How it all started - My Puppeteer Journey

Ever since I was two years old, I was interested in puppetry.

I was inspired by Sesame Street and Mister Rodgers Neighborhood. Then my parents took me to “Sesame Street Live” and exposed me to the theatre. I fell in love, and immediately after, I began putting on my own live shows in my basement for family members, guests and neighborhood kids that incorporated puppetry, song and dance.

While I was in school, I forgot about puppetry but was writing stories, making up characters, drawing, taking theatre/art classes, doing voices, and producing videos.

In 2011, I rediscovered my love of puppetry through “The Muppets – 2011” when Disney re-launched them for a new generation. All the memories flooded back, and I remembered how these characters made me feel, and realized this was something special. Months later, I discovered “Being Elmo – A Puppeteers Journey” and finally got to see what it was to be a puppeteer. I saw the pure joy the art of puppetry brought to people’s lives and realized it was a combination of so many arts I was already pursuing. In that moment, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

I realized my high school was not giving me the education I wanted or deserved, so I began actively pursuing local workshops and classes outside of school. I discovered Stan Winston School of Character Arts and had the opportunity to learn different techniques including puppet fabrication, mold making and more. It was through this, and lots of trial and error that I began learning how to build puppets.

In 2014, I founded Creventive Puppet Co and began producing educational puppet productions for family audiences.

Outside of my own work, I have performed as a puppeteer for Opera In Focus, Sea Beast Puppet Company, The Field Museum, Jabberwocky Marionettes, Jeannie McQueenie Productions, and more.

I have also been fortunate to teach the art of puppetry at Buck’s Rock Performing and Creative Arts camp as the head of the puppetry shop in 2017, as well as offering educational puppet performance and building workshops for the public, teaching at libraries, schools, public events and conventions which has allowed me to travel throughout the USA.

In addition to puppetry, I’m a part-time preschool teacher working in early childhood education and development. I volunteer my time to organizations such as the Chicagoland Puppetry Guild as their vice president and the Kiwanis Club of Oak Park River Forest where I have done multiple hospital visits to sick children with my puppet characters and built costumed wheelchairs for children with disabilities.

In 2017, I was awarded the Mike and Frances Oznowicz Young Adult scholarship to attend the Puppeteers of America’s National Puppetry Festival in Saint Paul, MN.

I hope to continue exploring and pushing the boundaries of early childhood education through the art of puppetry in the future.

Puppet Variety Show at Mather's Cafe

On January 24th, 2018 - The Chicagoland Puppetry Guild hosted it's first family-friendly, 1hr, puppet variety show at Mather's More than a Cafe.

This Puppet Variety show featured various styles of puppetry including: hand, rod, tabletop, marionette, vent, and toy theatre presented by various members of the Chicagoland Puppetry Guild.

Puppet Acts by: Steven Widerman and Mark Blashford presenting "Mr. Ritz", Chris Crawczyk presenting "The Reunion", Alejandro Rivera presents "Socky the Sock Puppet's Joke Time", Fred Birchtold, Zeezy Posner presents" The Story of Purim", Terri Reimer presents "The Incredible Circus Small", hosted by Connor Asher and Jeremy J. Giggles.

The event was organized by Susan Witek as an outreach program for the CPG to involve and encourage the art of puppetry with the public.

Special thank you to Mather's More Than A Cafe!

PofA National Puppetry Festival in St. Paul, MN

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On July 16th, I had the opportunity to go to my first major puppetry festival: the "Puppeteers of America's National Puppetry Festival" held at Concordia University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I was awardedthe "MIKE & FRANCES OZNOWICZ MEMORIAL YOUNG ADULT SCHOLARSHIP" in early January to attend the event. 

The festival is a week long celebration of the art of puppetry. An opportunity to connect with many other fellow puppeteers, learn from various instructors with experience in all backgrounds of puppetry, see shows from around the world, and sharing the art of puppetry with fellow festival go-ers.

While there, I was able to take many workshops/classes including: Silicone Techniques with Tom McLaughlin, Shadow Puppetry Intensive with Sea Beast Puppet Company, Needle Felting with Pam Corcoran, 3D Television Puppetry  with Steve Widerman and more.

I also performed throughout the festival, in my own performances during the National Potpourri, Shadow Puppetry Intensive workshop and lent my hands to others including: Mark Keeler, Thom Stanley, Thomas Boguszewski and more.

