Kool Kat of the Week: Dolph Amick Gets Down with the Original Kool Kat, “Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat” at The Center for Puppetry Arts During Their Presentation of the 1957 Classic!

Posted on: Jul 9th, 2014 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor/Contributing Writer

Dolph Amick, a modern renaissance man, (actor for stage and film, puppeteer, composer, musical director and musician) will be throwing down for the kiddies of all ages at The Center for Puppetry Arts, as “The Cat in the Hat” himself, during their production of Dr. Seuss’s beloved children’s tale that has stood the test of time, DR. SEUSS’S THE CAT IN THE HAT in its original 1957 glory, adapted for the puppet stage and directed by the Center’s Artistic Director, Jon Ludwig, running through July 20! For show times and ticket purchases, go here.

Amick, no amateur to the stage (puppet or otherwise), studied at New York University Film School as well as participated in the BFA Acting Program at the University of North Carolina (UNC) – Greensboro.  He moved to Atlanta to work for the Kaiser Permanente Educational Theatre, dispensing laughter and health education to children and teens through live performances, which included “piles of puppets”, used during their performances of “Professor Bodywise’s Traveling Menagerie,” at schools and community organizations. During this time he was persuaded to attend an open audition at the Center for Puppetry Arts and has worked hard to hone his rockin’ puppeteering skills ever since!  He has joined several casts at the Center during their performances ofWeather Rocks!”, portrayed “Wilbur”, in their performance of “Charlotte’s Web” and so much more!

ATLRetro caught up with Dolph Amick for a quick interview about his awesome experiences with the Center of Puppetry Arts, his portrayal as the walking, talking mischievous feline, “The Cat in the Hat”, his venture into acting and everything you needed to know about puppeteering!

ATLRetro: Studying film at New York University and acting at the University of North Carolina, did you ever see yourself as a ‘behind the scenes’ sort of actor? Would you say the skills involved in stage/film acting versus being a puppeteer are similar or different?

Use2Dolph Amick: If you’re asking if I anticipated becoming a puppeteer, the answer is certainly no! My formal education and the bulk of my career have been as your standard stage actor. Though puppetry has its own range of unique tools and techniques, I’d absolutely say the skills involved overlap significantly. You need to be able to interpret a script, to follow direction, to develop memorable characters and to use your voice effectively; any mask or movement work you’ve done as an actor will definitely prove helpful. I’d say the primary difference is the fact that, in puppetry, you’re frequently deprived of one of an actor’s most rudimentary tools: the physical appearance of your own body. Your face, your posture, your hands, how you move – those tools that we take for granted as actors are largely unavailable to you as a puppeteer. I mean, I assure you I’m working hard with my body as I move the puppets around, but it’s usually invisible to the audience! (laughs)   

You’ve worked with the Center for Puppetry Arts for quite a while, playing in “Weather Rocks!” and “Charlotte’s Web”.  How did you get involved with the Center? What drew you to puppet theatre?

I always found puppetry entertaining and fascinating to watch. I grew up watching the MuppetsI had a “Pigs in Space” lunchbox and all — but I never would have thought of making it my job. I think most people like puppets on some level. I took a one- semester puppetry class offered by Tom Behm at UNC-Greensboro for fun. I had some odd jobs in college using what were actually full-body puppets, amusement park mascots and such. I delivered singing telegrams dressed as a seven-foot-tall stork, entertained at birthday parties as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (Donatello, if you’re wondering) — but I considered them all just acting jobs, really. As it happened, I moved to Atlanta to work for Kaiser Permanente Educational Theatre, and there were some puppets in one of the shows. My director thought I had a pretty good grasp of the puppetry and encouraged me to go to the general auditions at the Center for Puppetry Arts, telling me “Oh, they hire lots of regular actors!” (laughs) After doing the work for a while, I realized that the technical challenge of puppetry was very appealing to me, and that the shows at the Center were consistently of high quality, which made me very proud. Not to mention that it’s a cool environment with an amazing group of artists. Plus, when I’m able to step back and remember that my job is moving puppets around, it always cracks me up.

What are open auditions like at the Center? Are they as grueling as live theatre auditions? Film auditions?

