Blog : Behind the scenes

How a Community Builds a Puppet Show


Up In Arms’ latest puppet musical, “Monster Intelligence“, makes its debut with 3 shows free to the public in Orange County, New York on May 10, June 7 and June 14, 2014. Looking back, it’s been quite the journey. Over a year ago, many of my friends in the puppet community had been discussing the hurdles we face as full time artists. Bookings were and continue to be low and balancing budgets and the prospect of producing new shows becomes difficult to reconcile. This article won’t be about the hardships that we all know too well. I’d rather focus on the triumphs and community of puppeteers and supporters who made this show possible.

Last year, I became aware of a grant available through our county office of tourism which promotes arts events here in Orange County, NY. Several grants would be awarded at a maximum of $5000. Part of the funding had to come from the applying organization which just meant I had to show that I was investing in my project as well. It was my first grant and I had two very smart and educated nieces guiding me as they were both familiar with the grant writing process. Months after the grant was finalized, I was notified that I was a successful applicant and my project would move ahead with funds from Orange County Tourism and the County of Orange. This is the major reason why the show was even able to move forward in production.

The grant and budget would pay for the script writer, music arranger, recording studio, puppet materials, additional puppet builder, scenery and props, photographer, talent rehearsal and performance stipend. Along with that, I had a community of people ready to lend a hand. Derek Lux is a builder from LA who was kind enough to buy an Up In Arms t-shirt when I had them printed to raise funds. I always enjoyed his artistry and was happy to be able to employ him as my additional builder. Although the materials were supplied, he jumped in at a reduced fee to help build some of the puppets. Pasha Romanowski from Project Puppet has always been a champion of all we do at Up In Arms and lent his artistry in drawing some initial concept designs for many of the characters. When it came time to construct props, I needed a drawing of a young monster for a cereal box. Of course, Dave Hulteen came to mind and I knew just the character of his I wanted to use. When I asked for use of the character, he not only allowed me to use it but, mocked up what he thought the cereal box cover might look like and it’s now being used in the show. These are all people that I’ve developed relationships with online over the years but, it still fills me with love and support that these people believe in what I do. Relationships in this community are everything to me. I met puppeteer Charlie Kanev at the POA festival in Swarthmore, PA last summer and he wanted to help in any way he could. I want to support this young talent, not only because of the friendship we’ve forged but, because of the amazing artistry and potential that he so obviously has. When I needed a butterfly for the opening scene, Charlie, with his knowledge of rod puppet mechs, built me a beautiful butterfly rod puppet with flapping wings. Charlie was instrumental in designing and painting some of the set pieces as well and will be puppeteering for the premiere performances. A designer I met at the Puppetry Guild of Greater New York (NYC) was Justin DuPont who designed and built a simple rolling frame for the monster’s doors which roll on and off during the show.

I took Colette Searls’ workshop “Directing for Puppetry” at the POA conference and realized that I’ve had to direct from within for my shows, being both director and puppeteer. Having an outside look at your show or having someone with that vision can be so helpful. With all of the great music and artistry that’s already gone into “Monster Intelligence”, I wanted it to achieve a greater vision. One of my favorite puppeteers that I’ve worked with on “Helping Drew” is Amy Rush as she’s always inspired better performance from me. I also met Joshua Holden, another amazing artist at the POA Festival, and enlisted the two to workshop “Monster Intelligence” so I could have that outside look and observe what’s possible with the various characters and their scenes. Amy and Joshua were a joy to work with and helped me see a better vision for “Monster Intelligence” that I couldn’t have completely seen for myself.

Of course, there are more than just puppeteers and puppet builders that made this show happen. I’m lucky to be part of an arts community where I live and called upon talented friends for the initial table-read of the show, vocal talent to record the show, Scott Test, our exceptional music arranger, my friend Hannah Blair Butler who created costumes for a few of the characters and, my insanely talented friend John Simpkins in Oregon who painted the backdrop for the show. Major kudos, of course, to my creative partner and script writer Alex Ishkanian for taking on the ‘monster’ task of bringing this story to life. “Monster Intelligence” is ready to be embraced by an audience with a community of exceptionally talented and caring individuals behind it.

Article by David Manley

Barry the Biscuit Boy

Barry the Biscuit Boy is a new commercial for Cravendale Milk. It is a mixture of rod puppetry and stop motion animation. It’s beautifully shot and looks like an illustration from a children’s nursery rhyme book. I’ve also managed to find the video of the making of the commercial. Enjoy!

Frown Town in Production

After much anticipation “Frown Town” is once again under production.

