Tuesday, August 30, 2011

And speaking of the puppets...

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Monday, August 29, 2011


The Mighty Tatterdemalions website has finally gotten a much-needed, all-around update.  Not in looks, but in info.  Take a look!

Also, is it just me, or is this whale pretty much the honkingest puppet ever? Ye gads.  I never thought about it in performance.  Although I did notice that, every time I finally got to take him off my arm after 10-15 minutes on, it was pretty much the second-best sensory experience on Earth.  The first will remain nameless,* since I don't wish to be crass.

* Pad Thai.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Les Guys de Versailles: Adventures in Selective Memory

Dave Barry, one of my heroes (alongside Jim Henson, the Moomins, and Colin Mochrie), once wrote a column in which he stated that the average person of his generation would be unable to name any Supreme Court justices, but would remember in perfect detail the theme song to the TV show Robin Hood.  

My sister, reading this column aloud, had scarcely gotten to the next sentence when our father (who is of Dave Barry's generation) exclaimed: "Hey! I watched that show!" With no further prompting, he launched right into a jolly rendition of the theme-song, complete with rolled r's and delivery straight from Sadler's Wells. Word-perfect, naturally.

When he was finished, my sister remarked: "Yes, that's right." She had been following the lyrics as Dave Barry had typed them on the page (I assume he did this without having to go back to check anything).

This fits with something I've observed about human memory myself.  It's not just our formative years that stay with us the most strongly.  It's what we watched on TV in our formative years.  And, if you ask me, it's what we watched on Saturday mornings in particular.  Has anybody else noticed this? We remember our morning cartoons in extraordinarily vivid detail.  I do not have the faintest memory of what the trichotomy axiom is,* but I can remember, with photographic precision, any number of individual mornings in 1999, getting up in the wee dark hours with my sister to watch episodes of Pokémon and Sailor Moon.**

And so I say to those of you in MY generation - excepting those of you who spent the year 1999 being Amish - that if you do not remember this, you are lying:

My sister is younger, so thanks to her this was my second go at the whole morning cartoon experience.  As it happens, I myself already had my own stash of useless but incredibly vivid TV-memories from when I was a wee Snark.  The problem is, when you carry these memories around long enough, you start to doubt their accuracy. Case in point: I went around for years convinced I had fabricated a commercial I "saw" as a toddler.  The commercial, for Dreft detergent, featured a female narrator speaking in the softest yet most reptilian voice imaginable about DREFFFFFT: FOR A CLEEEEAN YOU CAN TOUCCCCHHHHH.  This commercial dominated my brain for literally years, replacing recollections of things like upcoming doctor's appointments, drowning out most of college,*** until finally I ran across a video of it last year.  It did exist! See?

Okay, so that lady's voice isn't QUITE as creeptastic as I remember.  I mean, I honestly recalled her speaking Parseltongue.  But whatever! I didn't make it up! Score!****

Obviously, stuff like this takes up critical brain space.  But the question remains: what is it replacing? At least, what is it replacing of use? Because I know that, even without the palliative of morning cartoons, I wasn't about to go around thinking of the trichotomy axiom, and neither were you, stupid.  So morning-cartoon memory syndrome might have an evolutionary function, but it's not to block out math.  Something else would have stepped in to serve that purpose.  

So it's not math, and it isn't history, either.  Yes, yes, I know: every day we see another article bemoaning how today's youth do not know basic U.S. history.  This is an incomplete statement.  I personally have completed an extremely rigorous course of higher education, so I can tell you, from personal experience, that today's youth do not know foreign history, either.  

Why is this? Simple: we block it all out with things we prefer to think about.  I am thinking here of a semester I spent in France, where I took a course in foreign history.*****  For one class, we went to Versailles, which features the Palace of Versailles,****** the former home of Louis XIV (son of Rick and Kimberly XIV).  From there we went to the Salle du Jeu de paume, which is historically significant because during the French Revolution, several hundred members of the Third Estate, angered because they had been excluded from a meeting of the Estates-General, went in there to do battle with Sailor Moon.

Okay, so maybe that wasn't it exactly, but to tell you the truth, my mind wandered.  The professor was telling our group about the history of the place, and actually it was very interesting, but as it happened, my friend and I had found something far more interesting: marble busts of historical guys lining the sides of the room.  Each of these guys had their name carved on their front (you can be sure this was not the case in real life; or possibly they all died of bloodloss).  This was how we discovered that one of them was named "Target."  

I should explain, for the benefit of those not In the Know, that Target is an American low-cost department store, which Americans often jocularly refer to with French pronunciation, as "Tar-zhay."  So my friend and I had a conversation like this:

ME: "Tar-zhay."
MY FRIEND: Heh heh! (Beat.)  How do you think you'd explain that to French people?
ME: Huh.  I dunno.
MY FRIEND: "Tar-zhay."
ME: Heh heh!

