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

Adults Need Puppets, Day 116

Filming for Wolfy's Journey
Filming for Wolfy's Journey

After a successful Saturday skydive (more to come when the DVD arrives), I spent the next two days learning the importance of channeling my inner dragon and not my inner diva.  Well, perhaps I should clarify: the silver-sequined head of a two-headed dragon attached to my left hand for most of Sunday afternoon is quite the diva.  In this photo on the other hand, I still happily wear a smile, aid the production gracefully, and enjoy the benefits of having one arm tied to a talented, smart, and practical puppeteer named Kim Berman.  Leat Klingman, the incredibly gifted puppet-maker, screenwriter, and vision behind the film Wolfy’s Journey, has an even greater talent for assembling intelligent, accomplished, and passionate people like Kim.

Shachar Langlev as the director of photography works tirelessly and meticulously for each shot, constantly discussing production with Leat in Hebrew, making my Puppet Land even more extraordinary.  Although I have yet to operate one of the above-table puppets, Lake Simons, Erin Orr, and Lisa van Wambeck performed quietly and skillfully, adding character to the beautifully created and voiced animals on set.  Everyone else from Leat’s incredibly helpful neighbor to Shachar’s friend and assistant cinematographer to Leat’s mother and father visiting from Israel made both days both possible and successful.

In hindsight, I can only hope to have added more substance to the film than drama to the experience as one head on a dragon and especially as a tree.  Owing any skill from the first day to Kim, who knew how to tactfully and without apology request breaks when needed, I truly didn’t appreciate on Sunday the incredible worth of that ability.  Leat Klingman, as I have previously gushed, takes great care of her support team and clearly insisted that we let her know a few minutes before we would need a break.  On Monday, playing two unfortunately angled trees from underneath the table, I let the Anglo part of my background oppress my nerve to request breaks, nourishment, and rest for my arms that occasionally experienced pain or lack of feeling.

Hours later, I learned a very important lesson.  One can make a scene by trying too hard to please others quietly as easily as she can loudly.  After waiting too long to come out from under the table when a rest for lunch arrived, Leat and I talked through my quiet tears to discuss the difference between voicing frustrations and bluntly asking for a break.  In this case, I would have contributed more to the process as a colleague by clearly speaking my mind and not tainting the atmosphere with less effective hints (aka complaints).

Shouldn’t I have figured this out by now?  Isn’t the toxicity of passive aggression common knowledge, something that children ought to discover as an ineffective solution to most problems?  Hmm…  perhaps I still need children’s books and puppet shows.  In fact, I think we all do.  Kids often instinctively ask about the purpose of wars and hate and look for meaning in life; whereas we adults often mindlessly go about our days accepting the daily drudgery, forgetting to appropriately question authority, forgoing the journey in lieu of comfort and luxury.

Filming Wolfy’s Journey, I found myself relating to Wolfy as he questions his desire to maintain his identity and yet roam.  This piece addresses life, loneliness, friendships, art, and so many other profound topics in a medium accessible both to children and adults, such that we all could stand to learn something from Leat’s vision.  Please take a minute to visit Wolfy’s IndieGogo site and support a message of exploration and generosity from the heart of my friend and example Leat Klingman, by whom I have already learned so much.

Thank you, Leat.

Winds of Fate and Puppetry, Day 107

As Leat Klingman and I sit in Brooklyn at The Hook recording studio listening to the final touches of one of the songs in her upcoming puppet film, I stand again in amazement at her specific vision and talent as a visionary. She devotes an almost overwhelming amount of her energy, time, and finances to furthering her art. In truth, I admire her so much that I feel compelled to stay and watch like some silly groupie, hours after finishing my portion in one unusually successful take.

Admittedly, some small part of this impulse could stem from pure vanity, as I shockingly listen to how great I sound singing in a musical theater-like style. Fantastic encouragement as I continue diversifying my performance skills!  As a further reinforcement of said goal, our remarkably talented songwriter, pianist, violinist, and accordionist Rima Fand offered me a position as actor, singer, and puppeteer in next spring’s production of Don Cristóbal.  Overall, I welcome the chance to meet and work with more creatively artistic people associated with such talented women.

Moving to New York to sing at the Metropolitan Opera almost three short years ago, I never foresaw myself finding and embracing so many off-the-beaten-path opportunities and working in so many different arenas with such great people.  I think I might have sadly mourned the idea of not having a full time position by the start of my fourth season, had I thought about it then.  Now, although I would still love to have such a coveted job as a full time chorus member at the Met, I can’t help but enjoy my life’s unexpected direction and its occasionally whimsical work.  Who could complain about such favorable winds of fate?  Not me.

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?