(laughs) Oh, my! I’d say that if auditions seem grueling, then acting may not be the best career path for a person! But seriously, the Center does try to keep them light. Like any theatre, they’re hoping someone great is going to walk in and they’re rooting for everyone who shows up. It’s very much the same as any theatre audition – maybe a monologue, 16 bars of a song, possibly some cold reading. As far as puppetry goes, they’ll frequently have people recite something simple with a hand puppet — say, part of their monologue, or maybe the alphabet, to see how their lip-sync is, and they’ll take note of how well the person is able to control the puppet’s focus; in other words, how accurately they’re able to make the puppet “look” at a particular target. Sometimes there will be another puppeteer there to move a puppet around with the auditionee, just to see how well you can move with a partner. It’s pretty fun, really.   

Use4How were you chosen for the great opportunity of getting to play America’s favorite walking, talking mischievous feline, Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat? 

(laughs) That’s probably more a question for our artistic director, Jon Ludwig, but I imagine it’s because he thought my voice and energy might suit the role; or maybe just because I have a strong right arm. (laughs) One of the really cool things about puppetry is that we get to play a huge range of characters. As a stage actor with a certain look, I might only be considered for certain roles — but as a puppeteer, I might play a little girl, a marshmallow, a thundercloud – it could be anything. Usually, Jon will bring several different people in and let them read for multiple roles, just to see what manifests itself. I feel very lucky to have been cast as the Cat. I secretly have always wanted to be one of those tall, gangly, acrobatic types like Ray Bolger or Donald O’Connor, so I’m thrilled to get my chance. 

Since this adaptation stems directly from Dr. Seuss’s book published in 1957, how would you say your portrayal is different than the other versions on the market? Specifically, the animated musical television special that aired on CBS in 1971 and the major motion picture starring Mike Myers which came out in 2003?

I can’t really comment on the film, which I haven’t seen, or the animated version, which I saw only once way back when I was very little. All I really remember from the animated version is part of a song and the fact that one of the Things had the voice of Thurl Ravenscroft! (laughs) I will say that we used the book as a constant reference. The designers incorporated virtually every element shown in the drawings into the show. Even if a side table or potted plant showed up in only one picture, it was built. We did the same with the Cat. If he was pictured in a certain pose in the book, we worked hard to make sure that image was represented in the show. And the Cat is very expressive in the drawings, so if I ever wondered how to play a scene, I was able to get a lot of information just from looking at the book.

Did you do anything special to prepare for the role? If so, what did you do?

I ate nothing but Fancy Feast for a week. (laughs) Just kidding! I did put in some extra time working on the lines. That’s a part of any show, but because the characters repeat certain phrases frequently, I found it a little easy to get confused initially, especially when I had both hands full trying to balance the Cat with a pile of props on his head and my brain was short-circuiting. Most of the preparation really occurred in rehearsal, because there’s so much partner work in this show. I’m rarely moving the Cat by myself. I usually operate the head, the torso and the left hand, with other puppeteers moving the Cat’s feet and right hand, so there is a huge amount of practice, experimentation, discussion and agreement involved to coordinate it all. I also have a two-year-old, and he and I have been reading the book and watching the DVD of the puppet show for Use5months.

“It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how!” exclaims the Cat in the Hat.  How does a puppeteer have fun?  What’s a day in the life of a puppeteer like?

Puppetry can be physically challenging, and we get pretty exhausted sometimes. But it genuinely is a lot of fun — there’s a lot of teamwork, you get to move around a lot and you’re working with a lot of very funny people doing wacky things on a daily basis. For us, a typical day consists of some combination of two main things: rehearsal and performance. We may rehearse a show up to eight hours a day. Try this sometime at your job. Get something that weighs a few pounds. Lift it over your head. Now keep it there all day! (laughs) Rehearsals can be a bit physically or mentally taxing at times, but they’re generally a lot of fun, and we laugh a lot. On performance days, we come in, do a sound check, warm up a bit, set our props and check our puppets and do the shows. Those days are usually shorter, but represent a very concentrated burst of energy.  We try to pack an entire workday’s effort into a few hours’ worth of shows. It’s still pretty sweet to be able to shop for groceries at two in the afternoon, though.

Can you tell folks what your favorite Dr. Seuss character/book was a kid? And why?