Another girl in the class had also broken off from the group and had undertaken the academic pursuit of determining which historical marble guy was hottest.  As a scholar, I thoroughly respected this endeavor.

The moral of this story is, history is JUST NOT INTERESTING, unlike (a) things we watched when we were little, and (b) the question of which Versailles guy is hotter than all the rest (answer: that one guy, whose name and role in history currently escape me).  And it's not just history; the same goes for sociology, philosophy, science, the sociology of philosophical science, and anything else they teach at a college.

So - and call me a bold and inspiring visionary if you like - I'm unveiling my idea for the College of the Future.  At this college, you would be able to major in only one of two subjects: either Saturday Morning Cartoons or Ranking Dead Historical Figures by Hotness.  Just think of the commitment students would demonstrate to their education! 100% of graduates would go into jobs in their chosen fields.  Granted, their chosen fields would be Cartoon-Watching Expert and Hotness Specialist, but would this really be such a bad state of affairs? Would it really be so much worse than the universities' current practice of annually turning out an estimated 16,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 investment bankers?

Anyway, I don't know about you, but I'm sure sold on my idea.  And as a prospective master's degree candidate at the College of the Future,  I humbly suggest that students also be allowed to minor in Coffee.  I even promise to listen to the lectures, sometimes.

* Answer: it was something in my math book.

** Fighting ee-evil by moon-LIGHT!
     Winning lo-ove by day-LIGHT!
     Never running from a REAL FIGHT!
     She is the ONE NAMED SAILOR MOON!
     She will never, yada yada yada, etc.   

*** I wish.

**** I didn't mean right now.  Come back and read this blog.

***** Of course THEY will try to tell you it's domestic history.   

****** And don't try to tell me this is a coincidence.

©2011 Nicola McEldowney

Sunday, August 21, 2011


I ... uh ...  I may be sick.  I'm just a little close to all this.

Edible Puppets

Tooth Be Told

TODAY'S HARD-HITTING TOPIC IS: Puppets with teeth.

I don't know about you, but I have particularly strong feelings about teeth.  Perhaps this is due to having just had my wisdom teeth out.  This is a procedure wherein a godless person - whom we shall refer to only as "Dr. Destructo"* - rips out pieces of your head.  That's right, we are talking about your same head which you have had with you since you were a baby, not harming Dr. Destructo or anyone else, just to clarify.  How many wisdom teeth you will need to have removed depends on the situation.  For example, if Dr. Destructo just had a windfall from his latest "Money Ball Bingo" scratch-off ticket (New York Lottery, $2),** you might need only one tooth removed, whereas if he is trying to make boat payments, you might need as many as six of your wisdom teeth removed.

Or I might feel sensitive about teeth because I have a chip in my right front tooth.  NATURALLY it would be a tooth that is always on display, like the Kardashian sisters but with more talent.  And, you want to know how I chipped it?***  Watching TV.  Really.  I was flopped down in front of the TV and reached up idly to touch my tooth and CRKKK**** that tooth was no longer flat-bottomed.  I have always been extremely annoyed at this turn of events, not enough to have the tooth fixed but DEFINITELY enough to whine about it in writing.  Of course, there's also the fact that the tooth chip is not really so noticeable.  I know this deep down, or else I would have had it fixed a long time ago, but I tend to inflate my physical flaws in my mind's eye, so that, if you actually look like this:

(I actually do look like this) (but not shown actual size)

You instead see, basically, this:

Anyway, I don't know if it's for these reasons or what, but I've recently become very interested in the teeth in my field, puppetry.  For example, take this Folkmanis-brand Great White Shark puppet, which has multiple rows of what turn out to be extremely hard rubber teeth:

What this picture doesn't show is that this puppet is the approximate size of a Mini-Cooper, which means that in addition to having 696 menacing choppers it could easily devour Elmo, Zoe, and the little pink fairy Muppet all in one gulp, not that we are suggesting anything.  Speaking of which, we have another idea too involving the friendly human adults on Sesame Street, although it is pretty impractical.

Anyway, wouldn't this be a FANTASTIC puppet for story time? (As my father eloquently put it: "Hi, kids! Let's read some stories!" "EEEEEYYYYYYAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH" [wildebeest-style stampede out of library] [SLAM] "Hey, was the floor all wet earlier?")  

TIP FOR PROFESSIONALS: This works even better if you have Elmo's disembodied little legs hanging limply out the shark puppet's maw.  It's fun for the kids!

