Rockin’ Retro Guide to Dragon Con 2015

Posted on: Sep 3rd, 2015 By:

dragonconBy Claudia Dafrico
Contributing Writer

As the famed pop culture extravaganza that is Dragon Con takes over downtown Atlanta once again this Labor Day weekend, one has to think: where to even begin? In between countless meet and greets, discussion panels, vendors, and amazing cosplays to ogle at, it seems impossible to do everything Dragon Con has to offer in just four days. ATLRetro is here with our top picks to help you get your nerdy Retro fix without short circuiting from overstimulation.

GUESTS

carollspinney_2CAROLL SPINNEY. The legendary muppeteer behind everyone’s favorite SESAME STREET resident, Big Bird, will be speaking at the Imperial Ballroom in the Marriott Marquis Atlanta on Saturday at 2:30 P.M.  This is a must-do for any con-goer, child or adult, that grew up with Big Bird and his neighbors.

PETER MAYHEW. With STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS approaching at near-light speed, the hype for the new film has reached peak levels. Be at the Mariott Imperial Ballroom Sunday at 4:00 P.M. to hear Peter Mayhew, the actor behind beloved Chewbacca, talk about the new installment in the saga and his experience appearing in all three STAR WARS trilogies.

brianBARRY BOSTWICK. If you’re one of many that have spent weekends past midnight with Dr. Frank N Furter and freinds, you’ll definitely want to make your way over to the Hyatt Regency Atlanta on Friday at 1:00 P.M. to catch up with Barry Bostwick, aka Brad Majors, from THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975), and see why he  was compelled to audition for the film. Also catch him at Lips Down on Dixie’s live performance accompanying RHPS at 1:30 A.M. on Sunday in the Hyatt Centennial Ballroom.

TERRY JONES. Terry Gilliam has been a guest at a couple of DragonCons. Now we get the other Monty Python Terry. What’s he best known for? Well, here’s a hint: “Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam!” Here him share his Python memories and more on Sunday at 11:30 A.M.. and he presents Terry Jones: A Very Naughty Boy Live!” about the making of LIFE OF BRIAN (1979) on Monday at 10 A.M., both in the Sheraton Atlanta’s Grand Ballroom.

300208_271920342839242_789821841_nCOMIC & POP ARTIST ALLEY

DEREK YANIGERIf the art of perpetual Kool Kat Derek Yaniger looks familiar, it’s probably because you can see it at the top of this article. Derek designed ATLRetro’s fabulous logo. Stop by his booth to get your fix of rockabilly, tiki and more in a sea of fantasy and steampunk.

PANELS

2001THE HISTORY OF PULP FICTION. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, weird fiction, adventure, noir. They all appeared in the pages of pulp magazines so it makes sense that Pulp Fiction has its own panel. Join fellow pulp lovers in a discussion of Pulp’s fascinating past and exciting future. (Sun. 10 AM; Augusta 3, Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel)

PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE: WE KNOW YOU ARE. There is perhaps no movie that is quite as quotable as Tim Burton’s classic PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (1985) With a reboot rumored to be in the works, be sure to celebrate  the original on its 30th anniversary. Tell ‘em Large Marge sent ya! (Sun 10 PM; M303-M303, Atlanta Marriott Marquis)

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY REUNION. Since its premiere in 1968, Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi epic has bewitched viewers of all generations. Two of the film’s stars, Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, reunite to reminisce on the unbelievably unique experience they had performing in this landmark film. (Fri. 1 PM, Sat. 5:30 PM; Grand Ballroom East, Hilton Atlanta)

CHRISTOPHER LEE & LEONARD NIMOY: CLASSIC SCI FI LEGENDS. 2015 saw the loss of two of the most talented actors the Sci-Fi and Horror genres have ever known. Join other fans to celebrate the lives of Leonard Nimoy and Sir Christopher Lee, whose contributions to pop culture will never be forgotten. (Sat. 5:30 PM; M303-M304, Atlanta Mariott Marquis)

hieberCTHULHU: NEW SPINS ON OLD MYTHOS. Everyone’s favorite Elder One has resurged in popularity in the past few years, and it looks like it is here to stay. Stop by to hear the experts explain how and why Cthulhu “works” in today’s world of pop culture, and where he’s headed in the years to come. (Fri. 7 PM; Peachtree 1-2, Westin Peachtree Plaza)

