"Brothers of Invention" takes its first flight

We arrived at the University of Chicago Performance Lab with 2 puppet heads and a million ideas, and two weeks later shared a 15 minute segment of this work in progress to four enthusiastic audiences who had come to witness The Puppet Quartet. It was a wild fortnight but with access to the fantastic workshop and performance space of the David and Reva Logan Center for the Arts, and the performance collaboration of John Adam Keating, it helped us get this show off the ground.

The puppets in this workshop production are still works in progress. Their simple functionality defined the scale of the piece and allowed us to experiment with their interactions with each other, basic set pieces and props, and the space itself. You'll notice in the photos below that the performers are very visible and take on duties outside of manipulating the character objects. It was thrilling to make a start on this project we have been conceptualizing for so long. We'll continue to develop "Brothers of Invention" this year thanks to support from the Jim Henson Foundation and hopefully many more donors interested in bringing this unique work of puppet theater to life.

Brothers of Invention gets its start at the Chicago International Festival of Puppet Theater

This week marks the start of the 2017 Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival (Jan 20-29). It is an amazing opportunity for us puppeteers to be inspired by each others’ work, but also for audiences to see the breadth of puppet arts alive today. I will be spending the duration of the Festival at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts as an artist in residence, starting to develop a new puppet performance piece. As an artist who often works on several projects simultaneously, this is a rare opportunity to devote time to a single endeavor, and to have amazing performance and workshop resources available while I do it. The residency will culminate on January 28 at 4:00 pm with rotating performances of the Puppet Quartet, the four puppet artists who will be working at the Logan Center during the Festival.

Wilbur and Orville's heads in process check out the Logan Center for the Arts.

Wilbur and Orville's heads in process check out the Logan Center for the Arts.

The show I am working on for the Festival residency is Brothers of Invention.  It tells the story of Wilbur and Orville Wright as they dream, experiment, fail and succeed on their path to solving the problem of human flight. My vision for this show was sparked by a visit to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum several years ago. As I shared the Wright Brothers’ story with my young sons I was inspired by how the whole family was committed to ingenuity. I wondered if the Wright family culture could have been the secret that allowed these men to accomplish something that had eluded so many inventors before them. I hope this show will encourage audience members to follow their passions, feed their creativity and work together to tackle the impossible.

An early visualization of what Brothers of Invention may become.

An early visualization of what Brothers of Invention may become.

The UChicago Performance Lab residency is the first step in the show's development, and will focus on defining the storytelling style of the piece, which will feature bunraku puppets and mechanical objects. I will continue working on the show throughout the year thanks to a 2017 Family Grant from The Jim Henson Foundation and a commissioning partnership from the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. We hope to start touring the full production in 2018. Its’ Chicago premiere will take place at the 2019 Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival.

I will be posting updates on the show as it grows in the coming weeks and months.

-Jesse Mooney-Bullock

"That's the way to do it!"

It has been an action packed summer for Jesse Mooney-Bullock Puppets. In between our fantastic tour of Luigi Bullooney's Circus Menagerie performances in Michigan and Cincinnati, we have been building puppets at a break neck pace. We expanded the crew to include three puppet making assistants (Seana Higgins, Michael Brandt and Hallie Grant), and a costume maker (Emily Hammerberg), to help build puppets for two Chicago shows. I'll tell you about the first today.

A Comedical Tragedy for Mister Punch is a world premiere play by Kara Davidson, directed by Shade Murray at The House Theatre of Chicago. The show opened over Labor Day and runs through October 24. I am always excited to work with House Theatre as they embrace creative visual storytelling for all of their productions. It has been especially rewarding to design such a central element to this brand new work and see the actors make the puppets and masks come alive. Check out some images and video of the finished puppets then keep scrolling to see some shots of the works in process.

Judy, Punch, Joey, the Constable and Pretty Polly hanging out before rehearsals.

Judy, Punch, Joey, the Constable and Pretty Polly hanging out before rehearsals.

Charlotte, a young orphan, has made a life for herself thieving on the streets of London. She wiggles her way into employment for an eccentric Italian puppeteer, Pietro, collecting coins from his crowds and watching out for the law. They quickly become an efficient pair under Pietro’s gruff and focused attention. As their partnership flourishes, so does Charlotte’s vivid imagination. Soon, the violent Punch and Judy puppets jump to life as she conjures up her own spins on the classic tales. But Pietro may not want his protégé pulling the strings.
— House Theatre

Here are a few images capturing the team creating the hand puppet and mask versions of the classic Punch characters. The process was typically that Jesse would carve the hand puppet head and then hand it off to an assistant to sculpt a form for the mask representing that character. The form was then papier mached, painted and rigged to create a functioning character mask. The puppet costumes were designed by Izumi Inaba, the play's costume designer, then recreated in miniature by Emily Hammerberg. Click on the photo to advance to the next image.

We're looking for a puppet building assistant for summer 2016

Work alongside a theatrical puppet designer creating a collection of mixed media puppets (not muppets) for a prominent regional theater. This position is suited for a mechanically inclined individual with experience in woodworking (comfortable with standard power tools) and papier mache and at least one of the following: metalworking, fabric or mold making. You must be reliable, able to work independently, finish projects under a deadline and follow designs.

Availability in late July and all of August is essential, work may begin as early as mid-June. Weekly hours will vary but could range from 20-50 hours/week (more heavy in August). $15/hour for fully qualified candidates. We are looking for someone based in Cincinnati and will be working out of a studio in Northside.

To apply, send a resume, including work samples or a link to an online portfolio, to Ryan Mooney-Bullock, General Manager, bullooney@gmail.com.

Rikki Tikki Tavi Summer Tour

We're taking our mongoose and cobras (and three kids) on the road this summer, to our neighbor in the north, Pure Michigan! So for those of you who missed the show last summer while you were vacationing in the great mitten state, we're bringing the show to you this time. We'll be idling in the Motor City for a weekend of performances, then heading north to resort in Boyne, then crashing through some Grand Rapids before we turn our wheels homeward. And for all the poor souls who have to stay back in Ohio, never fear, we will perform for you here in Cincinnati before we embark for a strong send-off. Stay tuned for exciting details!