Refridgerator Box Castles

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“We’ve got Cardboard in the Car” was a song my son made up when he was five and we driving home from preschool.  Inside our Kia we had a new refrigerator box, and we were going to build a house.   Three years later, my son is in second grade, and a refrigerator box is still almost twice as tall as he is.  It is the perfect material to build a cardboard castle with for Trunk Or Treat.  I’ve got more than ten boxes stashed away this year, ready for Halloween, but you can make something much smaller with just a box or two.

Seven tips for cardboard lovers how to wrangle a refrigerator box

1- How to find monster sized boxes:   If you are lucky your local appliance store will have a clean dumpster, or if you are even luckier the store will hold the box aside for you.  Very often the store will have a warehouse where they will store piles of boxes waiting to go on the weekly recycle run.  Big box stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot don’t seem to have these big boxes, ironically. (They probably put them in a trash compactor or something) Now that you have found your box, you’ll just need a van, station wagon or pickup truck to haul the box or boxes back to your home.

2- How to trim your cardboard box:  I like to cut off the top and bottom flaps off the box so I can more easily fit the box inside my car.  I also cut the box from top to bottom along one corner.  This allows me open up the box to reveal the plain brown side of the cardboard.  This is the inside of the box where there is no printing and is where you can let your child draw, paint, and glue to their hearts content.

3- Tools for wrangling cardboard:   My personal favorite tool for cardboard is what Puppeteers call the “creature stapler”.  This stapler is basically an office stapler on steroids.  The most common models are the the Bostich B8 heavy duty 45 Sheet plyer stapler or the Arrow P35.  I am pretty sure these staplers were made to work with sheet metal, but they work quite well with cardboard too.   Of course you will also want a plain old retractable box knife,  with a fresh blade.

4- How to fold:  Cardboard does not fold that easily, so you will want some help.  Your child can help here, finally.  Use a stick of lumber(1X4 or 2X4) to draw a strait line across the box where you want to fold(or let your child draw the line).  Put the same lumber on the line you drew and have your child stand on the lumber.   With the child’s weight holding the lumber down fold up on the box.  The box should fold on a strait line along the lumber.  If your child is big enough you can let them fold while you kneel or stand on the lumber.  You can also kneel on the lumber and fold it by yourself if  you have to.

5- Stapling your box in the middle where the stapler won’t reach:   You’ll need a partial access hole so you can staple to two boxes together in the middle.  This hole just needs to be big enough to fit your stapler in, and can be repaired easily after the staple is made. Put two boxes together or fold one box so it meets up with itself(see  #6 for the later).  Staple the two boxes at the top, and if you can staple them on the bottom as well.  In the middle, where the two boxes overlap cut strait down in one box and then cut up at a 10 degree angle.  This makes a V shape cut, tilted to one side.  Then bang on the V shape real hard to push it inside the box.  Put your stapler inside what is now a v shaped hole and staple the two boxes together.  Then, when you have added a few staples, you can fold the v shape back so that now when looking at it you have a solid wall of cardboard.  Anytime you want you can open the V shape hole if you want to let your kid peek through the hole. Or you can tape the v shape up from the inside if you don’t want it to open.

6- Folding a tab, and reversing your box–   I like to use the natural folds of the box so I have have three large folding walls, and a fourth folding wall with a small 2 inch fold along one side called the tab.  Now stand the box up, folding the four main walls in so that the blank side of the cardboard is showing on the outside.  After you staple the tab of the box to the far wall you have made a new box with open roof and floor.  This new box  has no writing on the outside and is a blank canvas for your child to decorate.  Cut a door and you have a house.  Cut a window and you have a puppet stage.

7- Remember, it has to fit through the door:  You might think it’s fun for you and your child to go and measure how wide the door is, but then again, you might not want to give them any ideas.  These cardboard structures can get pretty big pretty quick, and you are going to want to lay down some ground rules with your kiddo  about where it will live and how long you plan to keep it around.  When we made our first house I told my son he could only have the one house.  He spent nearly a whole year building it, gluing on paper shingles, painting and repainting, and adding all kinds of detail and additions.  Finally a year later he told me he wanted to demolish because if he demolished it he could get a new box and start building a new structure.

