It's February! To some, February means love, snow, or presidents, but not to me. February is my birthday month, and I've teamed up with my pal Tara at As Long As It's Fancy to present the best Muppet birthday party out there.
Each Wednesday this month, we'll be posting different aspects of the party so you and yours can celebrate your favorite occasion in fancy, Muppet style. First post is up tomorrow...stay tuned!
Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of seeing my very first Puppet Slam. I had heard about these pseudo-underground events from several sources and was continuously encouraged to attend. They were started by Heather Henson a few years back and happen across the country. Puppet Playlist is a very popular puppet slam event in New York. Each month, the Playlist highlights a different band/musician and encourages local puppeteers to develop new works around their music.
When I saw that January's featured band was The Beach Boys, I impulsively started putting a scene together but then began to hesitate. I knew nothing about these slams. I wanted to know what I was getting myself into first and move forward from there.
I eagerly attended on Tuesday night and was so happy to see a friend perform an interesting interpretation of the song I Know There's An Answer. I have to note that the entire vibe of the venue was light and supportive, something unique to small, New York theater. I was pleased as punch when local bands performed Beach Boys' covers in between each scene. My favorite was a very Portland, folksie version of Be True To Your School. If only my life could be set to modern Beach Boys' covers...sigh.
So how can we kids' media people learn from this? The Puppet Slam Network has it right. They provide a safe, fun environment for creatives to explore work within set limitations (theme and time). What if we start doing this? What if we have monthly screenings of kid shorts or pilots developed under financial, time, and maybe even talent limitations. Maybe it would force us to think outside of the box a bit more.
I'm hoping to put myself out there and submit a scene idea or song cover for the next Puppet Playlist. I hope to see you there.
Monday night I joined my favorite New York organization, Women in Children’s Media, for a panel discussion on coviewing. What is coviewing? According to Valkenburg, coviewing “refers to occasions when adults and children watch television together, sharing the viewing experience, but not engaging in any discussion about the program. Coviewing is considered a form of mediation, because it has been shown to have positive effects on children.”
I was so pleasantly surprised to see a whole cluster of smart Nickelodeon ladies, past and present, in the room. It’s funny and affirming to know that so many of us started there, working on productions like Dora, The Backyardigans, and Bubble Guppies.
The event started with a presentation by Lori Takeuchi of The Cooney Center, who opened with this fabulous video clip to exemplify how Sesame Workshop uses humor to engage both parents and children watching together.
Takeuchi worked with our field’s finest and smartest to put together a report on coviewing and learning through joint media engagement (JME), “ spontaneous and designed experiences of people using media together.” I highly recommend you check the report out on their site. Here’s the link! I downloaded the iPad friendly version and have stored it in my iBooks library (along with copies of all New York City Blueprints in the Arts) to access and refer to in any place and at any time.
Panelists then shared their thoughts on coviewing and how it has supported, challenged, and impacted their work as researchers and producers. Panelists included: Heather Tilert, Erica Brach-Ridley, Mindy Brooks, and Shelley Pasnick, and was moderated by Sarah Walendjack.
Can you recall a coviewing experience that impacted you, either as a viewer or as a media professional?
I caught the first two episodes this past Sunday and fell in love. The series, which follows Jane Quimby as she balances high school and a full fledged fashion career, has all the elements of a perfect coming of age story: friendship, fashion, identity discovery, rich bullies, borderline poverty, lust, varsity jackets, and a sweet and compelling main character.
I sat there watching and thought, "Why didn't I write this show?" I had to find out the brilliant mind behind the project. I was so excited to learn that April Blair created and wrote the series. Blair is also one of the writers of Monte Carlo, another young adult fave of mine. There's no doubt that this series was influenced by John Hughes and Pretty In Pink. Blair discusses her creative process and that influence in this great piece from The Hollywood Reporter.
I find it interesting that a story so similar to Pretty In Pink, from the mid 1980's, could appeal to a generation of young Millennials. If we track adolescence across the ages, problems don't change drastically from generation to generation. We all face heartache, desire for independence, and identity crisis. So what is it about young adult dramas that can appeal to such a wide, older audience? Maybe we are attracted to these coming of age stories because we're continually growing, learning, and coming of age ourselves....whatever "of age" means.
Blair gets it. Yeah, this show is about fashion and boys, but it's also about powerful women doing it all, something young women (and us "of age" ladies) all aspire to.
As expected, last night's Women in Children's Media event was fantastic. The event was part of the Writer's Workshop monthly series, and featured Elly Kramer. Elly is a director of production and development for Nickelodeon Preschool. Basically, she is kick-ass.
We discussed how her department works to acquire and grow content at Nickelodeon. Perhaps my favorite quote of the night was, "Development never stops once the show gets picked up." That just goes to show that Nickelodeon is committed to providing interesting and relevant content to its viewers.
She reminded us that Nickledeon has an open submissIon policy, which is great! This means you can submit your content, music, or art, pretty much at any time. She recommended doing so at NickPitches.com. This seems to be a particularly useful resource for visual artists and musicians, who can be added to Nick's database through the site.
The energy of a single space can inspire and encourage development and creativity. As I’m in the midst of an apartment search, I'm considering what my ideal workspace would look like. Fingers crossed for an oversized walk-in closet!
I want the room to accommodate my office space needs and reflect my interests and industry. Children’s media is particularly challenging to reflect in design. I'd like my space to pop and mirror the excitement of learning and discovery, while maintaining calm.
