Dropping the Curtain on a Tiny Universe

Photo by Brian Geltner
Photo by Brian Geltner

How does one sum up months of rehearsal and ten successful, almost entirely sold out performances of an original, musical puppet play, based on the writings of Federico Garcia Lorca? Magic. In this world, thirteen cast members, three pit musicians, a composer, director/creator, assistant director, lighting, costumes, sound, friends, and unseen helpers brought to life puppets who in this story even brought themselves to life.

I do not speak Spanish. Neither did many of our audience members. Regardless of some not very subtle shadow puppetry and at least half of the performance in English, the purely Spanish moments read so clearly. Unmistakably familiar emotions translated across the audience and cast as Lorca, Rima Fand, and Erin Orr weaved their webs of comedy and incredibly human grief, as felt by the puppet Don Cristóbal.

When a new friend discovers the truth of my new adventures in puppetry, he inevitably wants more information. How? With whom? When? Where? I have yet to hear the missing question. Somehow whether young or old, everyone seems to relate to well-acted puppets telling a meaningful tale. Within the span of less than two hours, our audience connected to the point of caring about the heart of a wooden puppet. Each night as the puppet maker replaced Don Cristobal’s heart, I listened to hear their reaction. Sad sighs of empathy and occasional laughter as Don Woodsman, the puppet maker, held the broken heart of a puppet in his hands.

In those moments, I knew we had done our jobs as actors, transforming a small theater on Suffolk Street into a world in which strangers might empathize with the emotions of a self-aware puppet who had impossibly fallen in love and, as a result, felt “terrible.” I listen to the music still, even now on my ipod as I ride the subway. Familiar melodies and a beautifully touching story refuse to dissipate from the forefront of my memory, persisting in a way for which I give thanks.

After the close of such a captivating show with such a talented team of artists, and even tonight at the start of Orfeo at the Metropolitan Opera, knowing we have only four performances remaining, I feel akin to Don Cristóbal. Somewhat heartbroken, everything hurts sometimes when such magical universes come to a close for performers. “¡Ay! What a hard time I have loving you as I love you…”

Yet the next gig arrives already before the first ends, and I move on to another audience and another inspiring work of art. Don Cristóbal will hopefully one day return to the stage, and I already have the fortune of working with composer Rima Fand for Tableau Vivant this month. I will rejoice if I again work with Erin Orr and everyone on the insanely gifted cast and crew someday. In the meantime, visions of the moon, the midnight hours, the Rio Guadalquivir, and a brilliant production will have to suffice.

Photo by Brian Geltner
Photo by Brian Geltner

Wolfy’s is a Journey Worth Taking ~ 150


Wolfy's Journey Production Still
Wolfy's Journey, by Leat Klingman

For anyone who has ever contemplated a journey of self-discovery, missed a soulmate or friend, indulged in too much of a good thing, hidden himself away in solitude, or faced a frightening task, the path of a small wolf puppet feels like home. Last Sunday night at the Moviehouse in Brooklyn, 3rd Ward‘s home for film and video screenings, an overflowing crowd gathered despite the cold to catch a first glimpse at Leat Klingman‘s Wolfy’s Journey, a puppet feature film over a year in the making. Foraging the building for extra chairs with many settling for the cold cement floor barely in front of the movie screen, we all settled in for fifty-five minutes of magic, laughter, and inspiration.

The star of Wolfy’s Journey began simply in 2007 as a wolf who wanted to eat the world in a few short films. including A Wolf I Say, although definitely not without effort. Leat Klingman explained in her question and answer session following the film that while she would prefer to take more even more time, the process of creating and detailing just one of her puppets takes about three months. As a visual artist, her attention to detail and extreme talent shine through all of the seven incredibly unique characters (eight, taking into consideration a two-headed dragon comprised of Cheri #1 and Cheri #2).

