Wednesday, 22 August 2012

My journey down Avenue Q: Could Puppetry Be My Purpose? - Part Six: Conclusion.

Let me start by saying that "Avenue Q" was a most amazing six month journey. It ended with a six week season of sold out performances. Twenty one shows all up. It received great reviews, and broke all kinds of attendance records for the Brisbane Arts Theatre. 

I have since joined a group of puppeteers called, "UpATree Arts". It's a very different style of puppetry that they do. More of a pageantry style, with giant puppets that require several puppeteers to operate. It's very much like the Chinese dragons that are paraded around. I have helped to build a giant dragon puppet with light up eyes, which will be performed at a music festival on the first of September. This will be my first performance with the group.

As well as that, I have looked into various ways to get my puppet show business started. Money is the main requirement at the moment. I need to raise $75 to pay for a blue card (required if I want to perform puppet shows at children's birthday parties and schools). And I need to purchase a portable puppet theatre that easily sets up and folds up. I have a few of my own cheap puppets to start with, but I have also designed some of my own original characters which I would eventually like to have made professionally in the style of the Muppets. 

There is an amazing puppet maker in the US called "Creature Clones" who makes perfect Muppet replicas, and brings people's own designs to life in the same Jim Henson style. Nobody else does it like him. There are those who do build puppets like this, don't build ones from people's designs. And there are others who make puppets from people's designs, but they are cheap, low quality puppets. I'm not good at sewing, stitching, knitting or gluing things like this. And I don't know anybody else locally who can either. At least not in this specific style. For a start,  many of the materials used to make The Muppets are not available in Australia. I'm pretty intent on having my own original characters built like real Henson Muppets. 

I'm aware of the FAO Schwartz toy store in New York who have their "Muppet What Not" section, where you have a limited choice of bodies, head shapes, noses, eyes and costumes to put together your own Muppet. I like this idea, but as I mentioned, you have only a limited choice. And it's not really your own designs. It's something that's made from the choices of materials you're given. 

I want a "Muppet" that's mine. This guy at Creature Clones can do it, at a cost of $1, 200 per puppet, and $75 for postage to Australia. Yes, this is expensive. But I think it will be worth it in the long run. I'm poor, and haven't seen this much money in one place ever. So I just need to save up for the portable puppet theatre and the blue card. Then I must come up with an amazing show to perform at parties with my current puppets - which are not my own original designs, but I've dressed them and made tongues for them out of felt. So I've added personal touches to them.

I've been informed that puppeteers are hard to find for kids' parties. There are plenty of clowns and magicians for hire, but no puppet shows. There's a market, and I need to get in on it. From that, I can save up to have my puppet designs made. I can expand, and try to make a name for myself. 

Raising the money to get started:

Arts Grant - To qualify for an arts grant, I am required to write up a proposal for a project that is culturally significant and beneficial to the community... Simply being good at puppetry and wanting to make people laugh is not enough unfortunately. So coming up with a good proposal has been a big a challenge. 

Pozible/Crowd Funding - This is a fairly new way that artists can raise money to get their project started. You put your idea out there via a website, and ask your friends to donate towards it. In return for the donations, you give back prizes such as free tickets to the performance you're trying to put together, or list their name in the credits of the film you're trying to make. The more they donate, the bigger the prize. But if the full amount you want isn't raised by the target date, then everybody gets their money back and you don't get to start you project. So similarly, I would need a proposal that's great enough to inspire the public to want to contribute towards it. What prizes could I offer in return? A free puppet show for their kids? What would people want from this puppet show? What kind of show would they like to see? These are all the things I'm trying to work out.

As I've recently become unemployed from my day job (like so many others in Queensland right now), I have the opportunity to really look into this. My biggest dream has always to been to be able to live off what I'm good at and interested in. Admin, call centre, retail and hospitality jobs have always been what I need to do to earn money. But these jobs are just awful, dull, and often don't last for very long. I studied for five years in the fields of animation and film & TV. I set up my own cartoonist business, which just didn't earn me enough money to live off. And all of the bands that I've played keyboard with have never been snapped up by record labels or put in a situation of being able to comfortably live off the music we write and perform. 

I've come to accept that for most artists, this kind of work is voluntary and done for the love of it. And any money you make out of the arts is a bonus. All of those names we see listed in the credits of film and television productions, in the programmes of successful touring theatre productions, and in the linear notes of all the CDs we purchase from the store... These are the lucky people who were "discovered". For every one of those names, there are billions of others waiting to be "discovered". 

There comes a time when you realise that you simply can't keep flogging a dead horse and waiting for that big break to come. You're a small fish in a big pond. You have to do something outrageously bold. And clearly, dressing up as an evil clown and playing jazzy, carnivalesque heavy metal isn't bold enough. 

Having explored all options humanly available to me, and having put in as much money and time as I possibly could have to try and get my cartooning, animation and music into a position of financial comfort, I now simply consider these hobbies that I do for the love, rather than keep hoping that something amazing will come of it.

But the puppeteering is my last chance to make an impact. To become my own boss. To finally be able to do something I'm good at, and to be able to live off it, without having to mop floors or be abused by members of the public over the phone or face to face at a checkout counter. I want to entertain and make people laugh. I much prefer this kind of interaction with the public.

Avenue Q really inspired me to pursue my skills in puppetry further. I'm really glad I took the plunge and auditioned for that show, having never sung or acted before. It really will serve well in my goal to make a name for myself as a puppeteer. Let's hope I can come up with something amazing that's worth the public (or the QLD government) throwing their money at so that I can gather up the necessary materials to get started.