On June 16th + 17th, I presented an initial scene from Model Killer: Giant Crimes & Tiny Cover-Ups, as an artist-in-residence at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center at the culmination of the National Puppetry Conference. Model Killer is a morbid comedy centered on Vivian Nutt, a disgruntled dollhouse maker turned investigator. Vivian builds dioramas of unsolved murders, only for it to be revealed that she is a serial killer. In Model Killer, I am creating a universe in which I invite the viewer to reconsider female serial killers, the historically feminine craft of miniatures, and murder as entertainment.
For the performances at the O’Neill, I presented the first scene, Model Victims. In Model Victims, West Ripton Falls Institute of Crime, chief curator, Mavis Blumenthal, unveils the new Murderabilia Wing at a gala for elite donors featuring a collection of feminist power objects.
During the ribbon cutting, we learn about some of the serial killers featured in the collection, including the cult leader behind the Jolene-ville massacre, The Middleberry Mobility Scooter Shooter, The Sherman City Sous Chef, and the notorious Wakefield Hospice Puppeteer. We are also introduced to some of the unsavory residents from the small town of Ripton Falls, a present day dystopia marred by heightened conflict, growing violence, and a proliferation of personality disorders. They include:
- Trixi Ransom, a narcissistic blogger, dying to be famous by compulsively being the first to report the deaths of ailing celebrities. She’s accompanied by her sycophantic, fan-date, Jarred Fink.
- Grace Shapiro, the hot-headed, histrionic crime TV personality, who profits off violent crime by eliciting viewer outrage
- Judith Dinkler, the former first-lady of Ripton Falls (and a celebrity murder)
- The Institute’s board of trustees, mostly elderly women who regularly attend public executions and use their resources eliminate social safety net programs
Mavis’s tour is interrupted by her curatorial assistant, Sashka Saltikova, who discovers a mysterious package containing a letter explaining how Vivian Nutt became The Model Killer. Inside the package, the trustees find a scale model of the Institute of Crime in which all of the patrons have perished. A gas attack that begins while Mavis hasn’t quite finished reading the letter. Model Victims, sets up a series of flash backs showing Vivian Nutt’s origin story – starting as a lonely crafter in her shop, Little Miss Miniac’s Miniature Marvels the day before her first killing.
The performances at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center were part of an artist-in-residence in the newly-built Jim and Jane Henson Rehearsal Hall. While there, I collaborated closely with Sharon Challenger, a Yale School of Drama graduate who has worked for over 25 years as a scenic artist and stage manager. Sharon and I have joined forces on a number projects including The Feeder and (In)/Animate Objects. For Model Killer, Sharon served as an assistant, dramaturg, outside eye, and lead fabricator. She coordinated the construction of mock-ups with artistic associates at the shop which included Calvin Tamura, Jonathan Little, Ulysses Jones, Tom Cariello, Amanda Baschnagel, and Fred Thompson.
“I enjoy creating the worlds in which stories can be told and helping people who are passionate about their craft.”
– Sharon Challenger
Additionally I wish to thank:
- Literary intern, Seth Roseman, who also helped with dramaturgy and served as an outside eye
- Musical director, Dr. Melissa Dunphy who composed an original score with Matt Dunphy inspired by the soundtracks to true crime television shows
- Jane Martineau and Derron Wood for their contribution of handmade doll houses and Sharon Murphy-Boski for all of the miniature furniture
- The technical staff at the NPC including Bart Roccoberton, David Reagan, Natalie George, Seth Koprowski, and Rachel Roccoberton for making the entire show run smoothly
- James Godwin, Richard Termine, Roger Danforth, Steven Massicotte, Martin Kettling and Ronnie Burkett for additional mentorship
- Jayne Entwistle, PJ McWhiskers, Chris Sheets, Alison Ruttan, and Buick Audra for research assistance
- The 2016 NPC Writing Strand, Ann Morgan, the Literary Office, and my friends who listened to drafts in during the writing process: Heather Carson, Una Zipagan, Moira Macdonald, and Christine Papalexis)
- My family
- Pam Arciero, Jean Marie Keevins, Preston Whiteway, Aislinn Gish Frantz and the entire Eugene O’Neill Theater Center Staff for making this artist-in-residence and the conference happen every year.
- The Walt Disney Company and The O’Neill Theater Center for funding with
- Bob Bonniol, Margot Linden-Katz and Sharon Challenger for heir enerous Fractured Atlas contributions.
The internationally-acclaimed Eugene O’Neill Theater Center is dedicated to encouraging and furthering the creative impulses which is at the heart of all theatrical expession — and the puppet arts are no exception. In 1964, the pioneering American puppetry team (and Waterford residents) Rufus and Margo Rose helped founding director George C. White establish the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. This began a long-standing tradition of puppetry at the O’Neill Center….
…The mission of the National Puppetry Conference is to be a catalyst for the professional puppet artist’s growth and development through both the exploration of performance styles and skills, and the production of new works for the pupet theatre. The conference focuses on empowering puppet artists to create through visual imagery and kinetic form of the puppet and enhancing their work through a collaborative dramaturgical process. Our goal is to encourage and create the highest quality of puppet art.
The Puppetry in Performance program also included:
- Signs of Life, led by Mervyn Millar
- Text Creation and Interpretation, led by Ronnie Burkett
- Marionettes, led by Jim Rose and Phillip Huber
- Writing: Shape and Story led by Martin Kettling
- Emerging Artists: Bonnie Duncan, Chrstine Schisano, and Pam Severns
Private Reading (excerpts), Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Waterford, CT