Also simply, his tale begins as Wolfy contemplates his destiny and role in the world as a wolf, wandering alone in the forest at night. Along the way, he encounters Ella Bella, a gorgeous Italian bird who sings and tells him tales of an enchanted tree in her magical forest. Lisa Van Wambeck puppeteers this fuchsia-feathered and cleverly-clawed creature convincingly and with the grace befitting her character. Skillfully operating the characters of Master Gugu Nunu and Alone as well, Lisa has her hands in much of the success of this production. Rima Fand, who voices Ella Bella, speaks and sings lyrically and with a lilting and authentic Italian accent. While her delightful voice sounds only through Ella Bella, Rima’s music as composer along with Leat Klingman enthralls the audience throughout Wolfy’s Journey, creatively using strings and piano alongside unusual instrumentation such as the accordion in the background music and in the charming and well-paced songs sprinkled throughout the film.

Following Ella Bella’s scene, Wolfy runs into Aitch, his best friend who disappeared and has now returned. Erin Orr, puppeteer and vocal artist of Aitch, gives Wolfy’s companion a consistently sweet and lovable demeanor whose high point arrives later during a hilariously clever song about berries. Eventually agreeing to combine adventures, they get into some trouble and visit a spectacular and original puppet named Master Gugu Nunu. Without giving away too much of the story, I definitely would purchase the DVD if only to see and hear the sparkling-gloved duo of Lisa Van Wambeck and Brendan McMahon. Brendan’s prowess as a voice actor shines through the Master’s commanding and dynamic demeanor as he places a spell on Wolfy that one must experience firsthand.

Rising out of a foggy lake, the two-handed, sequined dragon puppet of Cheri Cheri greets Wolfy and Aitch on their next stop in the land. Having sung, recorded the voice-overs, and puppeteered for Cheri #2, the silver diva of the two French-accented pair, I couldn’t watch this scene from an unbiased perspective in any way. I did however smile giddily at the presentation of it all, happily remembering Kim Berman’s efforts as the puppeteer for Cheri #1, sweating under the set with me for several hours this past summer. Logan Hegg, the voice for Cheri #2, and I also had a great time in both our recording sessions for the song and the dialogue, and I hope our mirthful rapport in reality read through our dragon selves.

Entering into a much starker setting, our two wolf friends Aitch and Wolfy finally come upon the final focus of their journey: to assist an artist who has stopped creating and sharing his art. Due to his melancholy state, all color has left his cave and the surrounding land. This black and white realm results in profound explorations of the meaning and purpose of art and companionship through the introduction of the artist appropriately named Alone. Whimsical and beautiful in his solitary state, this furry puppet brought to life again by Lisa Van Wambeck and the dynamic voice of Lake Simons (the skillful puppeteer of Wolfy throughout the film) has a huge emotional range from despondent to ecstatic, which this team executes impressively well.

Watching portions of the process of creating such a seamless and endearing product, I have to applaud Leat Klingman and Shachar Langlev (Director of Photography) first and foremost for their vision and commitment to Wolfy’s Journey. I can only speculate how many hours Leat especially dedicated to her first of hopefully many feature films, and the devotion of all of the cast and crew who tirelessly donated their time and talents reads in every second of this heartwarming tale. How happily I watched it all come together as a moving story of themes so familiar to my heart as an adult and yet so incredibly accessible and alluring for an audience of children. Thank you, Leat, for allowing me to take a small part in a truly beautiful voyage in creating your film. I can’t wait to see where you and Wolfy journey next.

To reserve your copy of Wolfy’s Journey, visit the film’s website.

If you have a way to help distribute or promote the future of this film, please contact the production team at wolfy@wolfysjourney.com or visit Wolfy on Facebook.

Puppet Love, Day 102

Truly, I love my friends; however, it takes a special breed of human being to inspire me to give up more than eight hours of my time to and from Brooklyn on my only full day off in a while. I underestimate the point when I say that Leat Klingman‘s genius alone converts me to the love of (her) puppets, regardless of her ferocious talent and caring friendship or my desire to learn. Still, yesterday tired me out at the end of a good but long week.


