Posts Tagged ‘brooklyn’

Michael Leach and the Hand of God

August 8, 2010

Michael Leach is the chief puppeteer of the Puppetworks in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Below is an example of the work that he and the troupe do.

Puppets are obviously not as expressive as human actors. And they can’t do the things that animated characters can do. So what do they do best in terms of offering unique creative possibilities? Nothing. That’s why I tell people who come to shoot a commercial with us that they should just do CGI. It’s easier. That’s the crabby answer. The better answer is that they engage us on a deeper level because people know they’re inanimate. They’re doing things that people who are alive wouldn’t do. In a way, it’s like an actor playing to the fourth wall. Puppets do that. The secret is already out when you go to a puppet show. It’s called a show. Right away we’re saying, “It’s not real. These things are not alive.” There’s not the belief that’s hard to get away from in live theater where you sort of always imagine that what you’re seeing is real. We pretend all along. Because of that, puppets affect the imagination in a unique way. You can almost think of puppets as a toy for the audience.

How did you get involved in puppetry? I was an industrial color matcher. I’d started as a lowly pot washer. I was a real go-getter. And what happens is that go-getters eventually get a twitch in their eye and pain in their chest and say that no amount of money is going to be worth the amount of work they’re putting in. I had no life. It was all work. Then I saw in ad in the Village Voice saying that Macy’s needed people to help out with their Santaland holiday display. So some friends and I thought we’d apply and all go be elves for a month. It turned out that I was the only one who went through with the joke. My job there was helping to run the puppet theater. One day like Pinocchio I snuck backstage and saw the puppets. I asked if I could try it out. I picked up a marionette and worked it like I’d been working it forever. That was 20 years ago.

As a puppeteer do you feel like you’re primarily upholding a particular artistic tradition or do you feel more like you’re forging a new one? Oh, there’s nothing new under the sun. If I had to pick one of those two options I’d say I was upholding tradition. You can always do something different, though. The first caveman who waved a stick and grunted and pretended that the stick was something else — there was your first puppet. Man’s ultimate creative aim was to fashion something that was going to be alive. There are so many possibilities for how you can do that. And the way things are going only serves to make our theater more unique. The more CGI the better. We do traditional marionette shows. That’s our niche. Being in a niche is what keeps us alive.

Do puppets have a life of their own? I’ve got to be careful about answering that question. You can get into puppet bullcrap. People accept it if you say that a certain guitar has an attitude. Say that about a puppet and people think you’re a crazy. You can also get into that artist crap where puppeteers — it’s usually ones who are new — say they can feel the puppet’s energy coursing out of their fingertips and controlling itself and all that junk. Puppets have attitudes and characteristics the same way that a car does. There are things that certain puppets want to do and things they don’t want to do. They’re tools. A great puppeteer, Paddy Blackwood, said that you find out what the puppet wants to do and what you want to do and then you find a compromise and have a show. I think that sounds about right.

What was the last creative thing that you did? I made myself an egg cream, which is the highest art there is. In the puppet field, I’m one of the best. I’ve done 800 shows over 20 years. But a good egg cream? That’s the hand of god.


Christine Onorati Gives You Her Word

June 18, 2010

Christine Onorati runs Word bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Do you see the store as more than just a business? And if so, how? Actually, I was having trouble thinking about how I show my creative side at work. I sometimes confuse creativity with artistic ability. But you have to be creative in this day and age if you want your bookstore to be successful. I can’t speak for all bookstores, but the most important thing for me is becoming a part of the community. Books are ubiquitious –- you can get them from so many different places. That’s why you have to give people a reason to come to your store other than to just get a book. I think we’re getting good at creating a community feel about the store. I’ve been in a lot of stores where I don’t want to stick around. I want people to feel at home in my store. That’s why we have different fun events. And especially in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, you never want to be too cool. If someone wants to order a Danielle Steele book, we might not have it at the store, but we’re happy to order it and we’d never judge anyone about something like that. Definitely the hardest part of running the store is thinking about ways to integrate into the community.

Have you ever read a novel that influenced the way you think about running the store? I don’t think so. There is a really great book, though, that was written twenty years ago, called Rebel Bookseller by Andrew Laties. I remember reading it years ago. A lot of what he wrote about running a story is not relevant in the same way anymore. The book was written when the big box stores were just starting to come in. E-books are much bigger now. Ten, twenty years ago it was Barnes & Noble eating up the indies. I read stuff in that book about serving the customer and being there for the customer. I used to have another store in the suburbs. I didn’t feel people felt the need to appreciate independent stores out there. Everyone was in cars. There wasn’t the same connection. I think I’m in a community now that appreciates independent businesses. Reading Rebel Bookseller gave me some ideas about how to foster and reciprocate that kind of appreciation.

What’s the last creative thing that you did? Last night we threw, a literary matchmaker prom. It was fun. A couple of the girls got really dolled up. It was like a singles mixer for literary types. That’s an example of the kind of thing I’m talking about — a way of getting the community invested in the store. We’ve actually had a few successful love stories that come about because of the store. That kind of stuff makes me so happy. I think those things add up. People will think of us a certain way, and when they need books, I hope they’ll come here. It’s a hard balance. People open bookstores thinking it’ll be fun –- you’ll stand around and talk about books. But you need to have a business sense. It’s not enough to open doors and put books on the shelves. This isn’t an easy business, but I think we’re doing the right things.