Speaking of the Muppets and teeth: did you know that Cookie Monster used to have hideously awesome teeth? They just did a feature on it in Mental Floss magazine.*****  If you're not familiar with Mental Floss ("Where Knowledge Junkies Get Their Fix"), I recommend you check it out, especially the "Amazing Fact Generator," which, as its name might suggest, amazingly generates facts.  Like this one:

About one in every 4 million lobsters is born with a rare genetic defect that turns it blue. One in every 30 million is yellow.

Like most Mental Floss factoids, this is interesting, if not particularly illuminating.******  Now if they had said that about one in every 4 million lobsters is born with a rare genetic defect that turns it into (CHOOSE ONE) a college Career Center Advisor; a T-Mobile representative; the daughter on Gilmore Girls, this would not only be interesting, but the world would finally make some damn sense. 

But no matter.  My point is, here are the images Mental Floss posted of Cookie Monster in his salad days:

Is this not a VAST improvement over the current incarnation? Also, I want to point out that in that second picture, according to Mental Floss, he's eating a computer.  That takes me back to the first computer I had as a kid.  It was a Windows 95, which meant it looked slightly sleeker than the above pictured item, but had less functionality.

Anyway, I really don't know what's caused this particular train of thought today; all I know is I've got teeth on the brain, and now so do you so you're stuck with them nyah nyah nyah.  Come to think of it, you might want to see your local Dr. Destructo about that.  I understand he is looking to buy a second place in the Adirondacks.

* Real name is Dr. Deface-o.
** They also have one called "Porker Night."
*** Well, I'm going to tell you anyway.
**** Actually I like to think it was more like "PWINGGG."
***** Slow news day.
****** Although "The Yellow Lobster of Texas" would make an excellent song.

 ©2011 Nicola McEldowney

Because I could not make this name up if I tried

I signed into Yahoo mail and got the following friend request.

Never heard of the person, but consigned him/her to screenshot eternity, for obvious reasons:

And on the off chance that Moist.Bootie, alias Lucid Truffle, is someone I actually know and I should realize this, then (a) sorry, (b) I didn't mean it* and (c) I hope we can still be friends.

* Just kidding.  I did.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Shout-out for fundraising friends

My first-ever puppet role, Intern

Tonight's post goes out to my friends at The Media Show, the TV show I used to write for when it was in its formative stages at Teachers College in New York.  The team behind this program is responsible not only for giving me my first ever puppet role (Intern, the sock who always refers to herself in the third person) but also for breathing life into my musical, Aisle Six, when it had its showcases at the Players Club.

These days they're looking for funding to spread awareness of media and technology throughout schools.  Below is an excerpt from a post by my friend Gus, producer of the program, in which she explains her goal.  They're currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds they need. Click the link or read Gus' post below to learn more.

So if you're interested in supporting a program that uses comically irreverent puppets to promote media literacy, read on.  Personally, I find this cause to be a far more compelling one than, say, Greenpeace.

At the moment, they have four days remaining on their Kickstarter campaign.  Well? What are you waiting for?

Excerpt (by Gus Andrews):

{...} Critical thinking about the media — often known as “media literacy” — has been edged out of school curricula. High-stakes tests pressure teachers to stick to rote memorization, reading, and math. Internet access is spotty or locked down at many schools, limiting what teachers can teach about online safety. Students may graduate without ever learning how advertisements provide the funding for most of their favorite shows, magazines, or websites.
The Media Show makes short online videos to take up the slack. We believe that when youth learn how the media and technology around them are made, they are empowered to think critically about the media messages they are immersed in.
Since 2008 we’ve used irreverent humor to explain copyright law, advertising tactics, email etiquette, and more on YouTube, the world’s most popular video site. In 2010, we won a Media That Matters award for our episode on photo manipulation throughout history — from Hitler airbrushing his enemies out of photos, through advertisers lightening pop star Beyonce’s skin color.
How can you help? The Media Show is currently seeking donors to fund not only production of upcoming episodes on search engines, online ads, and hacking, but also to support us as we take our shows to classrooms, libraries, and afterschool programs.
We need just ten more donors at the $550 level to reach our goal of $9000, to produce more episodes and bring workshops on media awareness to more youth. Would you help us? Participating Sponsors at this level fund workshops in major US cities, as well as helping us reach young viewers online with brand new episodes.
Four more donors at the $1500 level would help us reach our goal, and do workshops in areas of the United States which are farther from centers of media production — places where youth are even less likely to be exposed to the workings of media and technology industries.
Time is running out on our campaign. We need to raise $9000 by Tuesday, August 23rd in order to receive our funding. Will you help us teach more young people to think critically about media systems?

To read the full text of Gus' message go to The Media Show official website.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Trop cool!

I got interviewed for France-Amérique! Read it here (it's in French).

