I Love Puppets… Occupy What?

Yes, the illustrious Kara Morgan from The Kara Morgan Show graced my home with her presence this fall. Little did we know a puppet show could be so treacherous!

I heart you, Kara Morgan. Thanks for the laughs.

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.

Irresistible Investments ~ 149

Visiting my friend and photographer David Michael‘s most recent website update, I paused to see his use of the word “investment” when referring to his fees for photographs and photo sessions. As my friend, David has used this word rather often over the years when speaking of friendships, relationships, and our careers as singers. Unfortunately, understanding the concept surprisingly doesn’t necessarily lead to keeping it in mind as a general practice.

I wonder how many performers purchasing a photo session pause to think of this yet another business expense as an exciting investment, rather than an annoyance, a financial burden, or one of the many initiation rites involved in keeping oneself current as an artist. Furthermore, how many dates give one the impression of purchasing dinner, paying her cover charge, and buying her drinks to invest in the future of a potential relationship? When someone flew 2500 miles to visit me this New Year’s Eve after only knowing me for a week, I began to understand the concept. Arriving a few days after his departure, two dozen red roses made his message ever clearer.

When faced with the option of making bold gestures and sizable undertakings with our finances, time, efforts, or talents, many of us pause in fearful protest, “I’m not ready for this.”  Teaching and looking after six to ten children per week, nearly twenty-four hours each day, I clearly remember not feeling prepared for the task of working as a camp counselor at seventeen. Of all of the many lessons I learned those two extremely rewarding summers, I regularly recall the priceless value of making even a seemingly risky investment in something truly worthwhile.

Handing out my first business card at my first rehearsal for my first puppet opera (Don Cristòbal, with ten performances this spring), I couldn’t help but contemplate the investments I have recently made of my money, time, and talents. Although I definitely need to monitor my finances and debt in order to survive as a performing artist, I don’t regret having spent money on new headshots, union dues, trade publications, opera tickets, etc. I did gasp for a moment when a promotional box of matches arrived in the mail with a 5×7 photo, both of which had an image of four women including myself (yes, nude) from Sarah Small’s Tableau Vivant in September.

After my initial shock, I weighed my experience with Living Picture Projects, new skills and strengths discovered, and my belief in Sarah’s vision against the handful of those who might innocently judge what they don’t understand. I realized that if I intended to continue appearing in her performances, with one later this month and another in May, I needed to embrace and celebrate overcoming such a challenge as part of my life. Now, the box of matches lies in plain sight next to a candle in my bathroom for any visitors to see.

To remind myself of the extreme personal profit I gain each time I defy the inner voice who constantly chimes, “I’m not ready,” I displayed the 5×7 of my first Tableau Vivant, framed on the wall by my bed, under another photo from this summer’s skydive. Hung for inspiration every day, they may help me remember to face the cold a bit more happily tomorrow to sing at church, act and puppeteer with some brilliant artists, and enjoy the fruits of everyone’s labor at the 3rd Ward Moviehouse for the premiere of Wolfy’s Journey at 8pm.

Wolfy’s creator, Leat Klingman, knows all about investment. She has done everything on this project and for many months has given her time, money, effort, love, and sleep to creating something magical, beautiful, and original. Presenting timeless themes of searching, loneliness, meaningful art, faith, and community, I expect the film to give back generously to the audience and its creator. As for me, I have already received so much more than the hours and effort donated to Wolfy’s Journey in skills learned and friends encountered. With an exciting day ahead of me tomorrow, I confess I most look forward to seeing how the journey ends – mine and Wolfy’s. Hope to see you there.

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?