Earlier today, I had a strong urge I feel every now and then. It’s the urge to jump on a plane and head out to Pittsburgh: ride the buses for free with my student ID, eat pancakes at Pamela’s, see some art at The Mattress Factory or The Warhol, catch a show at City Theatre, and grab a drink at The Brillo Box. This afternoon I recalled an extra special reason to visit Pittsburgh today, it’s King Friday’s birthday! King Friday XIII celebrates his birthday on any and every Friday, the 13th.
Pittsburgh has always held some special magic for me. To start, it is literally Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood brought to life. Secondly, it’s a thriving post-industrial American city. It handled the recession with grace compared to the rest of the country, possibly because its main industry, steel, had already left the city in financial crisis. It’s been rebuilding with art and technology, and finding ways to reinvent and reinvest in some of its most beautiful features. Old buildings are the homes to some of the city’s finest theater and dance companies, and the rivers are used for kayaking.
I first visited Pittsburgh in the fall of 2009. I wasn’t certain if I had made the right choice, leaving New York to go to grad school in Boston. I was there to study child development and media, just like my hero Mister Rogers, but it didn’t feel right. In the midst of my rutt, I received a postcard from the Fred Rogers Company to promote a one weekend only event at WQED: the Neighborhood of Make Believe set on display in the actual studio it was filmed in. Without question, I bought a round trip ticket to Pittsburgh, something so impulsive and very out of character for me.
A few weeks later, my plane landed in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. Perhaps the best view of Pittsburgh you can get is driving towards the city from the airport. You go into a tunnel, and when you get out, the city is glowing right in front of you, just like Mister Rogers’ trolley as it arrives in the Neighborhood of Make Believe.
I spent my first night tracking down the Fred Rogers statue with friends. We had no clear direction of where we were going, which seemed to make finding it extra special. That’s where I fell in love with the city. The rest of the weekend was spent experiencing as much of Pittsburgh as possible. Any time I mentioned why I was visiting the city (“Because I like Mister Rogers”), the person with whom I was speaking had a story about Fred that they were excited to share. It was so clear that Mister Rogers’ influence was everywhere.
I returned to Boston reinvigorated and inspired. I saw how much power children’s media had, and I realized why Mister Rogers was so successful: Fred’s show was an extension of himself, his values, and his city. He incorporated bits of himself into his creation, which made it real and compelling.
There are so many ways to honor King Friday on his special day, but I recommend you plan a trip to Pittsburgh and see the neighborhood for yourself.
Pantone, the authority on color, has released their color of the year. Tangerine Tango! Wouldn't it be fun to introduce colors to kids through dance? I’d love a tango-style song and dance routine praising the benefits of this vibrant hue.
It also reminds me of my favorite Led Zeppelin song:
How can Tangerine Tango inspire your work this year?
I knew that if I was going to make good on this new year’s resolution to have more puppetry experiences, I would have to make some serious commitments to it. I recalled my evening out at Puppet Palooza last October and wondered (dreamed) if it’d be possible to work with John Tartaglia. John has been a performer in a number of Broadway and children’s television productions. Most notably, he played Princeton and Rod in Avenue Q and hosted his own program, Johnny and the Sprites, on Playhouse Disney. This is a clip from one of my favorite pieces of his work:
Before arriving at his studio for my lesson, I thought about what I really wanted to learn. I thought about my Monday night puppet sessions with Sabrina and Audrey in Massachusetts. I had so much fun working with them and bringing Cassie to life, but I never felt confident in giving Cassie a voice. This became my ultimate goal for my lesson.
At 12pm sharp, John opened the door to his studio for me. His workspace is a dream! It’s filled with shelves of puppet creations and building materials, posters from his production Imaginocean, and large windows for fantastic natural light. He sat with me, and we really had an opportunity to discuss goals, tricks of the trade, and who this Cassie lady really is….seriously, we talked A LOT about Cassie. Approximately an hour into the lesson, I had an Ah-Ha moment (is it necessary to credit Oprah when this phrase is used?). By simply removing myself from a mirror when working with Cassie, I was able to let go and let the character come to life. I literally had to get myself out of my own way….or out of her way.
I was so excited to meet someone who genuinely loves what he’s doing and yearns to share his craft with others. John was incredibly supportive and thoughtful in his instruction and feedback. He provided me with some great resources to look at and ideas for practicing at home. It wasn't until I was reviewing an exercise this evening that I realized, "Oh my God. I sang the ABCs with John Tartaglia and freakin' Cassie!"
This is an unbelievable start to 2012, and it’s inspired me to continue to move forward, have fun, and trust my instincts more. Perhaps the greatest piece of advice John shared with me was to surround myself with people who are joyful and joy-makers. Sometimes that can be pretty hard to do in New York, but I'm up for the challange.
Find out more about John and his amazing work here www.JohnTartagliaPuppetry.com!
I met someone this week who was just, just starting out. It reminded me what it was like to learn about this amazing world and the unbelievably friendly and resourceful people that work in it. I've decided to put together a necessary list for our new industry friends. Welcome!
Smell that? 2012! I took a great break from blogging to collect my thoughts and really consider what I’d like to accomplish with iGeneration this year. I can’t wait to start sharing my reflections on my new year’s resolution to have more puppetry experiences, I plan to continue posting at least twice a week, and I’m looking forward to having more guest bloggers share their work here. Remember Xavier and his Fink Forest Friends? That was the most read iGeneration post of 2011!
I think Elizabeth and the Catapult say it best:
What new beginning are you excited about this year?