First week’s puppet report…

Hi interested Ice Age-Live parties,
Please find my Guatemala puppet report attached. (IT’S NOT)

And here’s a brief summary of the current state of play…

Following the completion of 1 full run and 9 back-to-back shows in four days, before cheering audiences, in Guatemala city, I’m very happy to report that the works carried out on ‘The Animals’ during the ‘off season’, are proving successful… all mechanical and animatronic creatures are doing what is expected of them, in sometimes very challenging conditions.

Of course, the show is extremely physical… making high demands on the costume’s fabric, so there remains the requirement for significant ongoing maintenance, but this presently feels manageable.

And while it was a loss that a number of key performers did not return, those who have come in their stead, are eager to achieve a similar level of character portrayal and I am being allowed (as time permits) occasion to ‘bring them on’.

Yours,
Todd (Master Puppeteer)

Travel day, Central American style…

Leaving my lovely room(s) at the Mercure hotel, Zone 10, Guatemala City and this country of Mayan smiles and many guns and heading for Costa Rica.

2am up, bags in the bus by 3, at the airport 3:30.
Desk doesn’t open till 4:30… 36 people collapse on bags in orderly manner within roped off cueing area.
Vomiting girls rush to loo… food poisoning or a bug, but already thin, they now appear wraiths in fashion jeans.
Pockets of low conversation, particularly in the smoking area… none of us want to be here right now.
I can see no indication of the flight we’re meant to be on on the digital display. Other check-in desks are open, passengers are heading elsewhere, but not us. I take my travel itinerary to one of the open desks… the clerk there looks at it and then the board, smiles, “The display is usually wrong.”
At 4:30, a clerk comes and tells us that there is no 5:35 flight to San Jose (the digital display was right)… the next is 7:10 and it’s overbooked. 12 will need to travel with a different airline, “That desk over there.”
I’m to be one of the 12.
Drag bags to other cue, hand in passport.
One by one we 12 are dealt with… time is moving faster, the airport has come alive with other travellers. Families with sleepy children trying to be awake, still in their jammys are passing through check-in, a few business people in suits heading for early meetings, an Aussie back-packer using the cleanish toilet to conduct morning ablutions (when will he next encounter such facilities?).
Just three of us remain, “We have no more seats on this aircraft”, says the clerk, hands back our passports and closes the desk.
Back to the previous cue, “Yes we have seats for the 7:10…” the 1-and-a-half hour trip to Costa Rica will take 3, as it goes via Honduras. “But there are seats”.
“You’re very late!” the clerk tells me, handing back my now, much thumbed passport. “You’ll have to run to make the flight.” No breakfast in the airport then, no duty free tequila, no stopping till I’m on the tarmac looking at a twin prop hoppa; a ‘Chicken Plane’… like the chicken busses I’ve seen so many of, but with the produce stowed in a net, in the hold underneath us, rather than on a rack above.
At least I’m on my way.

My eye lids are so heavy and the next hours pass with long blinks between which I see a pretty flight attendant doing the ‘Should we land in water’ dance, some clouds over the Caribbean, a stale tasteless roll in a cardboard box placed on the broken drop down table – marketed as an executive breakfast.

Touch down for half-an-hour in Honduras international airport, another country visited, but not seen.

Up again and this time don’t even try – have one long blink.

I had been excited to see… I’m usually pressed to the glass, looking out, wanting to take it all in, but ten shows in four days and all that went with, then the stupidly early non-start and tiredness owns me.

9:40 and we’re in Costa Rica… just another airport building. More scrutiny of my passport and another bus.

Hotel by 11.

There’s no room available, so me and my bags head for the bar, where the clerk behind the desk says that “yes they are open” and that I can have an unscheduled breakfast beer…
A bottle of Corona with a slice of lime pushed into the neck. Ice cold it is and in the condensation that immediately forms on the neck, I write my name, then run the lime around the glass lip.
The first sip is taken religiously like I used to take communion wine… this though is not an act. Cold washes around my tongue, a moment later its taste is revealed, I swallow slowly and feel the liquid pass into my gullet… “Arghhhh”. Take bottle and bags out onto the patio where I find a hammock next to the pool and sip the honey coloured brew slowly as bright green parakeets argue and bicker in flight between palms that shade.

Day on top…

Signed.

Signed.

Still performing.

Still performing.

Above the birdsong, there were audible explosions,
Plumes of steam billowed from a summit different to the pre 2010 picture.
New growth was everywhere… life pushing out of the strewn ash,
While ancient living things – visibly bore the marks of searing,
A stark landscape, broken by petrified lava… still held in that moment.
All elements were present and made themselves known.

Black & White

Black & White

Hard & Soft

Hard & Soft

It finally happened…

Yesterday’s first run went very well… with no audience, but we went for it and, yes… We have a show! Congratulations all round.
The second run, with our inaugural Central American audience, ‘The Premier’, was good… largely thanks to adrenalin. A drink for all from a grateful production manager, just the one – since tomorrow’s big.

But don’t be lulled into false confidence.