The shows were thrilling! Some of the shows I saw were: "National Puppet Slam 2017", "The National Potpourri", "The SeaBeast Puppet Company Shadow Puppet Intensive Workshop slam", "Reel Puppetry Film Festival", "The Ugly Duckling - Teatro de las Estaciones", "The Story of Crowboy - In the Heart of Beast Theatre, "Ubu the King - Rough House", "Lollipops for Breakfast - The Gottabees, "Ashes - Plexus Polaire, Norway-France", "Cardboard Explosion - Puppet Showplace Theatre", "Punch and Judy - Parasol Puppets", "Punch and Judy - Mousetrap Puppets", "Molly and the Magic Boot, Open Eye Figure Theatre", "Hansel and Gretel - National Marionette Theatre", "Tides - Company Gare Centrale", and the "Fringe".

The Puppetry Store was also at the festival, ran throughout the Festival by Gordon Smuder, Stacey Gordon, and more. The store featured everything you could ever want in puppetry including simple hand puppets, complicated marionettes, puppet books/journals, puppeteer performance gear, t-shirts, Muppets merch and so much more.

Each day began with breakfast, followed by early morning workshops. After the workshops, we would break for lunch then shows would begin in the early evening running through the night time. In between everyone is generally networking/catching up to talk about professional dollie wiggling. After the shows, it was NECESSARY to get sleep in order to function/stay awake for shows throughout the festival. (I recommend Monster Energy drink....I needed a lot for how exhausted I was near the end of the festival).

On the final closing day, the Puppeteers of America held a festival day for the public. Shows including "Punch and Judy", "Molly and the Magic Boot", and walk-about puppeteers were everywhere greeting and entertaining the public. There was also a puppet parade, where all the puppeteers could join in and walk around the college campus to encourage, and inspire the art of puppetry for the public.

I'm so grateful to the Puppeteers of America for this incredible opportunity to expand and learn more about my art form. I made wonderful connections with so many, learnt from valuable resources and plan on giving back all I learned to the puppetry community in the future.

-Connor Asher

Buck's Rock Performance & Creative Arts Camp

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This past summer, CPG member: Connor Asher worked at Buck's Rock Performance & Creative Arts Camp as the head of the puppetry shop in New Milford, CT.

During his time there, he directed 2 shows: A Puppet Slam (A collection of shorts, each camper was allowed to write/direct/build and perform their own 2-5minute puppet slam piece in front of a large audience). Connor also directed a "Peter Pan - Puppet Show" based on the classic narrative by Michael John. During his time at the camp, Connor also assisted on 2 other theatre productions, including: "Animal Farm" and "The Wizard of Oz". As the head puppet builder, trainer and performer.

On top of this, Connor ran a puppetry shop founded by "Sesame Workshop/The Jim Henson Company", from 9am-6pm for kids ranging from 5yrs-17yrs old, daily having a total of 10-15+kids at any given point. Connor worked on puppet design, building, and performance with the campers throughout the day. Connor's goal was to heavily introduce the campers to new styles of puppetry.

In order to make this goal possible, he started a visiting artists series. Bringing in 2 professional puppeteers to speak to the campers/staff at Buck's Rock, to tell their background as a puppeteer and demonstrate a style of puppetry.

The first guest was: Tyler Bunch (Muppets, Sesame Street, Julie's Greenroom) who demonstrated television puppetry. Our second guest was: "Paul McGinnis" (Sesame Street, Little Shop of Horrors - Broadway, The Wiz) who demonstrated bunraku/table-top style puppetry for the guests, showing the importance of versatility in puppetry.

On July 16th, Connor took a leave of absence from the camp to attend the "Puppeteers of America's National Puppetry Festival" in Saint Paul, MN.

After the festival/camp ended, Connor went to New York for a day and was invited to visit "PuppetHeap", in Hoboken, NJ. PuppetHeap is best known for their work in commercials/tv/film, also known for the shop hired to build "The Muppet" characters. While there, Connor was able to meet the talented team of puppeteers, ask questions, and see some of the Muppets that were going to be used in the upcoming "Hollywood Bowl" performance. Connor was invited to see the show in LosAngeles, then will return back to Chicago, IL to continue his work at Creventive Puppet Company & the Chicagoland Puppetry Guild.

Television Puppetry Workshop

 

Chicago International Puppet Theatre Festival 2017 - Recap/Reviews

Welcome back to the Creventive blog,

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Chicago International Puppet Theatre Festival in my hometown: Chicago, Illinois this past January 2017.

The Chicago International Puppet Theatre Festival is a bi-annual festival celebrating the art of puppetry in Chicago Illinois, started by "Blair Thomas" in 2015. During the fest, shows are held daily, bringing in puppet artists from across the world, to share their traditions bringing a variety of puppetry styles to theatres across Chicago. 

