The Body is a Puppet Show was a project I created that was performed as part of the New Orleans Giant Puppet Festival in April 2022. Proposed to the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council Allegheny Arts Revival Grant for performance in Pittsburgh, PA in 2023.
The Body is a Puppet Show – Conceptual Design
The Body is a Puppet Show will be a full-length, all-ages performance of large-scale puppetry using unique wearable fabric sculptures performed by the artist and several other performers. Live movement performance in wearable fabric sculptures is combined with video projection of dance choreographed for cinema and edited with other original footage to place it in improbable landscapes, such as the surface of the ocean or a forest canopy with nesting egrets.
This piece explores how art can facilitate a conversation around the disembodiment brought on by the culture of constant connection to the internet that distracts us from the present moment and being in our bodies. It questions what our boundaries are around our media consumption vs our face-to-face interactions. Where do we begin and end? In a world so heavily saddled with engagement that takes us away from our body and thus part of the experience which makes us human, the artist is working with community members to form a series of vignettes that invite us to authentically find our bodies, an embodiment practice. Throughout this, we are negotiating the ongoing pandemic and asking ourselves questions about how we gather as people and looking to find the most responsible ways to do so.
I will give the audience a direction and framework in which to consider the piece using written material in a program, and recorded voiceover during the piece. A music soundtrack will also be composed for the performance, incorporating ambient and natural sounds.
I also plan to lead 2-4 movement workshops before and after the performance that are open to the public and tie into the themes and techniques of the performance.
This project will be a re-working of a project of the same name performed at the New Orleans Giant Puppet Festival in April 2022. The original project was a successful show with a lot of energy, but I would like to refine it and bring it to a new and wider audience. The original version was conceived, built, filmed, edited, scored, rehearsed, and performed all within a one month timeframe, which didn’t leave time to bring many of the details of the ideas to completion. Being able to spend more time on this piece and perform it at a larger venue would both be a growth experience for me and my team, and I believe it would bring a unique form of artistic performance to a wider audience.
I would like to take this opportunity to develop the storyline of the piece into an engaging and thoughtful narrative that really brings the audience through the work. In its first version, the piece was more of a meeting of contemporary dance and a unique visual language, so I’m interested in developing the narrative qualities of the piece and giving the audience more of a thread to follow. It would be really helpful to my work to get more experience developing this part of the work.
I think providing cross-disciplinary art that is also enjoyable and accessible to a wide audience helps cultivate a sense of curiosity and possibility in a community. With this project I seek to create an engaging experience that inspires creativity and wonder. Inspiring audience members, especially youth, to think about creating something uniquely their own is a goal of mine in bringing this type of cross-disciplinary work to the public.
With this work, I would like to address larger questions of mindfulness, art, and the body. Speaking with attendees of the public workshops before and after the performance will help me assess how the piece has met this objective.
Access to the Arts
Public Sharing Component
I would like to host this performance at a local venue in Pittsburgh. My ideal venue would be the Kelly-Strayhorn theater, or their Alloy Studios space. The Kelly-Strayhorn has a long history of attracting a diverse and multi-generational audience and their spaces would suit the piece very well.
I have opened a conversation with the Kelly-Strayhorn, but I am also considering other spaces such as Artist Image Resource, The Space Upstairs, or possibly a site-specific outdoor location. Some outdoor spaces that we are interested in working in are in Frick Park and the Homewood Cemetery. Each of these physical locations will of course affect the audience that attends.
Regardless of the final performance venue, I would like to partner with the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater to continue to cultivate the relationship I have with them personally, and build community alongside them.
The cost of admission to the performance will be a “pay what you want” model, so it will be accessible to all.
We will be documenting the performance with multiple HD video cameras, which will result in edited, high quality video documentation that can be posted online after the performance. Live streaming of the performance is also an option if it takes place in an indoor venue.
I would like to engage a wide audience, including people who might not normally see multimedia performance. I am particularly interested in attracting youth, teens, and families and creating something curious and creative for people of all ages. We are interested in sharing the work with people who love the arts, are interested in new media, have families, and are looking for events that are appropriate for multiple generations.
I plan to advertise using flyers, social media, and the network of the venue that we perform in. Flyering will be focused on areas where families are more likely to see them.
I am interested in building excitement around the performance with a series of 2-4 movement workshops both leading up to the performance, and after it. These workshops could be attended by those who would like to get more hands-on with the concepts and movement of the piece. I would rent rehearsal space for these events, or hold them outside in public space such as a park, and publicize them using similar methods to the performance.
Connection to the General Public
In both the performance and the workshops I would like to connect with the audience around experiencing our own embodied selves as a way to overcome trauma, and connect more deeply with ourselves and our intuitions, creativity and self worth.
One of the work samples I’m submitting, The Rainbow Connection Project (2019), is a good example of a project I led that connected with a large number of individuals across communities. In a more recent work, Cosmic Abundance (2021), I led workshops for the performers that were in the piece. In this project I would like to incorporate more workshops for the public.
Those who attended the workshops leading up to the performance may feel a special form of connection to the piece and the intentions, techniques, and practice behind it. The workshops are opportunities for additional context. If an audience member sees that work, becomes interested, and wants to know more afterwards, they can attend a post-performance workshop. A lot of times, once a performance is concluded, conversations don’t always continue, but I’m really looking to get more feedback from this piece in the community and provide additional contact and points of reference for people who are interested in continuing to think about that work. I would also like interested audience members to have an opportunity to get inside some body puppetry and fabric sculptures so they have a more hands-on experience.
I create wearable fabric sculptures that are transformed with dance and movement. Each sculpture is performed by one or more people. I develop sculptures and their associated movements myself, then workshop and rehearse them with other performers. The video projections will be created ahead of time with Arvid Tomayko filming me performing wearable sculptures in front of a green screen, combining that new footage with some that already exists, then collaborating to create the final video projections in post production. The soundtrack will also be produced collaboratively.
====== A Rough Timeline ======
- Fall 2022 – conceptualize how to expand and refine The Body is a Puppet Show (Sketches, Video sketches)
- Winter 2022 – March 2023: update existing and create new wearable fabric sculptures. Write story, and create stage directions
- April 2023: shoot additional green screen video for projections
- May 2023: finish wearable sculptures, compose music and edit green-screen video
- June-July 2023: Rehearse with performers and tech
- July 15-30, 2023: Rough target Performance date(s)
Arvid Tomayko: Technical Production, such as video and soundtrack production, projection, video documentation. Tomayko is a long-time collaborator of mine, and is an extremely capable creative technologist with skills in audio, video, lighting, mechanical engineering, and carpentry.
2-4 hired movement performers will perform fabric sculptures on stage with the artist and attend several rehearsals.
Regardless of the final venue, I would like to partner with the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater on this series of events.
Video/Audio Work Sample
Excerpts of past performances:
The Body is a Puppet Show (2022), excerpts: https://youtu.be/UVIZnSXeZHA
Cosmic abundance (2021), excerpts: https://youtu.be/uesZBDvPJo0
The Rainbow Connection Project (2019): https://youtu.be/_c6NPtm1cJk