Definitely FOX IN SOX. I read that one a lot. I loved the line “I can’t blab such blibber-blubber! My tongue isn’t made of rubber!” It was just fun to say!

What would you say is the most important attribute any puppeteer should have? Is it something you must be born with or can it be learned?

Use6Hmm. I’d say willingness to work as part of a team is key. The eyes of your director and your fellows are supercritical in puppetry, because you literally cannot see exactly what the audience is seeing, and you rely very heavily on each other for all sorts of assistance. That’s definitely something that takes practice in my opinion. Perhaps one of the most important things might be a certain willingness to be unknown, or at least second banana to an inanimate object. If you’re only in it for your ego, you’ll probably wind up being pretty disappointed. It’s a very rare puppeteer that gets stopped for autographs walking down the street. (laughs)

The Center has put a lot into their production of The Cat in the Hat, as they do with all of their productions, with the production design adaptation for the puppet stage being completed by the uber creative puppet/scenic designers.  As one of the six puppeteers in this production, can you tell our readers what a ‘full-bodied rod puppet’ is compared to your average, everyday puppet. Sounds fascinating!

The main Cat in the Hat puppet has a control rod inside his body that I can use to turn his head. There’s a trigger on the rod that opens his mouth, and he’s got short rods on his hands and feet to allow different puppeteers to control his extremities. Our resident puppet builder Jason von Hinezmeyer designed all the puppets, and they’re all brilliant! But the main Cat — “floppy-hat Cat”, as I call him — is my absolute favorite. What I think is so ingenious about the Cat puppet is the way he reflects the fluidity of Seuss’s drawings. The Cat is always drawn as very curvy through the limbs and flexible through the torso, with a distinct grace that seems almost unfettered by bone structure. The puppet is built with beadlike structures under the fur of his arms and legs — almost like a row of marbles or large pearls strung together — which gives them a certain definition of shape and a degree of mass. This allows them to hang in nice curves just like in the book when the puppet moves a hand, but also allows them to bend and wiggle any way we wish. Similarly, the Cat puppet has what is essentially a large, loose spring in his torso (imagine a Slinky) so that his body can flex and compress. Even his removable hat has a spring in it to give it a jaunty jiggle. It’s an immensely versatile puppet in terms of the variety of motion it can achieve.

What can our readers expect when they come out to see Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat at the Center for Puppetry Arts?

I believe they can expect to be truly delighted! It’s amazing to see these beloved characters that are so familiar to us actually bouncing around the stage, fully realized as tangible creations. It’s a tremendous amount of fun, and I think it’s pretty spectacular.

What’s next for Dolph Amick? More puppeteering in your future? Stage acting? Where can our readers see you next?

Well, I’m actually in the throes of composing and recording the music for the Center’s upcoming production “Shake a Tale Feather with Mother Goose”, and then I will be musical directing and performing (as a human) in “Pump Boys and Dinettes” at the Georgia Ensemble Theatre. Plus, I’m working on records for two bands, Three Quarter Ale and Burndollies. And yes, there will be more puppetry!

What question do you wish someone would ask you and what’s the answer?

“May I provide you with free on-call babysitting?” And the answer is,
“Yes!”

Can you tell us something you’d like folks to know about you they don’t know already?

I can walk a tightrope.  And when I was little, I used to blast John Williams soundtracks while I played.

All photos courtesy of The Center of Puppetry Arts and used with permission.

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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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Kool Kat of the Week: Watch out, Shirley Jones! Spooky Partridge’s Katy Graves Is a Real Mother?!

Posted on: May 9th, 2012 By:

Katy Graves and son Nick in Spooky Partridge. Photo courtesy of Katy Graves.

By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor

With Mother’s Day approaching, ATLRetro wanted to find someone special who represents both the Atlanta music scene and makes motherhood look easy. Local musician Katy Graves is one of the most energetic, friendly and interesting people in town. She has been part of the rock & roll community for many years in such bands as Doll Squad and Catfight, and while she is currently working on her teaching degree, she is also in an amazing and entertaining band called Spooky Partridge, with HER 10-YEAR-OLD SON, Nick Christian!!! Those credentials and the fact that Spooky Partridge are rocking Shorty’s Pizza in Tucker this Saturday May 12 at 8 p.m. are more than sufficient for ATLRetro to make Katy Kool Kat of the Week just in time for Mother’s Day!

