All of a sudden, my four year-old son started playing make believe. It’s been an incredibly exciting thing for me. He animates his toys, creates sounds for them, and turns our sofa into exotic locations. He’s not concerned with the fact that the sofa looks nothing like a firehouse or that the ribbon he is holding doesn’t spray water. He just plays. His little brother and sister trail after him, happily following his orders. He sometimes asks me to assist with his firefighting, which I do whenever I can.
When I join him, I sometimes have to resist the temptation to interrupt him---to steer him towards story lines that I find more interesting or push him to make the object he is using more believable. I try to stay quiet and listen to his instructions because I know the best thing I can do is stay out of his way and observe his little mind stretching in all sorts of new ways.
When he plays like this, he is essentially making a puppet show out of his world. He is bringing objects to life by moving them with intention and feeling. He is animating his world using sound, emotion, story, and character. He is naturally creating puppet shows on his own. He may not have an audience but he has the satisfaction of acting in an invented world on his own.
We are just now starting to make more formal puppet shows together: ones made on a stage, with an invited audience. When we do this, I follow him. I lead by asking lots of questions. I remind myself that this is his show (and not mine!) and that whatever he makes and feels good about is perfect. I do steer us away from complexities in the story or object we are making and focus on what we can do to have a complete “show” within 20 minutes (as I know that is usually how long he can focus at one time). Here are 5 things I do to make the show successful:
: Any object can be a puppet: a spoon, a scarf, a ball, or your fingers with eyes drawn on them, a stuffed animal, a handmade or store-bought puppet—anything works! Just move the object with feeling and maybe give it a voice or sound effects.
: Make up a simple problem for the puppet to have and solve the problem—trying different solutions along the way. Maybe a ball can’t stop from rolling or a spoon can’t find it’s matching fork or a stuffed animal doesn’t know how to dance.
: Put on some music while you work---it can be very inspiring for your story. Choose a tone you want: playful, scary, dramatic: movie soundtracks are a great place to start.
: Decide who will be your audience before you start working. Will you perform for siblings? Grandparents? Or will you videotape it? If you know who will be watching the show, you can make it fun for the audience by including some fun jokes only some people will get.
5. LET IT GO
: If the formality of making a show isn’t working, no sweat. Just let your child enjoy playing with the stage and puppets collected. Some of the best shows are improvised and performed for an audience of one!*This post was originally published on BabbaCo's BLOG, February 2013*BabbaCo delivers age appropriate activities for kids 3-7 right to your door once a month.
Squirrel Stole My Underpants came at a time in my life when I was looking for a change. I have three small children—a four and a half year old and two year old twins. Before I’d started a family, I’d worked part time as a drama teacher, and, in every free minute, thrown myself into a blizzard of art and performance making—dance, puppetry, costume design, circus arts. But with my oh-so-wonderful and yet oh-so-demanding family, that just wasn’t proving to be possible anymore.
Creating a show I could tour for family audiences felt like it brought a lot together: I could draw on all the (weird, wonderful, and totally unmarketable) skills I had developed; I could build a schedule around my family life (and maybe even have an excuse to take them all on the road with me); and I could get back to what I love—making art.
I was lucky enough to obtain early support from Puppet Showplace Theatre
and the Jim Henson Foundation
. With the time that gave me, I was able to really delve into what can make a family show feel wonderful. Many ideas came and went but a few themes stuck with me: how hard it is to grow up, those magic items that make you feel secure as a kid, and the injustice of something being taken. And, thus, Squirrel Stole My Underpants
began to take shape.
Top Ten Things I learned while making this show:
- Kids will always get sick the week of a deadline. Sleep goes by the wayside and some things just don’t get done---whether it is laundry or fixing the broken rod on a puppet.
- Once I surrounded myself with amazing collaborators, my work got better. The musicians, costume designer, director, and set designer are all super talented and I feel so lucky that they are on my team.
- If you need to know if something works on stage, show your kid. Then, show his friends. If they don’t like it, scrap it.
- Having the support of the Puppet Showplace & Henson Foundation gave me structure, a place to rehearse, business advice, connections for assistance--you name it.
- Some things work on paper. A lot of those things don’t work on stage. Make a mock-up first, put it on its feet, build it out if there is promise. Then throw it out if it still doesn’t work.