EXPLOITATION! In what might end up being the most entertaining and liveliest panel at Dragon Con, panelists and fans will gather to celebrate exploitation and cult films and all the revelry they bring. A late night panel for a late night crowd. (Fri. 10 PM; Peachtree 1-2, Westin Peachtree Plaza)

HISTORICAL HORROR. ATLRetro’s own Anya Martin will be moderating this panel, which will discuss and analyze the role history plays in horror fiction and how historical settings can bring new life (or death) to a story. Other panelists include Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Leanna Renee Hieber, Kenneth Mark Hoover and L. Andrew Cooper. (Sun. 11:30 AM; Peachtree 1-2, Westin Peachtree Plaza)

PARTIES

9.6(2)PIN UPS BY THE POOL. Who doesn’t love mermaids? Come see Dragon Con’s finest sea sirens compete for the grand prize, and join in on the fun by channeling your inner pin up for some poolside glam. (Fri. 8:30 PM; Sheraton Atlanta)

SUITS, SINATRA & STAR WARS. In wonderful Dragon Con fashion, two fabulous themes (the STAR WARS saga and the Rat Pack) have been combined to create what promises to be a swingin’ night for all. Dancing with a wookie to a Sinatra song is the best kind of night one can have, after all. (Fri. 10 PM; A601-A602, Marriott Marquis Atlanta)

MONSTER MASH FOR CHARITY. Halloween may be over a month away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t break out your Dracula fangs and Frankenstein bolts early. And the best part of this classic monsters graveyard smash? It’s all for a good cause! (Fri. 10 PM; Regency VI-VII, Hyatt Regency Atlanta)

MECHANICAL MASQUERADE. Go really retro Steampunk style at the Artifice Club‘s annual four-hour bash, orchestrated by Kool Kat Dr. Q and always a Dragon Con highlight. The theme this year is “Dystopia A Dark Future to Remember.” ( Sun. 10 PM;Peachtree Ballroom, Westin Peachtree Plaza)

BURLESQUE

9.5(2)DRAGONCON BURLESQUE: A GLAMOUR GEEK REVENUE-Burlesque is a Dragoncon staple; no Labor Day weekend would be complete without at least one show. Stay up late Saturday night to get a chance to check out Kool Kat Taloolah Love and the rest of the lovely ladies and mayhaps lads, too, of D-Con burlesque; they’re sure to put on a show that brings down the house. (Sun. 12:00 AM; Reg. VI-VII, Hyatt)

To check out the complete Dragon Con schedule, download the Pocket Program and/or app at www.dragoncon.org

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Kool Kat of the Week: Growing Up in a World of Pure Imagination: Heather Henson Talks About Her Jim Henson Connection and Sings Along with The MUPPET MOVIE to Celebrate The Center for Puppetry Arts’ 35th Anniversary

Posted on: Sep 19th, 2013 By:

Kermit, Jim Henson and daughter Heather Henson at the grand opening of the Center for Puppetry Arts, 1978. Photo credit: Center for Puppetry Arts.

When Kool Kat of the Week Heather Henson was just seven, she accompanied her famous father, Jim Henson, the creator of The Muppets, to the 1978 ribbon-cutting of The Center for Puppetry Arts. Today the Center is world-renowned, and the youngest of the five Henson children is coming back this Saturday September 21 at 4 p.m. to lead an audience singalong with the original THE MUPPET MOVIE (1979), just one highlight of the Center’s 35th Anniversary Celebration (Sept. 21-23).

A puppeteer extraordinaire in her own right, Heather founded and directs Ibex Puppetry, an Orlando, Florida-based entertainment company which among other activities, produces the annual Orlando Puppet Festival, the HANDMADE PUPPET DREAMS film series, the Puppet Slam Network and original environmental theatre spectacles. In that role, she’ll be teaching a Community Building Through Puppetry Workshop at the Center, too, on Mon. Sept. 23 from 7-9 p.m. She serves on the boards of the Jim Henson Foundation, the Jim Henson Legacy and the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center.

We caught up with Heather to find out what it was like growing up with such a creative dad, her own road to puppetry, why she’s so jazzed about her recent environmental projects and why to really feel that Rainbow Connection, you and your family should consider costuming as Muppets when you come to the Center on Saturday!