The idea of “Frown Town” (an adult internet film) started almost 3 years ago and included a very stylized band of characters. Everything about “Frown Town” looked and felt amazing- from it’s beautifully designed puppets to the creatively constructed sets. The production, however, seem to come to a halt after the Kickstarter campaign “Frown Town”   made it’s targeted money. Many of the backers started to worry and complain about the lack of production promised by Frown Town’s  creators.

On August 4th, 2011 the makers of Frown Town finally answered to one of their Kickstarter backers “Daniel” as to why they haven’t produced anything…

“Dear Daniel,

First off all, I want to sincerely say that I’m terribly sorry we’ve been a disappointment, and our project has been plagued with setbacks. We owe it to you to lay it all out on the table, so here it goes:

We never meant it to be like this. We spent a year and a half with blinkers on, building puppets in a basement, never conceiving of how difficult actual production was. We two artists trying something new and huge and possibly impossible. We made some awfully pretty puppets but when it came time to found a production company it turns out we didn’t have nearly what it took. We did the Kickstarter funding with the belief that we’d be able to finish filming by last September. That was utterly wrong, and only one of massive time underestimations we made. Each new phase of production came with it’s own setbacks and limitations. Phauntleroy, an integral character, was terribly unwieldily, difficult to operate and still isn’t working. Our voice acting sucked. Then Andy moved across the country, and the team was split up disastrously. We lost months trying to fix it with animation, which ended up a visually-unappealing dead end. The whole time, we didn’t want to admit to ourselves, much less to the strangers and friends who’d trusted us enough to fund us, that Frown Town was on life support. So we kept our traps shut. The updates stopped and the massive feelings of guilt started. Not continuously posting our failures and setbacks to our blog and Kickstarter was really wrong of us. We justified it to ourselves by believing that it wouldn’t exactly have helped with the dwindling morale, but that was the easy way out.

So here’s the low down at this point in the game. The funding was spent by the end of last summer on sets, equipment, and the merchandise we produced and send off to funders. If we’d known we’d have had these problems, we would not have done the fundraising drive. Since funding, the project’s been sputtering along in various incarnations for a year now. It’s not dead, but it’s definitely not in the bloom of health. Both of us refuse to give up hope on it, although we’re nowhere close to the stage of production that we wished we would be at by now. If we do shake the curse and manage to get it off the ground, even in truncated form, we will fulfill what we owe everyone and then some. It’s been a long slog of false starts so far. We were good at making pretty puppets, but we’ve been shit at making a show with them. Creative projects of vast scale take years to accomplish. Our biggest mistake wasn’t thinking we could do this, it was thinking we could do this on any kind of reasonable time frame. We have only four hands between us, and only Andy is ambidextrous.

Frown Town remains the best and most promising project either of us has so far conceived of or worked on. We will still do our damndest to find a way to justify the time we’ve put into it, and the trust and money you gave to us.

Thank you for believing in us, sorry we let you down. And sorry most of all for not having kept you informed on the state of the show, you deserved better.

Andy & Steve”

2 Years later the makers (Andy and Steve) have emerged…it seems that “Frown Town” had to re-organize and evaluate the execution of the production. They abandoned the stylized sets and took to the streets to film their show. They also are making the originally targeted film into a series of shorts. In their return back from hiatus the makers of “Frown Town” explain why the shift in focus…

“We’ve scaled back our original delusions of grandeur and are now tackling the material in the form of shorts. Here’s swearing the first one will be released by our second Failiversary: September 15th, 2012. Now is the time for the rolling of sleeves: there’s work to be done.”

I personally would love to see this series become a reality and hope that Andy and Steve continue to post their “behind the scenes” material on their BLOG. Here’s hoping “Frown Town” can turn that frown upside down and redeem themselves from their financial backers.

Workshop still being built…whew!

Being sick really set me back in regards to completing my workshop. Since I last spoke here about it I managed to put up the dry wall, plaster, sand and put in the flooring. My dad, who is a carpenter, was integral in making certain we (my wife and I) did the work right. I decided to go with a laminate flooring since we are in a basement and used the right padding. After putting in the flooring my dad put in the baseboard and even scribed them to the uneven basement floor. The workbench was next- I went with a oak as it was only ten cents more a foot. I went with a stain that would match the floor and am varnishing it about 5 times to get a strong surface that can withstand some abuse LOL I also drilled holes into the workbench for cords and such to pass through and plug into outlets below. I purchased two cabinets to hang- great for all my glues etc.  I still have to do some touch up painting/varnishing and put in the door hardware.

I noticed all the pictures I’ve posted are from one end of my workshop and doesn’t show the rest of the room. The room is 10ft by 16ft and should be adequate for what I need. I created a “window” that I can look out of into our rec room which is beside the workshop. I’m very pleased as to how it is coming along. I’m hoping by the end of this week I’ll be ready to make the big move into the new space- more photos to come as I move in and hopefully show you the finish room.