Creventive had involvement during the first celebration of the festival back in 2015, where we performed our first slam act: "Jeremy's Evolution of Dance" at the University of Chicago also having a booth during their "Puppet Zoo" to meet and greet guests and inform them of the art of puppetry. Although Creventive did not have any involvement in performances this year, I was able to attend 7 of the shows playing across town.

As a practitioner of the art, I took it highly upon myself to attend as many shows as I possibly could & share my thoughts with many of those who were unable to attend.

 

 

Show #1: Silencio Blanco

Rating: 4/5

Location: Museum of Contemporary Art

Date: 1/19/2017

Styles of puppetry used: Buraku/table top puppetry

Description: A young miner, to keep working, must travel to Chiflon del Diablo, one of the most dangerous mines in Chile. Entire show performed in silence and darkness.

 

Interests:

-Great use of FX: light/sound

-Beautiful use of set/light transitions

-Gorgeous movement/manipulation

-Light rig was circular overhanging. Allowed transitions/able to turn off lights manually.

-Buraku was beautifully done, performed entirely in dark to a prerecorded track, puppeteers added sounds themselves live or through the puppets contact with a material/object.

 

 

 

 

Show #2: Sontana for 4 Feet

Rating: 5/5

Location: Beverly Arts Center

Date: 1/20/2017

Styles of puppetry used: Hand/Feet/Object

Description: Part-mime and part contortionist: Veronica Gonzalez puts their hands, feet, and knees together to create extraordinarily articulate creatures and stories.

Interests: Vaudevillian/cartoon humor. Variety of suitcases, each told a different story and was filled with props to tell that story. Stories: Hawaiian love story at war/robber/etc. Clothing/puppet parts could easily be changed, SO MANY PROPS, classical vaudeville music/show tunes.

Show #3: Nasty, Brutish & Short: Puppet Cabaret

Rating: 5/5

Location: Links Hall

Date: 1/20/2017

Styles of puppetry used: Buraku/table top puppetry

Description: Short works by international festival artists, regional puppeteers and local talent. A selection of raucous, raunchy, dark, sassy, sad and hilarious puppet anarchy.

Interests: Plastic Bags: Cartoony plastic bags brought to life by 2 puppeteers. Bags would eat each other, eat trash to see who could become the biggest. Discovery of flight if empty, then repeats (slapstick).

Noah Ginex Puppet Company characters hosting. Honey Goodenough Marionettes: Teddy bear escape from box, blanket moves around room, rocks itself to sleep in a rocking chair. Theatre of the Foot: Love story of a Hawaiian Sailor going to war. Silencio Blanco: Dancing/moving to different styles of songs. Mask Puppetry telling the story about what they missed after they moved from their homes. Lazer light puppetry: Improvised storytelling, 2 lasers, hand drawing on a screen that could temporarily hold the light of the laser pens to tell a visual story with live dialogue on a giant screen. Suggestion from the audience: Apple, Raccoon going to an apple tree, eating the apples.

 

 

Show #4: Kick the Klown Presents a Konkatenation of Kafka

Rating: 1/5

Location: Victory Gardens Theatre

Date: 1/22/2017

Styles of puppetry used: Object Puppetry, Glove Puppet/Mask

Description: This show was about a 1-man show telling the story about a father-son relationship. I rarely write bad reviews but this show was just awful. I felt like I was watching an hour-long puppet slam piece. The show overall was just very uninteresting and not executed well. The ideas and concepts were very interesting with certain gadgets/gizmos but they were used so briefly and then tucked away. It was also extremely repetitive in the gags that it did try to present, and the audience was quiet almost the entire show. 

Interests: 

-Glove Puppetry: Slapstick comedy in a box, used only very briefly

-Futuristic devices/gadgets

 

 

Show #5: Ubu the King

Rating: 5/5

Location: Links Hall, Studio B

Date: 1/27/2017

Styles of puppetry used: Buraku/table top puppetry

Description: Ubu the King was extremely well-executed by Rough house. A grotesque, absurd story about Ubu Roi: a selfish, egotistical dictator on his rise to power. Brought to life by a total of seven puppeteers.

 

Interests:

-EVERY ASPECT is performed live, no pre-recorded sounds/music.

-The Puppeteers, aside from bringing the puppets to life, were cleverly involved in the show.

-This was the second time I attended "Ubu the King". I saw it the first time during it's run at "Roughhouse Theatre", it was SO good, I needed to come back a second time.