First of today’s three shows
The audience is in, standby called, line up for Sc 2, culminating chord of the opening, ice crack and avalanche effect, applause, and we’re on… cheers from the children who recognise they’re favourite film characters, looking just like they’d expect.

The response is good and the scene’s are progressing… Act I complete, lights, applause, tea-time… it’s going well.

Act II… and Olga’s got her sexy squirrel number, after which the triple earth platform is too retract, so that the journey of our hero’s, which takes them home in a spectacular and entertaining manner can continue into the enchanted garden. But it doesn’t retract… instead it sits there grumpily saying “no” via Wifi.

Nattie’s voice is heard over our in-ears… plan B. ‘Leave the bloody thing where it is and carry on pretending it’s not there’.

We continue as best we can… don’t let on to the audience.

Clever skating, hurried in-ear re-direction, commitment despite and we’re almost there.. we’ve successfully arrived at Sc 20 “Mini Sloths” my fave – and as it’s meant to, the earth platform partially separates for the number… and then stops!

No amount of reloading cues will convince it to return to closed position. Just as well the operator has a lot of hair… he’ll be pulling it out about now.

Carry-on

Almost there, Sc 22 – The Family Reunited… the perfect summation of a family show, where the audience are invited to share mother & daughter’s cathartic moment and emotionally put themselves in that same happy place. Ellie is discovered alone and wracked to her core, her daughter taken and maybe eaten by predatory birds, her husband gone after… but it’s been a long time, she looks to the hills and then the video wall opens and a voice calls, “Mama”. And from despair – to recognition – to exaltation; she turns and there’s her long-lost child and behind plods her lovely, pouffy husband… but the performers of the lumbering pachyderm can’t properly descend into the too small gap between the dead platforms, so attempt to negotiate the space by coming off at an angle. They nearly make it, but three wheels in the air and ice beneath their feet is too much.
Over he goes… ker-thump!

Rather ridiculously, on the inside, it happens in slow motion and very stupidly I try to arrest the collapse by putting out my hand… (my medula oblongata has a lot to answer for), so instead of simply accepting that gravity won and flumpfing into the inflatable left foreleg, I hear the crack as four hundred pounds forces fingers back.

There’s an odd silence, then my in-ear goes mad… “Manny down”.

Soundtrack keeps playing, hands come to help, one grabs my outstretched arm… the enormous puppet is hoist up, the puppeteers still strapped into harness are determined to finish. The audience forgives and applauds… this is a live show!

We leave the scene as scripted, embarrassed and battered, but still attempting the choreography.

Show ends as it was meant to… audience loud, cast grateful, master puppeteer realising that all is not entirely well with right hand and a couple of ribs.

So for the next of todays three shows, and tomorrows three, and Sunday’s two, and the get-out… supportive tape and nurofen shall be my best friends.

Out of depth…

In a bit of a hole.

Take the help offered.

I definitely need to tighten up my attitude and awareness here… I’d really slackened when at home and am paying a heavy price as a naive alien. Bank card cancelled, computer seriously damaged, sleep deprived, legs scraped, mosquito bitten, ripped off by locals pretending to be Italian waiters, paying tourist prices, ego distinctly bruised.

Time to don the thicker pachyderm hide that I’d left hanging in my emotional wardrobe these last months… or I’m simply going to sink.

Perspiration and Platforms…

Arghhhhh!

Trying everything we know to keep the show going, albeit that there’s no present audience. Just needing to get through, but one major element is confounding all attempts to have a smooth, “As Directed” performance and today it really got to me.
It may well be condensation that simply requires regular wiping off with a soft cloth, it may be that the program is glitching, or driver error (lack of being on it), or the ice being too slushy and causing the various platform wheels to lose traction, or water seeping into unsealed connections, or (and this strikes me as most likely) and unholy alliance of all.
However today I reached the end, and as I was yet again attempting to cross the crevasses that randomly open between the bloody things whilst still trying to perform Mammoth character with significant dialogue, my “****ing platforms” expletive was extremely audible as I broadcast my frustration from within Manny.

Afterwards I was taken aside, but they know I’m right.

The platform operator complained at my outburst… ‘we’re doing everything we can’, he said ‘calling the Swedish suppliers for solves and patches and confirmation that they should work’ and that, ‘they’re a major part of the show’. My retort, “On the poster… it’s called a Mammoth adventure, not a platform one.”

Focus…

The predecessors of those who spent the day before me had formed a tight bond with their characters and each other… a largely avoidable shame, that so many didn’t return.

In Utrecht summer of 2012, there’d been reasonable opportunity to spend time with people who’d never been inside a costume before, never puppeteered (and for several – didn’t know that’s what was going to be asked of them when they took the job)… for the new recruits – there’s been none. However, by Thursday they need to be readied, so Dascher plays games with his new animal recruits.

And they are, keen to learn… so a day of focussing on character – on being a cat, a bird, a pachyderm, a piratical-hip-hopping-weasel takes place. No instruction to be on this marker, in this light on the fifth beat, instead a seed planted within, that should grow into the character hook, in order that anywhere they find themselves in the narrative, the next move will be obvious.

