On September 6, 2006, I appeared on BSR 88.1 FM on the show Spoiler Alert hosted by DJ Madameb (aka Toni P.) where I co-interviewed film producer, Heather Henson. At the time we were discussing Handmade Puppet Dreams, a film series that focused on live action short-form puppetry that was playing at the Rhode Island Film Festival.
From Spoiler Alert/BSR 88.1 FM:
djmadameb (aka Toni P.): You are listening to Spoiler Alert: All Things Film in Providence and Beyond on 88.1 FM WELH Providence and BSRlive.com. Our next interview today is with Heather Henson, daughter of Jim Henson and puppet master in her own right. Heather is interviewed by co-puppeteer, Marsian. . .
Marsian: I’m Marsian. .
Heather: WHO ARE YOU?!
Marsian: . . from http://www.puppetslam.com, and I’m with Heather Henson a FILM MAKER at the 10th annual Rhode Island International Film Festival, so . .
Heather: Is that pronounced ‘Marshawn’ . . or ‘ Martian’ ?
Marsian: I just try to mix it up to confuse people and generate interest. . Anyway, so you’re a FILM MAKER, tell me about being a FILM MAKER. . .
Heather: Well actually Marsian, I’m actually not actually a film MAKER, but more of a film promoter and packager. . I LOVE puppets. And I’ve been a part of this wonderful underground movement of independent artist doing puppetry to express their, heart and soul. . . We’ve seen such works at PERISHABLE THEATRE! at BLOOD FROM A TURNIP!
Marsian: Yes, Yes
Heather: Where you’ve hosted, such artists
Marsian: Yes, Yes – and they’ve been wonderful evenings
Heather: Yes, and those are usually live shows
Marsian: Correct. . . But how did [Hand Made Puppet Dreams] branch off from that? or where does this movement have its roots or underpinnings would you say?
Heather: Yeah, I love independent puppetry on stage and in theaters and I noticed that there are actually a lot of independent puppet films out there. Little independent puppet FILMS. But you don’t see them very often. . They slip through the cracks. They don’t make it into animation festivals and they don’t make it into live action festivals
Marsian: You mean so there’s no Spike and Mike’s Animation Festival [but] of puppets? . . . or is that what you’re doing?
Heather: Oddly enough, there isn’t. . There’s a big need for something like a Spike and Mike Festival of Animation FOR PUPPETS, or a maybe like the Animation Show, but FOR PUPPETS. .
Marsian: or maybe . . “Hand Made Puppet Dreams”
Heather: . . . or Maybe we should call it “Hand Made Puppet Dreams”
Marsian: What’s handmade about it? . . I mean its film, right?
Heather: Well, the stars are handmade, cause the stars are puppets and the puppets have to be made by hand. hand stitched or hand crafted or hand sculpted. .
Marsian: Well, Why not have some big movie company do all that work? I mean. . .
Heather: Well, That would take the personal integrity out of it and make it more anonymous, where these are really little films that have been crafted from these artists that have been built in their bedrooms and their garages, labored away for hours and hours. .
Marsian: So they’re coming from a REAL point of view, just the way that slams express an aritst’s point of view
Heather: You know, that’s a good point, yeah. Yes, they are very personal visions, personal stories. . . where people have usually sculpted these little characters.
Marsian: And could you tell us about these personal visions that are in the HANDMADE PUPPET DREAMS? I know you showed six of them, where they the same six that you showed at the Cannes Film Festival?
Heather: (laughs) Actually we showed 12 films at the Cannes Film Festival. . . Actually its the Cannes Market, which is a little different. .
Marsian: Is it like Boston Market, but for film?
Heather: Hmmmmmmm. . . Not quite. But it is a place where you buy and sell film and because they are puppets. . Sometimes they don’t really have words and this could work really well for an international market, so we went over there to see if there would be interest in distributing these.
Marsian: And there were local Rhode Island people in this?
Heather: Local Rhode Island people. They’re people that had gone to school in Rhode Island. People who had gone to school at RISD. Cause actually there’s very few universities where people can go to learn to make puppets. Rhode Island School of Design is one of those actually schools where you can actually learn some of those skills.