Wofly, from A Wolf I Say
Wofly, from A Wolf I Say, by Leat Klingman

Spending the day as a tree? Not as easy as one might suppose and certainly not as comfortable. Puppets definitely have more charm in the finished product than behind the scenes. On the other hand, without giving away any of her secrets or plot points for her most ambitious project by far, I can say that each new character surprises me by its beauty and artistry. I can’t wait to see the finished product at its debut in January at 3rd Ward in Brooklyn.

In the meantime, I had the chance today to contribute as a puppeteer (my debut!), along with a devoted, diverse, and talented creative team of puppeteers, a lighting designer, a film-maker, and Leat as the director herself. Nevermind the sweltering heat, close quarters, or uncomfortable physical positions required to achieve the correct angles – I had a blast. Thanks to Michael, Heather, Kim, Erin, and Nitzan for keeping the atmosphere light and providing some great company between shots. As always, I admire and applaud Nitzan and Shachar for working tirelessly to create worthwhile art and opening your home to the mess of such an involved project. Providing fantastic snacks and taking great care of us as always, Leat alternated between union manager and director while constantly collaborating with Shachar on their artistic vision.  By morning today, I had a sincere and lovely thank you note in my inbox from our brilliant yet gracious Leat.

At the end of it all yesterday evening, I wanted nothing more than sleep before this morning’s very early rehearsal at Avery Fisher Hall. After another rehearsal of Beethoven’s other worldly Missa Solemnis, I look forward to our upcoming concerts but simultaneously anticipate Saturday, when I rejoin with Leat to record a song as one of my main contributions to her film. Who needs a day off when one has such stellar friends and art to keep her going?

Abby in Wonderland, Day 90

When introduced at events and parties, I commonly hear references to me as the opera singer, classical singer, actor, New York City friend (when out of town), or blogger.  Only recently have I begun to join the increasing few leaning toward a preference for jobless introductions. Why?  Perhaps because even my exciting career as a performer or my recent re-dedication to writing fail to capture the essence of my self or even my interests.  Acting, singing, writing, meeting interesting people, exploring the city, dreaming about diving the Great Barrier Reef while it still lives, and especially playing with my niece and nephew, new fitness routines, or puppets all fall under my favorite and hopefully most definable trait.  I love falling down the rabbit hole.

In high school, a lovely Ukrainian pianist named Katja Stanislavskaya joined the choral program and began to make plenty of music and friends.  As she matured into a working professional, she moved to New York City and inherited her own labels of pianist, musical director, composer, lyricist, and educator.  There she met an Israeli-born artist named Leat Klingman, who had begun to create original and exciting puppet films with her imagination, her hands, and her friends and fellow artists.

When in 2008 my high school friend Katja forwarded me a message from Leat, hoping to help her find actors to audition for her current puppet short film project, I began one of my first and longest trips to wonderland since my still somewhat recent move to Manhattan.  Over some Chinese takeout, many changes of fur and makeup, and several hours of filming detailed expressions, glances, all while lip syncing an aria, we exhausted ourselves working and playing on quite the creation and labor of love.  Like most worthwhile film projects, because of copyright and budgetary concerns, I truly can only say that I feel incredibly grateful to work on said mystery film and hope we can continue work on it soon.

In the meantime, I have learned to count Leat not only among my esteemed and talented colleagues but as one of my dearest friends here.  On Saturday, we began a new project, even more secret and equally exciting.  Heard and not seen this time, I have the new privilege of trying out my voice-over chops for the very first time, among other vocal talents.  Although I painfully restrain my desire to say more, this fortunate film has the extra bonus of a release date.  Indeed, interested parties may join an audience to view Leat’s newest creation at 3rd Ward in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in January 2011.  Of course, I will post specific details when in hand and as the event approaches.  In the meantime, I enjoy more meetings with Leat and friends, opportunities to again assist my friend in sculpting and sewing sets, recordings, and one of my favorite long and winding rabbit holes.