A pleasant surprise

January 26, 2009

I have a dear friend who is currently in the UBC hospital in the extended care unit for the elderly.  His name is David Orcutt and he is an 87 yr old puppeteer who has worked with experiemental video/ projection art, shadow puppet animation for CBC in the 60’s and created a world sign language system, to mention a few of his acheivements.  We share mutual friends and interests including puppetry, galactic theories and sustainable earth solutions.  A good friend and puppet mentor of mine, Vern, and I often visit David and hope to continue doing collaborative projects with him.

Last week we went to visit David and had a pleasant surprise.  There was a performer, Stan, who was a ventriloquist and musician, who had come to entertain the patients.  We went to the space and took a couple of seats amongst the old folks.  I have never been that interested in ventriloquism but I must say it is quite an impressive skill where you articulate out of the sides of your mouth and Stan was clearly a seasoned performer.  He also sang old Vaudeville songs and played the banjo ukulele to prerecorded piano music that he had produced.  He really worked the crowd, singing and flirting with the old ladies and presenting the collection of songs in an amusing way, highlighting how the lyrics were quite suggestive.  We clapped and tapped our feet to the music and were the life of the party, along with the wild old lady in the back who kept hooting and getting up and dancing.  Some of the old ladies had beautiful singing voices and sang along with songs like ‘Big Beautiful Doll’ and the whole crowd was injected with life from the music and performance.

One of the biggest treats for us all was hearing Stan play the harmonica.  I have never heard the harmonica played in that way before with such clear and melodic sounds flowing. It was quite large style that could shift keys.   It was clear to all the audience that we were very fortunate to experience a harmonica player of that calibre.  One aspect that caught my attention was how connected he was to his breath from the way he stood, to his tone quality and clarity of the longer notes .  One other intriguing part of the performance was that the way the speakers were set up he kept stepping in and out of the feed back zone with his microphones, it almost seemed intentional or that he had no idea what was going on, which didn’t make sense.  Perhaps it was a flavour of the experimental he was going for.

The performing artist holds such an important role to the human spirit because they allow the audience to experience levels of inspiration and emotion that we cannot do alone.  He gave an amazing gift to these people who are nearing the end of their lives.  These patients simply do not have a lot of opportunity to connect with the joys and experiences that life once provided for them.  Through these classic songs sung live they were able to access the playful parts of themselves that still exist.  I too, was touched and enlivened.


Dancing Kangaroo

January 21, 2009

 Saturday, Jan 10th, I had a rather amusing role in a children’s music concert.   I danced on stage as Tula, the kangaroo, and puppeteered a snicker snake who are both part of the Music with Marnie show. I actually have been designing and creating the characters for her act for about six years now.  I’ve made puppets, props and giant mascots for her but I have never performed with her. It was a lot of fun, although physically exhausting.

There is something about hopping across a stage with massive feet, tail and an oversized head wearing head to toe fun fur that gets you hotter than a summer bikram’s yoga class.  When I peeled myself out of the costume at the end of the show and video shoot I just poured sweat.  I will design the next costume with crotch and underarm vents.   I made the mascot a few years ago and I see where I can improve certain approaches.

Marnie’s show is very high energy and the musicians that she hires are skilled professionals.  They all deliver great production value with genuine intention and fun.  Her is sound is funky enough that parents like it too.  She encourages the kids to get up and dance, most of the children rush the front to bust a few moves Sometimes it looks like a baby mosh pit which all the little ones bounching around.  I look forward to perhaps performing as Tula again sometime.  Shhh… don’t tell anyone, it’s a secret that it’s not for real.


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January 14, 2009

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