ATLRetro: Being the baby of the Henson family sounds like it has to have been a magical experience. Was your father as imaginative in playing with you as he has been in his public creative life, and do you have a favorite memory of that?

Heather Henson: Yes, he was very imaginative as a dad. We grew up in a house with a ton of crafts projects. You know, today you can get just go to Michael’s and find all these crafts projects out of a box, Michael’s didn’t exist when we were kids. We just had all these craft supplies. We had the little rock tumblers, a silk screen, an enameling oven, a weaving station and an animation station so we could do stop-motion animation. The whole basement was like a crafts project laboratory. So that was really, really, really fun.

That playpen downstairs was amazing. I do a little PowerPoint presentation called “A Daughter Remembers,” and I show some pictures from that basement. We had a set of wooden boxes that were numbered one through 10. I think he must have done them around the same time as SESAME STREET because I look at the counting films and they look so much like that. He painted them in this beautiful limited color palate of the ‘60s—I think it was pink, orange and yellow. On one side, it would have a number, and on the other side us kids got to paint whatever they wanted—animals or insects of that number. It was like one elephant, two butterflies, three horses, four cats. They were so cute. I love those boxes. Again no Michael’s, no Hobby Lobby, no IKEA.

Heather Henson promises a carnival sense of fun at THE MUPPET MOVIE singalongs. Photo credit: Ibex Puppetry.

Did you always know that you’d go into puppetry, too? Or did you ever rebel, and say, no, I’m going to be a fill-in-the-blank?!

Well, I went to college for animation. I guess in high school, I wanted to get into politics, not to become a politician but I liked international relations. I actually still do. A big love of mine is the way that different countries, different cultures come together. In high school, I thought that fell under a political science major. That was the only thing I could think of that would allow me to study other cultures other than anthropology. Right now, I do puppet shows internationally, and that’s still my favorite thing—to go into other cultures and see those relationships.

But then I guess I started college studying art. I thought for a while I could be a political cartoonist. Then I went into, no, I’ll do animation and illustrations, and I wound up right back at puppetry. It took a little bit of a roundabout way, but it’s a total circle. My final project I did in college was in animation, and then when I got out of college, I re-told the story with puppets. I actually found it was a much more satisfying process—the build process and especially delivering it to an audience. Having the live feedback of an audience and the communication between performer and audience was much more satisfying. But it came about from a very personal process. It was not like I’m the daughter of a puppeteer, I have to be a puppeteer.

Photo credit: Ibex Puppetry.

You’ve got your hands on the strings of a lot of projects from IBEX Puppetry to the boards of various Henson-related foundations. What’s one thing you’re especially excited about that you’re doing right now?

The environmental spectacle shows and trying to do them internationally. I do shows without words. We just came back from a puppet festival in Indonesia where we performed CELEBRATION OF FLIGHT, and I’m most excited to do this for an international audience in ways that are also helpful and are of benefit for the community that we go into. I try to make our shows informative about the environment but not going into someone else’s culture and being preachy.

I like to do that for my own community, too. Right now I am in Milwaukee because we are going to be presenting CELEBRATION OF FLIGHT at the International Crane Foundation gala next week. This group does a lot of education about cranes and wetlands. Crane education is really about habitat restoration because cranes need wetlands and the wetlands are being destroyed. They are advocates for the cranes, but they are really advocates for the environment. So I am presenting this show to them and to a school. That’s the work I’m really excited about—trying to do stuff that is being an advocate for the environment. If it’s at all possible that I can use my energies in that direction, that’s exciting to me.

As a child, you attended the ribbon-cutting of the Center for Puppetry Arts.

I know!

Jim, Heather and Jane Henson at the Center for Puppetry Arts opening, 1978. Photo credit: Center for Puppetry Arts.

What do you recall about that day and how does the Center fit into preserving your father’s legacy today and into the future?

I cannot recall anything about that day. I look at that photograph, and I remember the Snoopy sweatshirt that I was wearing. It was one of my favorite sweatshirts. I look at that picture, and I can see that I am wearing SESAME STREET Big Bird corduroy pants, and I remember those pants. I look at that picture and I can remember my clothes.

