"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