ATLRetro: How did you initially get involved with performing music in Atlanta? What was your first band experience?

Katy: I sang in a couple bands in high school starting in about the 9th grade, and by the 11th grade, our band, The Doughboys, was playing out at the infamous Margaritaville as well as The Dugout in Emory Village. We did mostly covers by bands like The Police, Squeeze, The Jam, Ramones, Echo and the Bunnymen and loads of REM. Our guitar player loved REM! Can you imagine me singing REM covers? We had some originals, but mostly covers. I played cello and and piano as a kid. Susanne Gibboney (who plays with Tiger! Tiger!, Lust and Catfight), and I started Doll Squad while I was in college. We both worked at Junkman’s Daughter at the time. We all loved The Runaways and ’60s girl groups, but also L7 and the Lunachicks so we wanted to be in an all-girl band. Doll Squad opened for Shonen Knife at the Masquerade, that was so fun! 

Catfight was an incredibly popular band for several years. what do you think was the source of the appeal, and what was going on in Atlanta at that time to make the scene so open to the band? How was David T. Lindsay involved?

Ann Beaman and I had been in Doll Squad for a while, and that had kind of run its course. We ran an ad for a guitar player so we could start a new band, and Jennifer Leavey answered. She was the only person who answered that wasn’t nuts! Jennifer is just an incredible songwriter, and Catfight really took off. I think the reason we managed to do well was that we had songs with elements of a several kinds of genres and we could fit in on a lot of shows, appeal to a lot of people. We were a little garage, a little punk; we liked rockabilly; we did some girl group type songs; we also covered Van Halen, though!

David Lindsay put out a Doll Squad 7″, and he and I were friends. He had had a disagreement with someone in Doll Squad and wasn’t keen to put out any more of our records. I didn’t know if I would want to work with Catfight, but I brought a tape over of us and gave it to him. I told him I just wanted him to give me some feedback. He called me like an hour after I gave him the tape and told me he had to put out our stuff! David put out two singles and two CDs on his label, Worry Bird Records.

How did working in the music business affect your perception of playing music as a profession? Any good sleazy Green Room stories?

I remember when I got a job working for a record company, this boyfriend (a musician) said, “You are working for the enemy now!!!” I had a great run working in the music business for 15 years, but sometimes I was conflicted. It’s hard when you have to sell art like it is shoes or office supplies or something. Also, I figured out quite early on that I did not care about meeting a lot of famous people, which I thought initially would be really fun. Yawn! That being said two of the nicest people I met while working at a record company were Brittany Spears and Notorious B.I.G. Seriously! There were a few who were complete jerks – if you see me out sometime I’ll tell you who!! I can’t think of any super sleazy stories, but I do remember we took this guy from a New York band to the Clermont Lounge after his show one night. He has irritated all of us with this superior attitude, like he had seen it all/done it all in NYC. We introduced him to Blondie, she personalized a beer can for him as she does, and he just about lost it. He was completely freaked out by the whole Clermont scene! We couldn’t believe it – he was playing Mr. Badass rock guy but he got all nervous at the Clermont! Come on!

What must one do to reconcile motherhood with a rock & roll lifestyle?

Well, I began my rock’ & roll mom lifestyle when Nick was in utero – I kept playing shows with Catfight until I was more than eight months pregnant! I would have played up until I went into labor, but Jennifer but the kibosh on that. Probably the girls were sick of loading all the equipment without me at that point. Anyway, you have to rock & roll at home a lot more when you are a mom, because as you might guess it becomes difficult to be out at shows until 2 a.m. on a regular basis. The child watched THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT from an early age, which is a questionable decision when you think about how The Who treat equipment, but we escaped any serious damage around the house somehow. When I still worked for a record company I brought Nick to every daytime in-store appearance by a band that I was working. One year I took him to Ozzfest. I always tried to take him to any daytime shows I could find – he went to Warped Tour a few times. And yes – we made him wear earplugs to every show, of course! Finally I ended up being in a band WITH my son so I could still play but also keep kid-friendly hours!

Spooky Partridge's Nick poses with a pair of drumsticks.