So Paul Andraco, he has a REALLY big company right now in New York City, called Puppet Heap. We have a little film he made a number of years ago, but its a really brilliant little puppet film about a boxing Nun and Devil. When He teaches at RISD he will bring that puppet to class. Its a really ingenious puppet where the head is lopped off and so the light goes through the skull and then the eyes light up from the light kind of penetrating from an opening in the skull. . Its a very wise, ingenious puppet. Its really fun. So, Paul Andrejco, went to RISD. .
And then Matty Sidle also went to RISD. He had a great film his senior year. It was. He was a class above me and his film had a cameo appearance with Rudy Cheeks in it from The Young Adults, so there’s a real Rhode Island lore in his film. He actually brought the film to the Puppeteers of America Festival and it did really well there and he hosted it.
When we run these films, I try to get someone, a film maker to show up at one of these screenings and so this year, we brought Tim Lagasse and he made Sammy and Sofa.
Along with collecting and finding and packaging these independent films, we are also going ahead and producing some puppet films as well. There’s an artist named David Michael Friend and he’s still working on his film and that will get done one day and we’re hoping to work with Matty Sidle actually for next year. We have a couple of artists picked out to work with in the next. . . Genevieve Anderson is one we want to work with. She actually won the Rhode Island Film festival a couple of years ago for best script writing and so we’re hoping to work with her on a new film.
And Marsian, another film that our grouped produced is a little black and white film, called Harker, which is based on Nosveratu. That film was made by a team of puppet artists in Orlando, Florida, After they had done their Disney shifts of doing their puppet work in the parks during the DAY, they came home at NIGHT and they made this film in over two weeks from like 7 o’clock at night to like 1 o’clock in the morning. And one of the guys has a photo studio and they made it there. That was really exciting.
Marsian: And that premiered at the Orlando Puppetry Festival (2005) are you planning on ever repeating that?
Heather: Actually, we do have. . . The Orlando Puppet Festival is a puppet festival we started last year in Orlando, Florida. We’re going to be doing it again this year. . . November 2nd through the 6th
Marsian: Is there a website for that?
Heather: Yeah, http://www.OrlandoPuppetFestival.com . . . and its a festival where we try to bring in outside artists and showcase local Orlando people.
Marsian: What were the other films? Graveyard Jamboree is one of my favorites, I remember seeing in San Francisco in 1999 at one of the theaters there at a festival
Heather: Actually that film has been around a lot. Its been a favorite of a lot of peoples’. Its an exciting film because it uses live action puppets, as well as stop motion animation and some silhouette paper cutouts
Marsian: Very Pee Wee’s Playhouse – Ants looking
Heather: Those guys are very talented, those guys have actually been working on Robot Chicken for the last couple of years. . . And so actually another Rhode Island connection. . Their company is employing a ton of RISD grads, who do stop motion animation. Its actually the biggest employer of stop motion people in this country right now. Of course it was a large group that went over with “Corpse Bride” in London, but for this country, they’re employing a lot of people.
Marsian: I thought they also did some work on the Flinstones Sequel?
Heather: Yeah, they were doing lots of little small jobs all over the place for a while. Robot Chicken has been a lot of steady work for a long time
Laura Heit, is also one of the artists we showed. Handmade Puppet Dreams has been around for a couple of years. We did Volume I and then this year we did Volume 2. And Laura Heit is an artist that we’ve showed for two years in a row now, because we had Mary Anning and Her Monsters last year which was her senior degree from Royal College. And then now we’re showing Finger Puppets Everywhere, but Laura Heit is a really neat artist. She’s from [School of] Chicago Art Institute.
Marsian: . We were in some of the same classes together [a mistatement] . . . Another place where they teach puppetry AND she just happens to be teaching at CalArts, and yet another place where they teach puppetry
Heather: Actually she’s teaching Stop Motion Animation as well as Puppet Films. . . Marsian, Can you tell me something about http://www.PuppetSlam.com? What is this?. .
Marsian: . Awwww! You’re turning the tables on me… Puppetslam.com is an online resource networking puppet artists and venues and audiences. So that puppet artists know where they can perform, venues know where they can find artists and audiences know where they can go to see these exciting short form pieces of work! And you can find that at Puppetslam.com. . “Blood from A Turnip” has one of the largest entries, there’s several glamourous photo pages and posters. . . And we’ve profiled about ten of these puppet slams from around the country and the list just keeps growing. We keep getting more and more. . . We’ve been sending out surveys and we go to some of them and we hear about slams we didn’t know about. . . Its great.