-There was a total of 7 puppeteers to bring the entire show to life.

-Ubu the King was originally performed with marionettes.

 

 

 

 

 

Show #6: Feathers of Fire

Rating: 4/5

Location: Hamid Rahmanian

Date: 1/28/2017

Styles of puppetry used: Shadow Puppetry, Body/Costume Puppetry/Projection

Description: Visually breathtaking cinematic shadow play for all ages. A magical story of star-crossed lovers from the 10th century.

Interests: 

-Uses a variety of puppets, costumes, masks, scenography, and digital animation

-Cinema-sized screen

Show #7: Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth

Rating: 5/5

Location: Looking glass Theatre

Date: 1/29/2017

Styles of puppetry used: Buraku/table top puppetry, Hand/Rod, Shadow, Costume

Description: Traveling storytellers: Mr & Mrs Pennyworth captivate audiences with spellbinding tales. But one day, the Big Bad Wolf mysteriously dies before his story is complete. Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth must journey through the stories to restore order before they are lost forever.

Interests: 

-This show involved so many different styles of puppetry, each performed beautifully!

-My personal favorite show I saw during the entire festival.

-SEE IT OR DIE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Project Recap: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Van" for Magic Wheel Chair

We make a living by what we get, but we make a LIFE by WHAT WE GIVE.'

 

Welcome back to the Creventive recap, where we cover past events/projects.

 

I'm your host, Connor Asher, I recently had the opportunity to be a builder for Magic Wheelchair: a non-profit organization which helps every kid in a wheelchair receive an epic costume for Halloween.

I was given this opportunity in mid 2016 by Ryan Weimer, founder of Magic Wheelchair, who told me that there was a lead in my area for a great kid named: Samuel Morales.

 

Samuel is a 5-year old boy, diagnosed with spina bifida L3-4, who loves the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. His dream this year was to be transformed into the pizza-loving, crime fighting ninja turtle: Michelangelo, while driving in the TMNT party bus.

 

Our team was ready to bring Samuel's dream to life.

 

Before I head further into the details of the project, I want to go back to a memory which started it all. I started Creventive during my time in High School. While most kids were playing basketball, football, I was running my own business.

 

My school didn't offer classes to help me with the career I wanted to pursue. We weren't fortunate enough to have art. This lead me to pursuing workshops/classes outside of school. Then I found: Stan Winston School of Character Arts.

 

It was the perfect medium for learning all aspects of character creation and practical effects. I was finally learning the skill sets I needed to know from some of the best in the industry.

 

One day Stan Winston School posted about one of their latest partnerships with Magic Wheelchair & the rest was history.

 

Immediately after seeing the promo, I signed up to volunteer, a few months later...I got the call and began work with Samuel and his family.

 

The entire process began with fundraising. Between our online campaign, and going door-to-door throughout the Chicagoland area, we are so grateful to have raised a total of $1759.00 from our $1500 goal!

 

From there, I had multiple meetings with Samuel's family to work on concepts with the rockstar himself. We began with taking measurements of the wheelchair to get an idea of the size and how the costume would attach to his chair. I also went through different examples & references of the cars, and even drew some concepts on-spot.

 

From there, my teammates & I went on multiple supplies runs to get all the materials together for our project.

 

Once we had all the materials, we began construction.  Our original plan was to use l-200 foam, patterned directly off a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy van. Unfortunately this did not work out, and we had to restart entirely.

 

We decided to chose a new material that would be lightweight and portable. We went with thin birch plywood with a PVC pipe structure along with many external elements to make his van POP.

 

The project took a total of 168hrs between conceptualization, patterning, construction, painting, and lots of trial and error.

 

I'm very grateful to Magic Wheelchair for the opportunity. Their team was responsive to my questions, would assist my needs, and were extremely receptive to my feedback.

 

Ryan Weimer spoke highly of leaving an impression. The reaction you get from a kiddo when they see their dream come to life is priceless...that couldn't be any more true.

 

For me, Magic Wheelchair was a chance to go back to my roots. It's why I started Creventive and made puppetry such a huge aspect of what I do.

 

Puppetry in particular gives so much heart and soul. Kids treat the puppets like they're human beings and the reactions you get are truly priceless...there's nothing quite like it.

 

Now, I had the chance to do that all over again on a much larger scale. Through meeting and working with people I would've never had the chance to without this, making memories that will last a lifetime.

 

I am extremely grateful for our entire community for joining Creventive on this journey for bringing Samuel's dream to life, and hope to continue to be involved in great causes like Magic Wheelchair for many years to come.