Tell us about Nick. Do you think he will become a professional musician? Or a baseball player? He seems equally great at both…

Nick turned 10 in February. He has been in Montessori school since he was 3. He plays drums and guitar; he can play bass and fools around on piano as well. He is dyslexic, which I believe is why he is so good at music and art; I think that the things in his brain that often make reading hard make music easy. He loves to draw. And yes, he does love baseball and soccer. I am the only mom in Americawho actually asks her child to please use the Wii or the Nintendo DSI, because we have these expensive games and the kid never uses them! He loves Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Who and The Cartoon Network. Nick cooks a lot – he puts red pepper flakes and/or Siracha in almost everything, however, so if you don’t like spicy food, you have to watch out. At different times he has told me that when he wants to grow up he wants to be a musician, a baseball player, a soccer player or a pathologist. Yes, a pathologist! Recently he has gotten way interested in bird-watching, of all things! He can identify lots of birds, and he draws them all the time.

Where did the idea for “Spooky Partridge” come from, and what was the formation of the band like for everyone?

Nick’s dad is Shawn Christian from X-Impossibles and Rock City Dropouts. Shawn and I met because we were in bands that played shows together all the time, so it was only natural that we wanted our child to be a musician. Nick was almost named Marshall – after the amp, of course! Shawn and I made sure that Santa brought Nick a drum set when he was two years old. By the time he was seven, he was getting pretty good, and since I had a friend teaching at a rock band camp, we sent Nick there that summer. That is when we could see he was really progressing, when we saw him play with a band. So we sent him again two years ago. He wanted to play “No Action” by Elvis Costello, but the kids in the band couldn’t learn it fast enough to perform it, which bummed him out. There were so many songs Nick wanted to play and no one to play them with. I was like “Why am I paying for this rock band camp when we can just have rock band camp at home for free?” Those camps are crazy expensive, and we already had a practice room in our house. What was I thinking?

Shawn and I decided that we would have a family band. Shawn and I have not been a couple since Nick was two, but we get along extremely well, so the band was nothing but fun from the start. We started by learning songs that Nick wanted to do, we started writing originals. Nick has written some on guitar, and he writes words and works with his dad to write songs, like “I Hate Chores.”

Spooky Partridge performs at last year's Tunes From The Tombs.

Any plans to release a Spooky Partridge record anytime?

We have three songs recorded that we are really happy with, and we need to record some more! We recorded the songs with Jimmy Demer from The Accidents, and his two daughters sing back up on our song, “Robots Don’t Poop.” It’s me that is holding this record up, really – around the time we started the band I went back to school to become a Montessori teacher. I work full time, I am in school, I’m a single mom, and I’m in two bands since Catfight has been out playing again this year. I’m hoping after I finish my class at the end of the summer we can really focus on getting out a CD. Vinyl would be cool, too! Right now we have music up on our Facebook/ReverbNation page, so everyone go listen to that!

How do you go about booking a band in Atlanta, with a 10-year-old drummer?

Very carefully! We have been very lucky; Nick doesn’t even know how lucky he is, what great shows he has played! Before he turned 10, he got to play not only [Rock n Roll] Monster Bash and Drive Invasion, but he got to open for CJ Ramone at Masquerade! We started by playing in restaurants owned by friends, we got everyone we knew out to see us, and we were lucky that a lot of folks posted videos of us on youtube. We got a lot of good word of mouth, and that led to more shows. I have played some of the most interesting shows with this band. We have played at Atlanta Rocks rock climbing gym on top of a huge boulder! You have to get creative booking shows when you have a 10-year-old in the band, but really I would say it’s good to do that no matter what kind of band you have.

What’s coming up for the band in the near future?

Well, we are playing at Shorty’s Pizza in Tucker on Saturday, May 12. We have wanted to play Shorty’s because the food is great! This is a special show because it’s also an end-of-season party for Nick’s baseball team. The coach wanted Spooky Partridge for the party, and we were only too glad to oblige. There is one kid on Nick’s team who loves Led Zeppelin as much as Nick, so we are going to do an abbreviated “Moby Dick” for him. We are also playing an art opening at the Defoor Centre on June 10! That should be great.

