Week 1 – Welcome to New York


Karin L. Bostrom Fellow in Theatre Fabrication & Design

The Puppet Kitchen | New York City, New York

May 26, 2017

I arrived in New York with nothing but the clothes on my back and a song in my heart; mostly because the airline lost my luggage. I got to my cousin Danny’s cosy West Harlem apartment late in the evening and settled down on his couch, which would be my home for the next two weeks. We spent the next day getting me familiar with the subway, exploring the East Village, and doing a little shopping to keep me clothed while we waited for word on my lost bag. Thankfully, my bag was found and returned to me (and I don’t have to try to replace my vintage overalls). Despite a rocky start, I was excited to get started at the Puppet Kitchen on Tuesday.

The Puppet Kitchen is a puppet production company based in the East Village of New York City. They build puppets for theatre, film, and TV as well as create original puppet shows and teach workshops on puppetry. They were founded in 2006 by Emily, Eric, and Michael, the head chefs. Their workshop is housed in a former bakery, and a renovated industrial kitchen is the main work area, hence the name. I first met the head chefs when they were visiting artist at Cornell the spring of my freshmen year. The Department of Theatre and Dance had brought them in to teach classes and develop a new piece of theatre. I took both classes and was cast in the show, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Working with them was a pivitol experience for me at Cornell and as a theatre artist, so I was very excited to see them again and jump back into it.

Just some of the hundreds of puppets that hang out in the Puppet Kitchen.

I arrived Tuesday morning ten minutes early, and was immediately sent out on my first errand – a coffee run! Feeling like a real intern I ordered and carried five beverages with precision two blocks back to the shop. Having been sufficiently initiated, I got to start the real meat of my apprenticeship – building puppets!

Tubs of puppet ingredients line the walls of the Puppet Kitchen workshop.

The Puppet Kitchen’s current project is for a production of The Little Mermaid at the Muny in St. Louis, an outdoor theater that can seat an audience of 11,000. My main task of the week was doing the detail work on Ursula’s tentacles, mainly attaching suckers to the undersides and the ribbing to the top. The suckers were actually pool noodles that had been cut into thin slices. Affixing over 400 suckers then sealing them several times took the majority of my week, but I also got a chance to work on some swans for “Kiss the Girl,” helped with some general shop cleaning, and spent one morning scouring Manhattan for orange pool noodles (they are very hard to find).

A close up on the glue piping on one of Ursula’s tentacles.
Chef Eric having some fun with the nearly completed tentacles.
Eric exhibiting the proper performance technique for the tentacles.

My work week ended with a meeting with Chef Micheal to talk about personal projects. As an apprentice I am required to complete one personal project that delves deeper into an area of puppetry that I would like to learn about. I pitched a project to design a character from the ground up, which would culminate in building a marionette. Michael approved and tasked me to develop character sketches that would be due by next week. Having an expanded timeline for this project is exciting, I’m used to having a day at most for the development stage of a project on the block plan. I’m going to use this time to really delve deep and make something truly great.

As a student of theatre it is important for me to see as much work by others as possible. It builds my awareness of which visual styles work and which do not for particular types of shows, as well as learning what I like and what my own visual style can build off of. Being in such a hotbed of theatre, I decided to see as much as I possibly can. One morning I entered the online lottery for CATS on a whim. I checked my email in the early afternoon to find that I had won! I spent the rest of the afternoon on cloud nine with visions of dancing cats in my head.

Some will say that CATS is avant garde and ahead of its time, others will say it’s a silly show about cats in a junkyard; either way there is very little plot and the actors are wearing cat suits. I’ve been a fan of the show for a while, so I knew not to expect a clear narrative, but I did expect fabulous dancing and they delivered! It was such a fun show to start my New York experience with, and I’m looking forward to many more!

The Neil Simon theatre where Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece CATS is now running.
A very grainy selfie brought to you by the dim pre-show lighting.

 

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Amanda Bentz '18

Amanda is a theatre fabrication major from Scio, Oregon.