For those of you whom I haven't yet badgered incessantly about it (and, note to self: get on that), my friend Manisha Snoyer - Francophone actress teacher extraordinaire, and director of Into This City International Acting School - has most kindly invited me back to NYC to co-teach a puppetry workshop with her.  I just realized this marks the first time since 2006 that I won't be there en tant qu'étudiante (as a student).  Yay for that!

And yay goes double for our puppetry workshop, which - here goes ...


Ahem.  Anyway, for those non-Francophones, the article linked above basically talks about my feelings about puppetry in France and the U.S. (this is one of the few Major World Issues that I have strong feelings about, the other two being men's figure skating and caffeinated beverages)And it reminds you to come make puppets with us on Saturday, August 27.

A big thank-you goes out to Guénola Pellen of France-Amérique, who interviewed me and then, being an excellent journalist, managed to cobble my occasionally comical, French as a Second Language ramblings into something cogent and lovely.  Here's an example snippet from our conversation, with translation in parentheses:

GUÉNOLA: Alors, qu'est-ce que l'art de la marionnette représente pour vous?
(What does puppetry represent for you?)

ME: Ah bon bah ... j'ai pas exactement ... comment dirais-je? Hehhheh c'est difficile hehheh, heh.  Eh bien, moi je trouve que c'est une très bonne façon de s'exprimer, à travers la marionnette, buhh, c'est-à-dire que buhhh ça révèle plein de choses, euhhhh, même chez les personnes qui sont en générale très, euhhh, buh, est-ce qu'on dit "inhibitées"?* Est-ce que c'est un mot, ça?
(Ah bon bah ... I'm not sure exactly ... how do I put it? Hehhheh it's difficult, hehheh, heh.  Well, I find it's a very good way to express yourself, puppetry; buhh, I mean, buhh, it reveals a lot of things, euhhh, even in people who are normally very, euhhhh, buh, can one say "inhibitées"? Is that a word?)

GUÉNOLA: Uh.... (Uh....)

ME: Buh, je veux dire, buh ..... attendez je cherche sur Google .... (Buh, what I mean is, buh, hold on, I'll look on Google.)

GUÉNOLA: Ah, vous voulez dire "coincées" peut-être? (Oh, I think you mean "uptight," perhaps?)

ME (puffed up with the pride that can only come from having lit on the "mot juste"): Oui, c'est ça.  (Yes, that's it.)

Thankfully, in print I'm eloquent (merci madame), which is great, because now you'll never have to know how I sounded on the phone. 

Also, Princess Marcheline looks quite fetching in her close-up, n'est-ce pas? Although I notice they cut off our headshot right above her ample pom-pom bosoms, which is just not very français of France-Amérique at all.  On the other hand, there is Amérique in the title, which is probably where the decency comes from.  In the U.S., one doesn't just go around exposing our children to brazenly bared pom-poms.

I mean, it probably won't bother me if and when I'm a parent, but then, I'm a puppeteer.  I like to think our house will be known among my children's little friends as "the house where sometimes you get to see pom-poms." 


* Inhibited = inhibé, in fact.  I was close but not close enough.  I've goofed this one at least twice now which means, only six more times before I get a free coffee.

Monday, August 1, 2011

How the Puppet Got His Mouth

Here we are ("we" being me and the fluffy guys, aka The Mighty Tatterdemalions), performing two of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories a couple weeks ago in Portland, Maine:

This is the beginning of the Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo, which was always my favorite Just So Story as a little kid, because it featured (a) a kangaroo (b) a dingo and (c) little, medium-sized, and big gods respectively named Nqa, Nquing and Nqong.  (These are only their stage names, of course.  Their real names are Bqa, Bquing and Bqong.)  Here is Kangaroo, possibly my favorite puppet ever, deep in conversation with the little god Nqa.

Kangaroo is extremely shocked here, and as visible puppeteer I'm supposed to be matching his expression.  However, I'd begun smiling because my audience (who consisted of 25 or 30 adorable and riveted four-year-olds who I swear were direct from Central Casting) had begun roaring with laughter when I didn't expect it at all.  They caught me off guard.  Couldn't help myself.

Here are the Whale and the Small 'Stute Fish from How the Whale Got His Throat, which, as its title suggests, tells the story of Old Man Kangaroo.  No, only kidding, it tells the story of how the whale learned not to eat people.  We can agree this has been a great boon to humanity except in the case of the cast of Teen Mom.  Anyway, guiding the whale on the way is this little fish, who, yes, is wearing glasses, though I am informed this is not zoologically accurate.

At the risk of destroying the mystique of my co-star here, I will reveal that his insides are made of poly-fill fluff, bits of foam, and bits of other discarded puppets, which actually I guess makes him a cannibal in a sense after all.  Oh, well.