Sunday, May 31, 2015

Jumanji Puppet Show

Book:  Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Puppets:  Boy, Girl, Monkey(s), Lion(s), Snake(s), Shark(s)
Props:  Squirt Bottle, Storm Sounds (optional), Fog Machine (optional), Dice, Game Board (printed and taped to cardboard)

Jumanji is such an excellent book that I hesitated a bit before doing it as a puppet show, knowing I'd have to change it a bunch.  But I justify it to myself by saying it's way closer than the movie version, and by using the usual standby:  kids will check out a bunch of copies of the book.  So we did the puppet show for our "K-2 Book Adventure" program on "Award Winners."  (a separate post will summarize the program).  When I did this show years ago it was a solo show, but we had three people this time (Sheila, Terri, and I) and it was much easier.  I played Judy and Peter, the two kids.  Terri and Sheila were on either side of me and each had one of each animal puppet.

The first change from the book was to jump right into the two kids playing the game.  No trip to the park and finding the game.  So they're bored at home, discover the game, read the rules, and we're off.  As a puppet show, it's the appearance of the animals and other dangers that are the key.  So when one child rolls the die and reads "Lions attack, go back two spaces," Sheila's Lion appears behind Peter on the right, he turns and a chase ensues.  They lose that Lion, head back the other way, and Terri's Lion appears on the left, and a chase ensues.  And that's the basic pattern.

 The next roll leads to "Monkeys pull hair."  I know, in the book it's "monkeys steal food," but that was too complicated.  And having a Monkey pull a girl puppet across the stage by the hair is a pretty funny visual.  When it's "Monsoon season," Terri and Sheila made storm noises with our thunder tube and squirted the audience with water.  Then we did "Python," which was more chasing.  And finished with "lost in fog," which was added because we got to use our fog machine.  Terri held it up right below the puppets and it was a quite effective surprise for the audience.  We did not include the rhinoceros stampede or the lost guide, partly because it had to be a fairly quick show and partly because they would have been harder to manage (once again artistic integrity is trumped by time and convenience)...

When Judy finally reaches the end, we stretched out the action by having her forget to shout "Jumanji."  So the game isn't ended and all the animals (or as many as Terri and Sheila could put out there) converge on the kids until she remembers.  And when she says it, all the animal puppets instantly disappear.  

Since the kids never go to the park in this version, we had to drop the excellent book ending where they return the game to the park and watch two other kids walk off with it (we learn about their game in Zathura).  So we added a basic joke to end it up:  The kids decide to play a safe, harmless game like "Go Fish," and when one of them says "what could possibly be scary about "Go Fish?"....two Shark puppets appear and chase them.

The show was a big hit with the K-2 audience, proving once again that there's nothing like a chase or two to make a puppet show work.  It's one that could be done pretty easily with two'd just have to have animal puppets coming from one side only.  And you just need a bit of pre-choreographing of the chase scenes to make it work, then there's plenty of room for improvising if you feel like it.  The fog machine is not really needed (though we enjoyed using it).  As for the Game Board, we just printed an image of the actual board game which came out when the movie did and taped it to cardboard.  Actually a very good board own kids played it for hours at a time when they were younger.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Biggest Thing with Cardboard and Felt

Book:  The Biggest Thing in the Ocean  by Kevin Sherry
Puppets:   A few sea animals, including a shark
Props:   A big cut-out squid
Presenters:   2
Technology:  Projector with a ouple slides
Audience:   Family Storytime (mostly 3-6 year olds)

One of the many benefits of doing two-person storytimes is that you get to do stories that you never would have thought of yourself.  In this case, Sheila and Terri developed the story, Brad came up with a couple of additional enhancements later, and by the time I got a turn at a recent Family Storytime, all I had to do was walk around behind a piece of cardboard.

  I've used The Biggest Thing in the Ocean as a read aloud and it works great.  Sheila and Terri worked out a cool way to act it out with kids.  Sheila created a big giant squid, using cardboard and blue stuff which looks like felt, but is actually called something like headliner fabric or cartop.  "It was easy," she says, but I don't think it would have been for someone as craft-clueless as me.

 The squid works kind of like a giant puppet or mask.  You just hold it up in front of you and walk around, and you're a squid.  You can even have the words written on the back!  The story's pretty simple.  As Squid, I just brag about how I'm "the biggest thing in the ocean."  On the screen behind me we projected a silent video of moving ocean water, which was a nice touch....but it would work fine without that too.  Then Terri enters with a Starfish puppet.  I brag that I'm bigger than a starfish, and Terri attaches the puppet to the squid.  The puppets all have velcro and stick easily.  And this whole thing could be done with felt figures instead of puppets just as well..

