-plate technique and a new basic pattern as well. It’s one I’ll definitely be adding to my collection.