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Building Shadow Puppets

In appearance shadow puppets resemble silhouettes, and are fairly easy to make.  Cereal box shadow puppets work surprisingly well, and cardstock is rather cheap especially if you can make two puppets with one sheet.  This kind of puppet makes a fairly easy project for children 1st grade and above, and you will find it appealing even for high school students.

Chuck Berry will be the newest addition to the list of famous people I have made into shadow puppet portraits.  While the task of cutting out the guitar might be rather tricky, the puppet itself is rather simple, consisting of only three moving parts.

I have made a great deal of these shadow puppet designs over the years.  Some of my designs include ballerinas, ninjas, pigs, elephants, T-Rexes, and mermaids.  I have also made designs for super heroes such as Batman, or even real-life super heroes such as Simone Biles.

Although typical shadow puppets don’t always have color, these puppets look very good in full color.  Markers or colored pencils are ideal, and depending on what choices you make, one design can turn out many different ways.  In fact, my design for a ballerina is actually the same design I use for a ninja; the only difference between the two is the color chosen, and a few extra scissor cuts.

The best thing about shadow puppets is that unlike other puppets they don’t resemble dolls, and this makes them appealing to older students.  It is true these puppets do resemble paper dolls, although I often forget to mention that to male students.   This is also an easy project for children to take home, and parents will find cereal boxes disappearing at alarming speed.

New Technology in Puppetry

The iPhone and the invention of smart phones is probably one of the most notable new technologies that have brought new life to the art of Puppetry, but it is certainly not the only one.

Puppetry has transformed before over the years, as new technologies became available.  It is hard to realize now, but Jim Henson was taking advantage of new technologies when he made the Muppets.  Before Jim Henson most puppets were made from cotton, paper and wood, not from Foam or Fleece.  As I like to point out to people, Elmer’s Glue was also a new technology.  Older glues, such as wheat paste and wallpaper paste, take much longer to dry, and are vulnerable to mold while drying.  Also there is nothing worse than having your puppet eaten by mice, which can happen if you use wheat paste.  Yet not all new technologies from the 20th century are worth keeping.  Plastic Wood was a toxic resin that replaced paper mache.   In that case we replaced something cheap and safe with something very expensive and poisonous to the puppet builder.

It shouldn’t surprise us that new innovations are coming to the art of puppetry in the computer age, and I am excited to see what people do with them.   It has become much easier to record and watch video.  Any parent now can set up a phone to record puppet shows with their kids, and can immediately sit on the couch and watch them.  Professional puppeteers can rehearse and then watch a video of that rehearsal for feedback.  This is something that should improve all performances,  but puppeteers more than others.  Otherwise puppeteers need to use a mirror and that can be very hard watching the puppet move while also watching what it looks like in the mirror.

Other innovations have come on the home computer, although a lot of these technologies are also available on your mobile device.   Adobe Premire Pro offers a wonderful suite of video editing software,  which works even on my 8 year old PC.  The free trial runs out much sooner than you would like, however,  and the price tag on this software is not yet affordable for most people.  Other software also exists, such as VSDC free Video Editor.   While it might not be as easy to use as Adobe, and it doesn’t have all the same features, it is free.  Anybody now can take their video, crop it, add music to it and then share it on the internet.

Social media in many ways has transformed the landscape for all performers.  This is easiest to see this with musicians, who have been using the internet as their demo tape for years.  Nobody now would dream of hiring a band without finding a short video of them play on the internet.  Other live performers, such as Jugglers, Clowns, Magicians, and Puppeteers, should be following their example.  Social media can also change the way we invite people to performances and it allows us to build a following of fans much easier than before.   Of course, with social media you can also skip making live performances altogether and just make your own Television channel on YouTube.

One of the things that excites me the most is how easy it is now to make stop animation films.  I personally like the program Lapse it Pro, which allows the user to set up your phone on a tripod and will take photos at regular intervals.  You can adjust the app so it takes photos every few seconds or minutes, and it will keep taking photos while you work.  After the project is done, you can remove bad photos from the series, and choose a speed to render the photos into video.  Now, I can show people how I made the puppet in a video that only lasts a few seconds.  Most people can only imagine how I build puppets if they see me building them with their own eyes, and and now I can show them in a video that looks really cool.  As I work with summer camps this year building puppets I am going to make sure that children get a chance to use this new app, and I look forward to showing you what they make.