Catfight is playing Tunes From the Tombs at Oakland Cemetery on Sat. May 19 at 3 p.m. in the Criminal Records tent. Also we are playing at the Plaza Theatre before the [Blast-off Burlesque Taboo-La-La] screening of BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS June 2 – my dream show!

Spooky Partridge. Photo credit: Rose Riot.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring female musicians? Mothers?

I have a little anecdote about being a female musician in Atlanta 20 years ago for everyone, and I hope this is something that does not happen to women in bands anymore! Doll Squad was playing at Masquerade one night, and when we finished we got off stage and wandered around, as you do, waiting to see the next band. This guy came over and said, (imagine redneck kind of voice) “Y’all were pretty good. But you’d be better if you played naked.” We just had to laugh – what can you say?? That was not the only incident like that I experienced with Doll Squad or Catfight, but it’s been a long, long time since I heard any nonsense like that. I hope no women in bands have that experience these days, but unfortunately I bet they do . . . Just keep playing ladies! Ignore the crap and get out there and play.

Moms: Expose your child to music as soon as possible – in the womb! Play every kind of music for them. Let them explore what they like. Even if you can’t sing or play anything sing with your child anyway. Get silly, have fun! Nick and I will sing “Ma-na-ma-na” from The Muppets in the car, then we sing “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It’s all music, it’s all good.

One more word of wisdom for mothers – no matter how much you want to absolutely do not watch THE STOOGES LIVE IN DETROIT DVD with your toddler thinking that he is too young to notice what obscenities Iggy Pop is yelling out. You could find yourself in the middle of Kroger with a child who yells “F****** dirt!” in the middle of the produce department. If this does happen, do what I do – pretend you are horrified and have no idea where the child could have learned this! If you are lucky, as I was, you ask him where he learned that word and he says, “From Daddy!”

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Retro Review: THE DARK CRYSTAL: Returning to “Another World, Another Time – in the Age of Wonder” at the Plaza

Posted on: Jun 7th, 2011 By:

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Blogger

Art Opening & A Movie Presents THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982); Dir: Jim Henson and Frank Oz; Conceptual Designer: Brian Froud; Starring Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Franz Oz; “The Small Game of Revilo”art exhibition featuring works by Brian Colin; also appearing will be Heidi Arnhold, artist, LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL. Tues. June 7, opening reception 8-11 PM with movie at 9:30 pm; Fri. June 10 at MIDNIGHT; Sun. June 12 at 3 PM; Plaza TheatreTrailer here.

Jim Henson was at his creative peak when THE DARK CRYSTAL first hit theaters the week before Christmas in 1982. His Muppets were already firmly established cultural icons thanks to over a decade on SESAME STREET, five seasons of THE MUPPET SHOW, numerous television specials and two feature films. The song “Rubber Duckie” (sung by Henson as Ernie from SESAME STREET) had spent seven weeks in the Billboard Top 40 in 1970. Kermit the Frog had even filled in for Johnny Carson as guest host of THE TONIGHT SHOW in 1979, for God’s sake. And despite the mass-market, multigenerational appeal of the Muppets, Henson’s bearded genius was still, and always would be, artistically sound. This is likely because he never considered what he did as an entertainment exclusively for children. The original producers of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE agreed and featured “adult” Muppets in their own skits during the show’s inaugural season.

Jen the Gelfling pauses in a beautiful place on his quest to restore THE DARK CRYSTAL. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

There would be additional triumphs on television and in film before his unexpected death in 1991, but THE DARK CRYSTAL stands as Henson’s greatest achievement. The movie tells the story of Jen, the world’s last hope to end a thousand-year reign of evil and bring harmony back to the universe by returning a lost shard to the cracked Dark Crystal. “Of all projects that I’ve ever worked on, it’s the one that I’m the most proud of,” he said at the time.  Sure, he probably said something similar at LABYRINTH press junkets four years later, but THE DARK CRYSTAL achieves more without the benefit of a single human performance on-screen. Not to mention the charisma of David Bowie.