I’m here…

"It's not what you're looking at that counts, it's what you see"  Henry David Thoreau

“It’s not what you’re looking at that counts, it’s what you see”
Henry David Thoreau

There will be many pictures of today, but presently; they’re inaccessible, due to technology glitch… which should be a reminder – we’re not in Europe any more and this place abides by different rules: that should include holding your bag (carrying precious computer) as the ‘to work’ bus lurches around corners, carefully pushing back on your chair in restaurants, to avoid tipping over large step, keeping the balcony doors closed at mosquito time.

Here’s a bit of the story…
Everyone else who went on the trip to Lake Atitlan returned with memories held in the synapses and the hard-drive, I return with them etched on my shins.

I had been really enjoying the use of transport… anything that would fit onto the back of a pickup; was transported via said. This included items vastly too big, or utterly inappropriate (I don’t think that the UK police force has forms that could be used top cover such violations), here however, if it fits – it travels. I’d seen the load of pigs, and grannies with hoes, and corn stacked higher than any elephant’s eye (I have the snaps to prove it), but while enjoying lunch with my ‘Day-off’ chums in the only clean eating place we’d come across… the call went up, “Would you look at the bullocks on that!” – I snatched up camera and turned in my chair to capture the moment, but it was butted up against the rain water step and over it went, taking me with it, I twisted cat-like to save the camera and get the shot… and remember thinking as I slow motion discovered the concrete step with my shins, “That’ll hurt in a minute!”.

What a pillock!

The abrasions will join the mosquito bites as identifying marks of a Welshman out of his depth.

Bloody stupid

I didn’t look, nor did I see… Bloody stupid

I’m not there (again)…

Lillian Todd-Jones and her band play Chagstock… just 2 miles from our house, but I’m 5.5 thousand miles away. Sorry Lill.

Others saw it, and here’s some feed-back:

“Just how damn gorgeous and fantastic was she?”

“how wonderful Lill was… A breath of fresh air – lovely!”

“Lillian Todd-Jones rocks the house.”

Lillian Todd-Jones Band

Lillian Todd-Jones Band

Giving it some.

Giving it some.

And some more.

And some more.

...everything.

…everything.

Water, water, everywhere and lots of it…

Attempting a two show day.
A serious challenge this… without an audience yes, but using all elements, let’s see if we can do it?

How ever, one element is proving beyond our ability to control. Water is not a friend here in Central (tropical) America… it gets into everything, and at this point; that means we are confounded when attempting to ‘run’.

The platforms (a ‘clever’ technology – as I stated when first I met them last year), require continual updating of co-ordinates, in order to function. Each platform’s onboard laser fires a beam which bounces directly back from the dozen ice-side reflectors umpteen times per second, from which information, the computer calculates the distance using a difference in relationship equation, the platforms then follow their ‘programation pattern’ overseen by the schematic, which tells the operator that all’s well (or not) and that the programmed moves as being properly enacted (or not). If the schematic indicates error, the platforms can be manually driven, or the cue reloaded.
Rock-solid was the promise by the Swedish supplier.

Not really…
Our reality is one of crevice like gaps that open before us, sudden lurches that cause characters to fall over, missed cues that induce the urgent command over our headsets, ‘Plan B/C/D’ or whatever and simply random shifts that mean we lose the performance moment.

The principle reason (it’s now been guessed before?), is humidity… condensation forms on the ice header (edge) reflectors and causes the laser light to refract in a less than accurate (180degree) way, so glitching the program that controls the platform’s movements.

I think we need a plan ‘X’… no ****ing platforms.

Time has passed…

Some are no longer here – a sadness in most cases, not in all.

Those returned have no misconceptions and certainly none of the naivety with which we began this time last year and we are, as the gift of the ‘old’ to the young, able to lift the scales from before the eyes of the new recruits – with no intention to demoralise.

Those, for the first time joining our dance bring infectious enthusiasm which reinvigorates the whole and since none of us really knows the road (despite the boasting of some ancients), that vigour will no doubt prove a useful tool, as cynicism can undermine even before the attempt is made.

We are informed that Panama is cancelled!
There is uncertainty about others.
But still we need to prepare.

We must achieve a level of certainty & control, so that no matter what – “The show goes on.” And this is proving the greatest challenge in a primal rain forest (no matter the amount of poured concrete). Already, we have been made complete fools of by the moving platforms, which may or may not play, might and often do confound.
I’m sure that they’ll get the video wall working soon… otherwise Manny’ll be performing from the wings.

No department is free of dealing with the vagaries of trying to put a technically very complex Ice-show in the tropics… all the ‘Animal’ costumes are damp from both sweat and humidity, never able to fully dry between runs and the skater’s lycra costumes, icicles & foxes are ever wet… to be pulled on with a grimace, especially after the 4-5pm downpour, when the temperature has dropped.

And for me… An interesting new ritual, before getting in… I give Manny a shake, so that the giant tropical moth, which has taken to roosting there, vacates its pouffy abode.

New Friend.

New Friend.