So now there's a Starfish on the Squid.  I was a little worried that the kids would think the Squid ate the Starfish, but it's pretty clear that it's there just to show the comparative size.  Now that Terri has shown what to do, she guides four kids from the audience to come up, one at a time, and do the same thing with puppets they had been given.  So I say:  "I'm even bigger than a Blue Fish.  Is there a Blue Fish out there?"  And the child with the Blue Fish comes up and attaches it to the Squid.  Earlier we had tried having the kids walk across stage with their puppets in front of the Squid, but it was hard for them to figure out where to go.  Another time the kids stayed seated and held up their animals while the Squid came up to them.  That didn't work great either, since the kids usually forgot to hold up their animals and the rest of the audience couldn't see.  Then Brad had the idea of having the kids attach the sea creatures, and that did the trick.   Sometimes it just takes us a few tries before we get it right.  Soon the Squid has plenty of animals to prove how big he is:

Then he says something like:  "I'm even bigger than a Shark, although I'm glad I don't see any sharks around here.  They're smaller than me, but they're scary."  Terri, meanwhile, has a Shark puppet on her hand and we have a little hide-and-seek-followed-by-chase scene, which adds some action to the tale.

For the conclusion, the Squid brags one more time about being the biggest thing in the ocean...then the Whale appears.  We used the screen for the Whale, with the image moving slowly across the screen while the Squid retreats just in front of the jaws, then gets swallowed, as I move it out of sight behind a backdrop with the Squid.  So imagine the blue Squid in front of a screen, then the whale above slowly moving across the screen from right to left, towards the Squid, and as it reaches the edge of the screen, the Squid moves in front of the open mouth as if being swallowed.

Then the inside of the Whale's stomach appears on screen, and Squid comes out in front of the screen so it looks (kind of) like he's in the stomach, along with all of the other animals that are attached to him.  
He realizes where he is, admits that he's smaller than the Whale, and delivers the concluding line:  "I'm the biggest thing in this whale!"
The interaction between Squid and screen actually works very nicely, and the kids all seem to get the joke at the end, or at least as well as they do with the book....

Saturday, May 2, 2015

I Elephant, 1 Piggie, 2 Birds, 3 People

Book:  There Is a Bird on Your Head  by Mo Willems
Puppets:   Two Birds
Props:   Nest, Egg, Baby Birds (3), Elephant Hat (or similar), Piggie Hat (or similar)
Presenters:  3
Audience:   K-2, Preschool

It's been nine(!) months since I posted on this blog, but I haven't really quit.  The usual suspects are to blame:  procrastination,
laziness, and their various relatives, but I choose to put the blame on computer Scrabble, which, as it happens, I purchased for $2.99 just a week or two after my last blog entry, and I'm afraid that's too close to be mere coincidence.  It's not like I'm addicted, and really I can quit any time I want, it's just that I choose not to.  So for now my plan is to get back to blog entries with an unambitious (but attainable) two times a month, and as for Scrabble....well I don't think anyone needs to know how many Scrabble games I play in a month.  

I'll jump back into it with yet another Elephant & Piggie.  We did There Is a Bird on Your Head for a K-2 Book Adventure program on "Award Winners" (it won the 2008 Geisel Medal) and the repeated it for Family Storytime.  We acted it out with me as Gerald and Sheila as Piggie (as usual, but one of these days we're going to switch roles, challenging stereotypes of gender and height, just for fun) and Terri with the Bird puppets.  

 Sheila and I sat, while Terri moved the first Bird onto my head.  She didn't talk for the birds, but gave little chirping whistles that were just right.  As usual with a Mo Willems, we stuck to the word from the book very closely.  When Gerald first learns there's a bird on his head, I jump off the chair and run away, while Terri takes the first Bird behind our backdrop.  Then I return and she comes back with two birds.

Then there's a progression as the birds go to work, while Gerald gets increasingly worried about what's going on up there.  They bring out a Nest.  Then an Egg.  Then Chicks.  In the book it's three eggs, and although we do have three plastic eggs, its too hard for a puppeteer to manage them along with two birds and a nest.  So Terri showed one egg, and Sheila stood up, looked into the Nest, and counted three.  We do have three baby birds.  Actually they're three finger puppets connected to that nest (it's a Folkmanis nest that they don't make any more but you can find it on ebay and elsewhere).  So Terri kind of pulled them up so the audience could see them peeking out.

As with most Elephant and Piggie's, you have to take your time with the dialogue and don't really need to overdo it.  The characters and pace is so strong that the kids totally get what's going on and why it's funny.   Piggie finally suggests that Gerald simply ask the birds to leave, then Sheila exits.  The birds do leave, as Terri follows her behind the backdrop.

 That sets up the finale, where Gerald calls Piggie back to thank her for the suggestion, and she re-enters with both birds on her head.  The visual effect of her showing up with the birds works well, but Terri had the good idea to add one more line.  In the book, Piggie closes the book with "you are welcome," and her perturbed look tells readers all they need to know.  Sheila's perturbed look is equally effective, but she also says:  " there a bird on my head?" which circles back to the opening line and makes it clear that this is the end.  Okay, so we messed with Mo's words just a little bit, but the transition from page to act-out sometimes just needs a bit of that, even with a perfect book....