September 24 was my dad’s birthday. What was amazing about this story was that my dad was in the middle of shooting THE MUPPET MOVIE in LA, which was the first movie that they had. This was like his company’s ultimate creative success at this point. My dad had worked so hard pitching the Muppets to an adult audience for so long, and [THE MUPPET SHOW (1976-81)] was finally picked up in London, and as soon as it was on the air, it became a huge hit. Now he got that opportunity to make THE MUPPET MOVIE. The movie is not about THE MUPPET SHOW, which was based on vaudeville theater in London; it is about the Muppets coming together to make millions of people happy. They all find each other, and they say we’re going to work together, and at the end, they make it to Hollywood. It’s so beautiful.

So my dad was in the middle of making that movie, and that’s when the Center for Puppetry Arts opened. My dad left that movie to come to the opening on his birthday. He didn’t even tell Vince [Anthony, founding executive director of the Center for Puppetry Arts] it was his birthday.

So he thought the Center was pretty cool; it was a sure sign that he thought that something special was happening here?

Yes, he thought it was worth coming to. It’s like, oh, my God, he’s in the culmination, in such a peak in his creative career, and he stops what he’s doing and comes to Atlantato open the Center. It means he really believe the Center was an important place.

The grande finale of THE MUPPET MOVIE. Photo credit: Jim Henson Company/Walt Disney.

Coming back to THE MUPPET MOVIE, what’s your favorite part or scene and why?

It’s such a beautiful movie, by far my favorite of the lot of them. All of them have a special place in my heart, but that one I love just because how pure the message is, how clean the story is. It’s just all these amazing, idealistic people that came together, such as Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher who wrote some amazing music.

My favorite part is the ending, “The Rainbow Connection.” [The Muppets] are so excited, they’ve made it to Hollywood and they’re finally getting a chance to their movie. It all crashes down and then the rainbow comes through. It’s so beautiful.

Can you share a little bit about what’s happening on Saturday and why folks who grew up with the Muppets should attend and bring their children?

And dress up! We’ve got to tell people that they can dress up! Come dressed up as Muppets, and we’ll bring you up on stage.

We’ve found the show works so well for all audiences because the kids like it, the adults like it. We’re getting a lot of kids that are seeing it for the first time. I can’t tell you how many times people say they loved the movie as kids, and now they are bringing their kids. Sometimes the kids know SESAME STREET but don’t really know the rest of the Muppet gang. Or sometimes the parents will show the kids the movie before coming, so the kids will already know all the movie and the lyrics. It’s really funny. The parents and kids can enjoy it together. It’s a big party. It’s a big laugh. We have a really good time. We’re really loud. It’s just like a big carnival for a couple of hours. We sing and dance and just revel in the joy.

You’re also doing a workshop on Monday.

Yeah, it’s a webinar, and it’s on community engagement. Megan Boye and I are doing it together. I don’t just like making shows that are one-sided. I like doing things that are interactive. We are giving audiences things to do, to dance and sing and play. It all started with THE MUPPET MOVIE singalong, and then the LABYRINTH singalong. We’ve added this interactive element to a lot of our [IBEX’s] shows.

We have this whole show called ENDANGERED SPECIES PARADE. We book it like a show, but it’s more like we bring a whole presence to your event. We set up a musical station where kids can play instruments. We set up a tableau of all of our puppets, a display where you can walk around and see them. We set up workshops where you can make puppets. And every hour or couple of hours, depending on how often the venue wants us to do it, we do a parade where we pick up a puppet and we parade around. That type of engagement is something we now do in a lot of our shows, so we’ll talk about how we do that.

Finally, in a world of CGI, where do you see the future of puppetry as an art form? Do you have concerns or do you think it has a special quality that will keep it vibrant and sought-after?

I deal with some film and video, but right now only in my HANDMADE PUPPET DREAMS film series, which is another project of mine that I bring to Atlanta to the Center for Puppetry Arts every year. In my personal work, I don’t do much film work, but when I do film it’s all about practical objects. CGI has been beautiful in a lot of areas, and my brother Brian [Henson] is really into it. I know the Jim Henson Company has invested a lot of time and money and energy into it.

I’m not that scared of [CGI] because I think also the pendulums will always swing. People are interested in new technology, but at the same time, they’re interested in real things, too. Lately I’ve been into live things, so I guess CGI has a place there, too—I guess I have seen live events with CGI creatures—but it really hasn’t come into my world that much yet. But no, I don’t have concerns. I think people are always going to want the craftsmanship of the built physical thing. There’s always a place for that because you want something real in front of you.

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