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Rediscovering the Magic of THE DARK CRYSTAL at the Plaza Theatre with Atlanta Comics Artist Heidi Arnhold

Posted on: Jun 6th, 2011 By:

Art Opening & A Movie Presents THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982); Dir: Jim Henson and Frank Oz; Starring Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Franz Oz; “The Small Game of Revilo”art exhibition featuring works by Brian Colin; also appearing will be Heidi Arnhold, artist, LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL. Tues. June 7, opening reception 8-11 PM with movie at 9:30 pm; Fri. June 10 at MIDNIGHT; Sun. June 12 at 3 PM; Plaza TheatreTrailer here.

Cover art for LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL: TRIAL BY FIRE, the series' second volume written by Barbara Randall Kesel, illustrated by Heidi Arnhold and toned by Jessica Feinberg. (Tokyopop, 2007)

With the popularity of Yoda and the success of stop-motion movies like NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, it may be hard to imagine how revolutionary THE DARK CRYSTAL actually was when it came out in 1982. Long before CGI, Muppets creators Jim Henson and Franz Oz wanted to show the celluloid potential of puppetry—they even billed it as the first live-action movie with no humans on screen—and take fantasy. So they came up with a mythic tale that provocatively took place in “in the age of wonder,” in which two noble, elf-like Gelflings set out on a quest to a fulfill a prophecy that will free their world from the grip of the evil Skeksis. For the imaginative character designs, they turned to fantasy illustrator Brian Froud, with whom they would collaborate again on LABYRINTH (1986). The project was highly anticipated by science fiction and fantasy fans and won some critical acclaim, but sadly tanked at the box office.

Like BLADE RUNNER (also 1982), DARK CRYSTAL was perhaps ahead of its time and destined to gain more appreciation with age. The fantasy film is the latest in a parade of under-appreciated and cult features which the Plaza Theatre has brought back to the big screen. If you’ve only seen it on a TV screen or haven’t seen it at all, here’s a rare chance. Afterwards, be sure and visit The Center for Puppetry Arts’ museum to appreciate all the craftsmanship and detailed costuming that went into an actual Skeksis which appeared in the film.

The screening is part of the Plaza’s Art Opening and a Movie series, featuring an opening reception for the exhibit “The Small Game of Revilo,” a collection of surprising sculptures featuring whimsical and fearsome small forest animals by Brian Colin which will be on display in the lobby through July 3. Also on hand will be Heidi Arnhold, the artist of two volumes of LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL (THE GARTHIM WARS and TRIAL BY FIRE), a manga graphic novel prequel published by Tokyopop and set hundreds of years before the film. She’s also drawn a manga version of STAR TREK and is one of the artists for Archaia Entertainment’s upcoming FRAGGLE ROCK, VOL. II anthology, out July 2011. ATLRetro caught up with Heidi to find out how an unknown artist won a professional debut as cool as DARK CRYSTAL, why she thinks the movie has such staying power, and a little bit about her affection for rabbits.

How did you get the opportunity to be the artist for LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL?

When I was a senior at the Savannah College of Art (SCAD), I met Tim Beedle [former Tokyopop editor] at Editor’s Day. The Sequential Art Department hosts the event once a year and invites editors from various publishers to visit and give portfolio reviews. I made [Tim] my top priority because my style seemed best suited for them. Much to my surprise and excitement, he liked my stuff and gave me his card! I walked out of the review room clutching it in my hands like he’d just given me the golden ticket.

The evil Skesis, as drawn by Heidi Arnhold in LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL (Tokyopop).

I kept in touch with Tim after I graduated in hopes that a project in need of an artist would open up. Little did I know that he was working on LEGENDS at the time, and the first artist had decided to walk. Initially Tim had intended for me to work on something else, but he needed someone to take over the book fairly quickly. One day he asked me if I was a fan of THE DARK CRYSTAL, and I thought he was just making small talk and didn’t respond right away. Shortly afterward he hinted that there was a reason he was asking me that, and I got it through my thick skull that this could be my chance to move forward in the career of my dreams. After sending him sketches and several test pages over the next couple months, I was approved! Tim told me over the phone, and I did an awkward victory dance in the back room at my workplace—thank goodness nobody was looking! And that’s how it all began.

Were you a big fan of the film already, and if yes, when did you first see it and what impact did it have on your art?