Overall, the changes coming ahead to the art of puppetry should be exciting and fun to watch.  New technologies and new forms of art are not going to replace old ones,  but they will make older art forms, such as puppetry,  easier to share and easier to create.

Politics, Puppets and Protesting (2)

russian puppetI feel deeply dissatisfied with my last blog post, and feel like I clearly left out a few details. Why am I protesting?  What about the Lorax?  What about Trump?

Talking about Trump would take more than a whole blog post.   Funnier people than me have called him a fool better and more often than I ever could.  In fact I think my son does a much better job doing that voice, somehow getting his tone a little higher than I could.  If you really want to know what I think of this President then the one thing I think you should know that I was one hundred percent against him from the day he pretended to forget who David Duke was.

‘Why are you protesting’ is a question I wish journalists would stop asking me while I am actively protesting.  To answer that question I have to explain everything about who I am and what I do.  I feel like I have to explain that no, I am not a classroom teacher, and yes that I spend time in schools.  I would have to explain that yes the children I work with often have less opportunities than my own son would have, and the only difference  that they have is skin color and the community they were born in.  This is not an easy thing to talk about while protesting.  What the reporter should really be asking is “what are you protesting?”  In that case the answer is easy:  I am protesting against Trump, and I tell a few jokes in that funny voice,  mostly about race, crime, the end of the world and the zombie apocalypse.  Thatis why he wants to build the wall, of course.

The Puppet show The Lorax was not a protest, it was a performance.  However,  if you performed this show in public for free in a town that was heavy into the luber industry, then you would probably think it was a protest, wouldn’t you?  This is exactly what the creator of this puppet show did, and I always thought that this was awesome.  It just goes to show that there are different ways to protest.

Protesting does have a dark side, as I see it, and that is this whole f- the police shut it down attitude.  That kind of protest may produce eyeballs for the media, but it doesn’t change peoples minds, or make people question their world view.  It doesn’t even start a conversation.  I wish I could say I looked forward to talking to people about this more, but I would rather make a change of venue and find a more favorable audience.  If you want to yell f- the police I’ll go someplace else in town and talk with people who walk down the street with their families.  You can bet when they get home their kids will ask them about what they saw, especially because it was a puppet. Maybe it is too naive of me, but I do believe that some moderates and even moderate conservatives are actually human and will try to be honest with their kids and explain things as best they can.

 

 

Politics, Puppets, and Protesting

 

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I am no stranger to political puppetry.

I remember the first puppet show I saw as an adult, almost 18 years ago.  It was the Lorax, and it was probably the best political puppet show I have ever seen.

Back then I was in Minneapolis, and I was involved with a fair amount of political puppetry.  One of my mentors, Christopher Lutter, was famous for making his “big heads” of Cheney, Bush, and Rumsfeld.  Those were enormous masks that made the wearer look like a giant bobble head.  9 years later those bobble heads were a direct inspiration for me.   I worked with children in two after school programs to build my giant Barack Obama puppet, which is 10 feet tall.  The children in that program then wrote Obama letters, and sent pictures of themselves with the puppet.

I was in a few political protests while I was in Minneapolis.  I remember one time I got dressed up as zombie Ronald Macdonald.  There were a whole lot of police on the streets that day, and I remember walking past all those police officers waving at them and then rubbing my belly like I had a really nasty bellyache.  I loved watching their faces go from deadly serious, to cracking up with laughter.

Another time I made a puppet that resembled a local reporter in Minneapolis, and confronted her with it while she was interviewing me in the street.  Suddenly the reporter was face to face with a smaller version of herself and asking herself the same stupid question she asked me the previous occasion.  I still remember how the camera man was cracking up.   My puppet did end up on TV that night, although only in the background as the reporters ‘explained’ what the protest was about.

I moved back to St Louis 16 years ago, and since then I have found myself only going to one protest a year; the Martin Luther King day March.  Often at that march I see kids from the schools where I work,  and they are always excited to see the big Obama puppet.

I have always liked doing street theater.  Busking is fun, but is a lot of work for a small amount of money. I think protesting with your puppet is pretty much the same thing as busking.  You say the same basic thing over and over again to people as they walk past.  It is a lot of fun really, and I definitely feel that I am ready to start doing it again.

Anyway, what I have been trying to say is that I have made a new puppet.  I hope you like it.  I hope you think it is tremendous.