Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Should Puppets Play Jesus?

I first became a part of a puppet team at age 12 at my home church back in the Chicago area. The director of that team had her own rule, we never portrayed Jesus as a least not a puppet like the other "Muppet" style puppets we used. In one production that portrayed some spiritual warfare, Jesus appeared as a white cloaked figure. The puppet was more of a rod puppet and was hooded so the audience couldn't see a face. I think we most often portrayed Jesus simply as a light. As I've been exposed to more puppet teams around the world over the years, I have encountered many who do at times portray Jesus as a puppet character. Others wouldn't hear of it. So what's the answer? Should puppets play Jesus?

I think I'm at the point where I could go either way. I try, in general, not to have "Muppet" style puppets play Jesus. But if it's done in a respectful way, I think that puppets can play Jesus. To me puppetry is acting...from the shoulder up. Actors play Jesus all the time. I'm not a typical actor, but God has given me a gift for acting with a puppet. If a puppet is going to play Jesus, however, I think the tone of the material needs to be different. I'm certainly not suggesting having a Jesus puppet start cracking jokes or break into "Mahna Mahna." There's nothing that says Puppets = Silly. Puppets aren't always wild and crazy, they can communicate subtly. I think that is important to keep in mind when portraying Christ as a puppet.

All that having been said, I still prefer to look for other ways of portraying Jesus. I've talked before about my love of shadow puppetry. Showing Jesus as a shadow puppet can be very beautiful. In some blacklight performances I've seen Jesus portrayed as simply a pair of white gloved hands. Speaking of hands, one of the best portrayals of Jesus I've ever seen in a puppet performance was by marionette artist David Simpich, who simply manipulated his bare hand reaching through a picture frame as he spoke Christ's own words from the scripture.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Do You Believe in Harvey Dent?

Now this is a cool piece of movie marketing. A few days ago this image began circulating the web, along with a website: I Believe in Harvey Dent. Of course, this is an early visual from next summer's movie "The Dark Knight," which is the follow-up to "Batman Begins." That's Aaron Eckhart playing Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent. In the Batman universe, Dent eventually becomes the villain Two-Face but that's but that's for later.
Now, all of the sudden, another website pops up: I Believe in Harvey Dent Too. On this site the campaign poster appears to be defaced, most likely by The Joker. Watch for a few seconds and you'll notice the image begin to disappear, and the beginnings of a face being revealed. There is a place to register your e-mail address, then a code is sent to you to assist in revealing the image under the poster. Many internet movie geeks believe that as the picture disolves, we will be treated to our first image of Heath Ledger as The Joker. I gotta admit, this is a pretty fun piece of marketing, for a movie that is still a year away from release.

Update: Sunday May 20: 7:47 AM...The Joker has pretty much been revealed. Go take a look!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Thoughts on Creativity

I've been thinking about creativity a lot, probably because I haven't felt like I've had very much of it lately. Creativity is a strange thing, sometimes it comes easy, sometimes it's the hardest thing in the world.

Puppetry and Ministry are two of the things that fill much of my time. In fact, the two merge most of the time, and I believe both are areas where creativity is essential. I know a lot of people who who would say they aren't at all creative (around 2:00 yesterday afternoon I might have said the same thing), but I believe we can train ourselves to be more creative.

I was reading a bit about the concept of "creativity" yesterday. One section talked about how creative people are always producing...some of what they produce may not be the greatest ideas, but that the act of continually producing is what helps bring those few great ideas out. I read that Bach wrote a cantata every week and that Thomas Edison had 1,093 patents. As I read about these I thought of Frank Zappa, who I read an interesting book about a year or so ago. Zappa was a unique figure in rock music. A good deal of his work is not what I would normally recommend to my Christian friends, but there's no denying the man was creative. Continuing to produce material was not a problem for him. Over the course of his career he recorded more than sixty albums. Several of those albums were just collections of his famously ever-changing guitar solos from live concerts. In fact, he produced so much material that his family members have continued to release new CD's of his music pretty regularly since his death in 1993.

Chuck Jones, the great Warner Brothers animation director, once recalled that one of his art instructors once greeted the class by saying "All of you here have one hundred thousand bad drawings in you. The sooner you get rid of them the better it will be for everyone." So we must keep on producing. Whether we're writing puppet skits, or practicing a Gospel illusion, or planning an object lesson...sometimes it takes working through a lot of bad ones before we come up with a great one. Lucky for us, God is a creative guy. He's the father of all creativity and we can tap into that creativity. Asking for creativity has become a regular part of my prayers.

One challenge I've given myself is to try and write something every could be a puppet program, it could be a blog post, it could be a short thought over on my Twitter page. I've also started carrying a small journal in my back pocket so I can write down every idea that comes along, even the one hundred thousand bad ones

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

What Puppets Can Do

A blog I enjoy following is "All Kinds of Stuff," which is the blog of John Kricfalusi, or "John K." John K is the, at times, controversial animator behind "Ren and Stimpy." A lot of his work is definitely adult oriented, but I enjoy some of his observations about animation in general. He will often break down sequences from classic animated shorts to talk about what makes them work. I enjoy doing the same thing with the world of puppets.

One of his recent postings is called "What Cartoons Can Do," in which he breaks down a sequence from a Woody Woodpecker cartoon called "Banquet Busters" to show what you can do with animation that you cold never do with live action.

As I read this it got me thinking about puppets. Puppets, of course, are a bit more limited than an animated character is. But still, one of the things that is so great about puppets is that they can do so many things that just aren't possible with live action. In fact, I would say the limitations of puppets work to their advantage many times. Just look at Kermit the Frog's performance of "Happy Feet." Jim Henson manages to convince the audience that Kermit is a great tap dancer, though we never even see his feet. For an actor on a stage, you can't fake tap dancing! With the right manipulation, puppets make the audience connect the dots in their own minds. They start to see things that aren't really there!

It's a challenge for we puppeteers to continue to...well...challenge our puppets. We need to explore what they are capable of, and even explore what they may not be capable of but which we can fool the audience into thinking that they are.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Thousand Hand Dance

I just happened upon this amazing video. Apparently all 21 of the young ladies doing this intricate performance are completely deaf. Assistants give hand signals from various place at the edges of the stage to help direct the performers, but I would bet that a lot of practice and memorization have a lot to do with it too. Amazing!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Muppet Show Season 2 DVD Date Announced!

After almost 2 years of waiting, Disney has finally announced the street date for the DVD release of the 2nd season of "The Muppet Show!" Check out the whole story here at August 7 is the big day!

Among the special features on this set is the first ever video release of "The Muppet Valentine Special" which was the 2nd pilot for the show. The first was "The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence" which appeared as a special feature on the Season 1 set.

All 5 Seasons of The Muppet Show are awesome, but season 2 is where the show really started to come into it's own. Guest stars included Steve Martin, Elton John, Peter Sellers, Edgar Bergen, and John Cleese.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Summer Movie Previews

Well with the release of "Spider-Man 3" today, the summer movie season is upon us. It gets earlier every year. Long gone are the days when I could wait on line all morning to be in the first showing of "Batman," but I still love the excitement of the summer movie season. Today some new looks at some of the upcoming films hit the web. First here's a 9-minute preview of "Ratatouille," which is the newest from Pixar.

And here's a new preview for "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer." I thought "Fantastic Four" was good not great, but so far the sequel is looking like an improvement to me.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Stations of the Cross

Here's a really beautifully done shadow puppet play depicting the stations of the cross. Shadow puppetry has always been a favorite of mine and this is really well done.

Hat tip to PuppetVision Blog for posting this one.