When the prospect of illustrating LEGENDS was placed on the table, I’m embarrassed to say I had yet to see THE DARK CRYSTAL at all. I missed out on many awesome things when I was younger, mostly because VHS tapes were pretty costly—or so my parents tell me—and my family wasn’t doing so great financially. I never saw LABYRINTH or FRAGGLE ROCK as a kid either. I’m very glad I was able to grow up watching shows like SESAME STREET and MUPPET BABIES at least!

Another page drawn by Heidi Arnhold for LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL (Tokyopop).

However, once I had seen the movie, I was enchanted by the characters and backgrounds. I’ve always had a connection to the fantasy genre, its whimsical elements in particular. Even before I was green lit as the artist, I could tell the world of THE DARK CRYSTAL was going to give me the opportunity to cut loose and have some fun.

Your artwork is very detailed and really makes the movie come to life in the graphic medium. How did you prepare, any funny stories and how many times did you visit the actual skeksis at the Center for Puppetry Arts museum?

Back then I was working at the UPS store, and on my slow days I used their printer to fill a binder full of Dark Crystal reference material—shhh, don’t tell them. I watched the movie over and over. I sketched from screenshots. I referenced Brian Froud’s art book [THE WORLD OF THE DARK CRYSTAL]. I coveted the days when it was quiet at work because I’d get to practice drawing Gelflings and Skeksis to my heart’s content. Skeksis anatomy turned out to be a source of frustration for me. I could not draw the Chamberlain with the correct

Artist Heidi Arnhold.

proportions to save my life. Tim was being so patient as he repeatedly tried to help me visualize how Skeksis were supposed to look. Before too long I began to have dreams about drawing the Chamberlain constantly, and I think that made something inside me die a little—I stopped sending revised drawings for a brief period after that. Tim graciously allowed me to send several test pages containing Gelflings only, claiming that I’d be able to draw Skeksis in my sleep the more I worked on the comic. Luckily, he was right!

And yes, I did visit the Center of Puppetry Arts in 2008. I remember how exasperated I was, because I wish I had gone sooner! I could actually examine the Garthim Master up close, and I understood certain details in his robes much better in person than I ever would have from a screenshot. I was kicking myself that I’d never even considered going down there earlier to use such a valuable resource.

DARK CRYSTAL was really groundbreaking in its use of puppetry in a feature film. How do you feel it holds up today and why should people come see it?

The Dark Crystal has always been such a unique film to me. It gives a fascinating insight into the scope of Jim Henson’s vision, and it redefined the boundaries of puppetry, both technologically and in subject matter. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before or since. I think the movie sits in a specific category all its own, and for that reason it has earned a special place in cinematic history. Everyone should see it at least once!

The cover of Archaia's FRAGGLE ROCK Vol. 2, coming July 2011.

You’ve also drawn FRAGGLE ROCK for Archaia’s anthology. Is that out yet and what was that like and are those stories from the TV series or original ones?

I illustrated a lead story for Volume 2 , Issue 2—that’s a mouthful, isn’t it?—titled “The Meaning of Life,” written by Joe LeFavi, which came out in January of this year. It’s part of a three-issue run that will be collected into a hardback book in the coming months. Volume 1 is already available, and I highly recommend it! All the stories in the anthology are original, and they really hold true to the feel of the show. I think they’ll hit home with a lot of longstanding FRAGGLE fans and give newcomers a chance to fall in love with them as well.

A page drawn by Heidi Arnhold for FRAGGLE ROCK, VOL. II (Archaia Entertainment)

What are you working on right now?

Currently I’m in a holding pattern to see if a project I’ve been visually conceptualizing will be picked up. The story is really fantastic, and I hope that we’ll be able to share it with everyone soon! In the meantime, I’m working on a short-term project that I’m also not allowed to talk about. I know, it’s super interesting, right? Being sworn to secrecy doesn’t make for fun interview responses.

Finally, how many rabbits do you have and have you played with them today?

I have three bunnies! Two boys, a Netherlands Dwarf and a Rex, and one girl, a Mini Rex. The boys are roommates and haven’t bonded with the girl yet, so playtime is sectioned off to different areas of the house. The boys have a room all to themselves, and my little lady is downstairs with me right now! She keeps nudging my feet while I’m sitting in my office chair, because she knows it will make me turn around and pet her. Bunnies are the BEST.

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