And we’ve profiled
Heather: And what exactly is a puppet slam?
Marsian: It doesn’t have to be late at night, although many of them happen to be late at night in a non-traditional venue or a traditional venue. There’s short form puppetry [they’re] not like full length pieces] Its often a time for puppet artists to experiment with new ideas. . . They’ve been going on for a while. Blood from a Turnip’s been around for ten years*. . .
[*props to Vanessa Gilbert]
Heather: Ten Years!
Marsian: Its been a hotbed of activity here.
Heather: Its kind of frightening, because I was here when it started 10 years ago, I lived in Providence when Blood from A Turnip started.
Marsian: Did you ever perform in it?
Heather: Why yes I did! I performed in many Blood From A Turnip as well as puppet slams up in Boston and the ones down in Connecticut and New York
Marsian: And what are your plans with future handmade puppet dreams – Where do you see this franchise going?
Heather: I’d love to be able to get these films out and show them to new audiences. I think its exciting to showcase the artists – I’m excited to get the artist an opportunity to get their work shown, but even more than that, I love bringing this to the audiences. I think that audiences haven’t seen work like this and thats always thrilling to get the audience reaction and have them be delighted with these films.
Marsian: So there’s something important about having something important about having it screened at a live audience as supposed to just watching it in isolation on T.V. with your favorite finger food. .
Heather: You know, I do. I come from a theatre world and I think that there’s something really exciting about experiencing something with a group. I love the audience, I like the live audience experience, I think that adds an extra layer of excitement to the entertainment when you can share that experience with people. I do think that’s important. . Although one day it would be nice to have this available on DVD, but we’re not there yet. That is a future goal, but for now, I really love it in a live theatre
Marsian: And I know that you’re an artist in you’re own right, just headlining the PofA. . .
:: LOUD CRASH ::
Marsian: Oh, someone just got shot. . . We’re in the West side neighborhood. Anything can happen. . . Umm at the PofA festival that you just headlined. Do you have any plans to make your own Handmade Puppet Dream Film?
Heather: Well you, know, right now, I’m really working on my live theatre shows: I work with indoor kites. We make custom animation that is made specifically to perform in front of. And so we work with puppets, oversized puppets, projected animation and indoor kites. Another connection to Rhode Island is that indoor kites have been traditionally performed here on First Night. A lot of the indoor kite flyers would be brought into Rhode Island just to do an indoor showcase, so theres a lot of Rhode Islanders that actually know what indoor kite flying is, where as a lot of towns have no idea what indoor kite flying is, but I’ve worked with a lot of indoor kite flyers and we’ve woven their craft into theatre shows, so we have indoor kites in the theatre shows. And I’m doing a show about the migration of whooping cranes from Wisconsin to Florida. . And the return of the whooping crane and the importance of the flight of the crane and we work with kites in that show.
And its really exciting to work with animation, and I studied animation at RISD. And then have actually gone on to work at CalArts for Scenic Design and then now I’m incorporating all those different genres together.
We’ve submitted this series to a number of film festivals, that we’re hoping to get in. We’ve only received really a great response every time we’ve screened it. You can get information at that website, we have http://www.handmadepuppetdreams.com for the film series. And we also have a Myspace account which is really rockin’ that will also let you know the next time we screen it.
Marsian: Put us in you’re top 8. . . .
Marsian: Put ME in your top 8!
djmadameb (aka Toni P.): I want to thank you guys for taking this time out from the exciting partying going on here. . . You’re Listening to spoiler alert: All things film in Providence and beyond on 88.1 FM WELH Providence and BSRlive.com.
The Puppetry Journal
In the Spring of 2012, The Puppetry Journal (magazine) ran a substantive cover story on the world of puppet slams, featuring my work as co-founder of The Puppet Slam Network and my interviews with puppet slam artists.
In the “The North American Puppet Slam Scene in 2010”, I was interviewed by Teresa Smalec for Puppetry International (magazine) on my work as a curator of short-form puppetry for adults and in my role as co-founder of the Puppet Slam Network.
- 2013 – Portland Press Herald (newspaper)
- 2010 – CJOB, Winnipeg (radio)
- 2010 – Film Snobbery Interview (interview)
- 2006 – Feast of Fools #395 – Life On Marsian (podcast)
- 2006 – Spoiler Alert / BSR 88.1 FM, Providence (radio)