Monday, April 13, 2009

The Customer is always right.

Today I faced the 'customer is always right' dilemma.  Elementary schools have a tight schedule and performances in the cafetorium are subject to when breakfast and lunch are served.  This means that we need to arrive pretty early in the morning in order to have the show set up and ready for an 8:30 or 9:00 performance.  Usually at that hour the only greeters are the people working in the cafeteria, who may or may not know there's a show scheduled later in the day. 

We arrived early, entered the elementary school cafetorium and started setting up the show.  By 8:00 we were ready to go.  Then we found out about the second, middle school cafetorium.  The one that had the more flexible lunch hours.  If push came to shove we'd have to take everything down, pack it, move it and set it up again.  However, that would push the start time past the flexible lunch hours.  In the end we stayed where we were and were able to skillfully make the 2 shows fit into the available time slot.  And I have to say that the shows went very smoothly and were well received.  We got complemented by more than one teacher!

Is there a moral to this story?  Hmmm...I'm not sure.  I guess it's that the customer is always right and the show must go on.

I still love show business!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Speaking about Looking For Work...

I've been getting some suggestions about where on the web to look for Puppet and Theater job postings.  Rather than keep them in email, bookmarks or pieces of paper I've started putting them into one of the Free Google Site pages.
You are welcome to use it and to offer suggestions of more online sources.


Friday, April 10, 2009

What do puppeteers actually do?

Have you ever thought about someone else's work day?  What do the guys who change your oil do when there aren't any cars lined up for servicing?  What do waiters and cooks do in between customers?  What do teachers do after school?  What do bank executives do anyway?

I don't have answers to those questions, but I now have some experience in performing in a puppet road trip.

The first thing puppeteers do is look for more work!  We look for postings on Craigs List under jobs and gigs.  We call friends who are working.  We check out Puptcrit for leads and contacts.  We look on the Puppeteers of America's Bulletin board.  The actress I'm working with in Extreme Health Challenge looks for work between 30 minutes and 2 hours every day!  [Send me your favorite work seeking ideas.]

Once you find a lead, you can expect an audition.  Yep, you're expected to  have monologues, do character voices, demonstrate special skills (juggling, dancing, singing, acrobatics are all good to have for a puppet show) and prove your experience in manipulating different kinds of puppets!  Always keep limber and practiced in your craft.  You never know what you'll be asked to do.  Many puppet shows these days demand you perform multiple characters, both puppet and human.

Next comes driving.  The puppet show I'm performing in moves to a new venue every day.  We are travelling from the Palm Beaches all the way down into South Florida.  (West Palm Beach to Homestead in the same week!)  Schools begin their day early and we commonly try to be there by 6:30AM.  If the van's parking is an hour or more away, you'll have to wake up early in the morning.  But remember, it's better to leave early and beat the traffic, than it is to call from the road and explain why you will be late!  If you have a home base for parking your van it's a round trip every day (that's what I'm doing now).  Tours translate into lots of hours on the road.  Sometimes your directions are not so wonderful.  If a number is dropped from the street address, you'll be lost.  Construction?  Prepare to be re-routed.  

You have arrived but you don't get to perform just yet.  Is the parking lot open or locked?  Is there a door close to the performance area?  Can we borrow a moving cart?  Puppeteers are expected to unload the van, set up the stage,help set up the lights and the sound system, greet your hosts, answer any questions, schmooze over any issues at the site and then set props and puppets.  You check everything you'll need for the show.  If there are any repairs or touch-ups that can't wait for some down time, do them now.  If repairs can wait, make sure you write them down or you will forget as soon as everything is packed away.  Where are the grown-up bathrooms?  You may even have time to do some vocal and physical warm-ups.  Be sure to check your microphone levels and walk the stage for light levels!  Check your costume.

OK it's almost show time.  You may have to help seat the audience.  You have checked sight lines and you know where you don't want people to sit.  They will especially want to sit there.  It's good to be a diplomat.  Is there any audience participation?  Don't forget to assign your volunteers.  Almost ready?  Good, now go over the basics.  "Everyone stays in their seats, don't talk to your neighbors so everybody can hear.  Thank your host.  Find a way to get their energy up."

Show time!  You have 30 to 45 minutes of performance.  If you are doing 2 shows today, you'll hopefully have a short break, time to pre-set everything again and then do another performance.  If you are not so lucky you may have to wait hours until lunch is over (oh yes you are performing in the cafetorium and lunch comes early in the day) before you can do the second show!

That was great!  Now all that remains is: pack up the puppets and props (don't forget any!), take down the set, lights and sound and then pack all of it back into the van.  Check the stage for anything left behind.  Now you are ready for that (long) ride back to either the parking area or the hotel.

If you are like me, you'll be ready for a nap!  If you have lots and lots of energy, go to the beach!  Just don't forget that it starts all over again the next morning.

So don't envy those puppeteers who show up for an hour and then leave your school.  It may seem like they work for only an hour or three a day and have the rest of the day off, but appearances can be deceiving!

I love show business!


Sunday, April 5, 2009

What ever happened to A Puppet A Week?

At the end of 2008 I had an idea to create a simple puppet a week to kick start some creative energy for myself.  I got 3 posts completed and then the posts stopped.  Sorry about that (to you and to me).  Here's a brief overview:
I had a day job that covered the bills allowing me to explore puppetry.  That day job ended over the Thanksgiving weekend in 2008.  Since then I have not found a full time permanent day job to cover the bills.  Thank goodness we have been frugal and had saved up a cushion.  Thank goodness also that my wife has continued to work.  
Somehow with all that going on, devoting the time to make a puppet a week became an afterthought.  Not that I could not have banged something out, but it would not have been worthwhile.  I like making good stuff.  I do have some puppets that need to be photographed and documented so there's a short pipeline coming.
What I did instead was to look for some puppetry work.  I auditioned for and got a 9 week job (11 weeks counting the rehearsal time) to do a South Florida tour with Michelee Puppets "Extreme Health Challenge" show.  My third week is coming up with a 5:00 AM call on Monday.  

What a change from a sedentary office job.  It's only this week that I can think about coming home and doing something other than napping, shopping for food and cooking dinner!

I've also been working under my Simply Puppets company, performing my shadow puppet show, working a make-it / take-it table at Sugar Sand Park's Puppet Fest and a upcoming week with the education department at MOCA in Miami.

So while I'm still working in the RED compared to what I was earning in my old life as a VP of Information Technology,  I've also lost weight, gained muscle, smiled and laughed a whole lot more than I did in my old job.  I have new friends (hi, Tracey, Christine & Will!).  My old friends have been great!  I still get job leads, the occasional free lunch and encouragement from them.  And my wife, Deb, who has felt the total impact the most of everyone, has been nothing but supportive of any new direction that I cast the 'earnings net' trying to make ends meet.

Will it get better?  Will it become worse first?  Who can know it?

I have to get up and do some stuff now, but watch the Blog for those puppet projects in the pipeline and for future posts on how the tour is going.