- I built four versions of the main character before I found the perfect design. Sometimes you just have to make things over and over before it is right. *See gallery below*
- At some point during a rehearsal, I looked up and laughed hysterically. I realized that I am in my 30s and making a show about hot pink polka dot underpants and squirrels.
- Procrastination is part of the process. The internet, baking an elaborate cake, and just staring out the window are part of it all. It may feel like the show will never get made but it does especially when there is a deadline involving the possibility of embarrassing yourself in front of strangers.
- Having a studio space in my apartment was key. When the kids napped, I worked with no commute time. My husband (who directed this show) and I also worked in our dining room in the evenings after everyone was asleep. Working from home made everything possible.
- This may be a solo show but it is far from a solo process. Family, friends, and colleagues made this possible. Without them, I would still be staring at a blank stage.
Are you missing that little kick in your step---that spark that keeps you smiling?
Is it because you feel like you’re missing your favorite underpants? Or maybe because you don’t see many squirrels around this time of year?
Or, could it be that it’s been too long since you saw Squirrel Stole My Underpants? (2 months IS a long time). Or maybe you missed the WORLD PREMIERE back in January?
(It wasn’t your fault! All ten shows sold out in record time!)
Well, mope no more.
Squirrel is coming back to Boston: Charlestown Working Theater April 13-14!
TWO DAYS ONLY! Get your tickets HERE.
Bring your friends! Bring your little ones! Bring your friends with little ones!
You’ll be glad you did!
Last time I wrote, Squirrel Stole My Underpants was on the verge of a World Premiere.
Well, it opened and was a smashing success!
All 10 shows sold out in record time!
Parents cheered, grandparents giggled, and kids have been making up plays about their underpants ever since.
Now, Squirrel Stole My Underpants is going on the road. Yes, that’s right. I am packing up my fancy underpants and heading out of town (with husband & three kids in tow).
I’ll be in Portland, ME at Mayo Street Arts on Sunday, March 3rd at 2:00 pm. Please tell all of your friends in Maine to hop in their cars and head to the coast.
Then, I travel to Sag Harbor, NY for two shows at Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre on Saturday, March 23rd. Shows are at 11:00 am and 3:00 pm. A day in the Hamptons is just what you need, New York friends…
If you are feeling left out because Squirrel is not coming to your town, have hope my friends! Email me where you think I should perform---theatres, schools, community arts centers, camps, arts festivals, you name it.
It’s time to get out your fancy underpants.
It’s time for a WORLD PREMIERE!
That’s right, Squirrel Stole My Underpants is going to be unveiled at the end of January at Puppet Showplace Theater in Brookline, MA.
Agent Bonnie has pulled out all the stops on her latest show: The Jim Henson Foundation awarded her a grant to develop the show, Brendan Burns & Tony Leva are composing the music (right at this very minute!), and Bonnie’s children have endured countless “Hey, look at this---is it funny/charming/magical?” tests.You really don’t want to miss this. Seriously.
Come see what kids are heralding as “MY LITTLE SISTER STAYED AWAKE THE WHOLE TIME!”, “JACK OZRO’S MOM IS FUNNY!,” and “THAT SQUIRREL IS BAD!”
Bring kids of all ages with you. And, if you don’t have kids, come anyway! There is always something to learn and enjoy when underpants are involved.
Also, bring your friends. All of them. Or at least nineteen of them---there’s a group discount!
Squirrel Stole My Underpants @ Puppet Showplace Theatre
32 Station Street, Brookline, MA
January 26-27 @ 1 pm & 3 pm
January 31 & February 1 @ 10:30 am
February 2-3 @ 1 pm & 3 pm
Buy tickets on-line, by phone (617)731-6400, or in person at 32 Station Street.
You may have thought the Secret Agents had disbanded and gone to live their quiet civilian lives. They had all but disappeared.
Until last week…
…When Tim and Bonnie were thrown happily in the spotlight by winning the Austin Critics’ Table Award for BEST TOURING SHOW for their December performances of Poste Restante in Texas. The Agents are humbled, honored, and totally psyched to be recognized among such amazing companies (Gob Squad, Actors of the London Stage, and Suzanne Bocanegra!).
And so, this week, it seems high time that the Secret Agents announce their newest mission: Invisible, Inc.
That’s right, the Agents are taking their charming and carefully honed expertise to the wee ones who will one day take on their own missions as Secret Agents.
Invisible, Inc. will deliver surprises and hidden messages in their first ever family-friendly show: Squirrel Stole My Underpants.
Agent Bonnie will perform this show solo as Agent Tim delves deeper and deeper into his medical studies. At this point, he has helped replace a few knees, delivered a few babies, and stitched up people in the ER. And you thought their Secret Agent skills were limited to being upside down and making odd contraptions out of cardboard!
Agent Bonnie will be joined on this next mission by Penney Pinnette, who made the lovely costumes in Poste Restante & is a fashion designer at large; Dan Milstein, Bonnie’s civilian love interest & writer/director of Rough & Tumble; and many other fine artists willing to take on this ultimate challenge and/or help babysit Bonnie’s three young kiddos.
So now, rest assured: the Agents are sticking around. Sit back and wait anxiously for the opening of Squirrel Stole My Underpants. It will come to a theater or school near you this winter. Until then, check back here for progress reports and photos. Follow us on Pinterest to see what is percolating in the Agents’ brains and LIKE us on Facebook to be like all the cool kids.
And, finally, keep your ears and eyes peeled for mischievous squirrels in your neighborhood: they may take your underpants. It happened to Bonnie and it can happen to you.
After a restless period of incubation, They Gotta Be Secret Agents are thrilled to announce boldly (yet somehow surreptitiously… and oh so secretly) their return to the spotlight
! The Agents ardently pursued their undercover, civilian lives this past year (read about it HERE)
, but at times they shuddered at the lurking plight of mediocrity around them. They couldn’t help but notice that the world seemed so un-dominated.
Well, wait no more. The Agents mount their next mission with bigger brains and bigger families.
Bigger obstacles and bigger ambitions. Hell, they’re not even afraid to bust out bigger font
. What could possibly contain something this big? Texas.
As the weather in the northeast begins to cool down, They Gotta Be Secret Agents set their sights on the lone star state. Like the Secret Agents themselves, it’s bold, it’s daring, it’s hot (in that dry sort of way, so it doesn’t feel
too hot), and it’s one of a kind. What will happen to our favorite heroes in Austin, Texas?
Will they be able to dominate after their hiatus? Will they be able to rock the theater, thrill the audience and still keep it weird? Come and find out.
Send your friends to find out. Tell your grandmother about it. Tell everyone you know! Because this one, gumshoes, is going to be big.Poste Restante @ Salvage Vanguard Theater December 15-17, 2011 Tickets & Info HERE. *This mission is brought to you by Texas’ most kickin’ puppet company: Trouble Puppet Theater.
Become a fan on FACEBOOK
to get the latest scoop on your favorite agents!
See you and all of your friends in Texas! Tim & Bonnie
The newest members of They Gotta Be Secret Agents
burst forth into this world with
the wiggle potential and lung power befitting of
any secret agent
primed for world domination.
No doubt they will be a valuable asset as
The Agents take on new missions this fall.
You may have looked around recently and noticed a subtle, yet deeply troubling lack of Secret Agents in your life. You may have found yourself wondering,
“Could They Gotta Be Secret Agents have fallen prey to the formidable grasp of evil?
Is it possible that their death-defying hyjinx could defy no longer?”
You may have trembled at the thought that you have seen The Agents for the last time. You are not alone, and we are here to say, “HA! Tremble no more!”
Have faith, gumshoes. It is all part of the Secret Agent plan to incubate desires, bolster acumen, and then burst forth like a phoenix from the ashes of time. It is all part of Mission: Sleeper Agents. We are proud to report that The Agents have met the challenges of this mission with their usual confident ferocity. Oh, yes. They are conquering Mission: Sleeper Agents.
Agent Tim, in an attempt to fully understand the limits of the corporeal body, nears the end of his first year of advanced training: medical school.
And Agent Bonnie, in her indefatigable exuberance for life itself, perches on the very cusp of motherhood… squared! Any day now, her twins will be joining the ranks of the Secret Agent team. Eager, I am sure, to fill the (relatively) big shoes of Jack “The Wolf.”
Perhaps, for some of you, learning the details of this extra stealthy mission has put your mind at ease.
You will sleep better knowing that The Agents are getting smarter and stronger, and smarter and stronger.
Perhaps others of you are gumshoes of action! You need to witness the thrill of The Agents flying again. And to those we say...
“Stay tuned to hear more about upcoming missions in Portsmouth, NH, New York City, and beyond!”