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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Really Retro: Raising an AleCon: Renaissance Music Stars Three Quarter Ale Celebrate Their First Decade with a Convention and Performance Festival!

Posted on: Aug 10th, 2012 By:

Three Quarter Ale. L-R: Rivka Levin, Dolph Amick, Becky Cormier Finch.

What do you do when your popular Celtic/Renaissance rock band hits 10 years old? If you are Three Quarter Ale, you throw a convention and festival for musicians, performers and fans of history-inspired musical theater and performance art. The three-day AleCon is this weekend (Aug 10-12) at Fabrefaction Theatre Company in Midtown and features performances not just by Three Quarter Ale but a host of other Ren bands and performance artists presenting magic to bellydancing. Other activities include panels on a variety of theatre, music and even film topics from stage combat and Irish dance to prop-building and financing art projects, as well as Killer Karaoke and daily costume contests.

A while back, we made Three Quarter Ale vocalist/flutist/guitarist Ariana Pellayle, aka Becky Cormier Finch, Kool Kat of the Week for her ’80s revival band Denim Arcade, so this time we asked bandmate vocalist/harpist/percussionist Rosemary Quench, aka Rivka Levin, for the scoop on Alecon and the enduring appeal of Ren music.
ATLRetro: Ten years old is a big landmark for any band, but they don’t usually throw a convention and performance festival. How did you guys get the idea for AleCon and what inspired you to go all out?
Rivka Levin: It was my bandmate Dolph‘s [Amick, aka Wicked Pete Speakeasy] idea. We are all three actors and dancers as well as musicians, so paying tribute to all the various crafts in which we participate seemed like the thing to do! Plus, we’re kinda ambitious that way. We are so much more than just a band, and we are THRILLED to be able to do something huge to celebrate out 10th anniversary.
You’ve assembled a pretty impressive performance line-up. Was it challenging or more a matter of ask and they will come?
OHHHH yes, it was challenging. We first had to narrow down what panels might be interesting to the general population as well as professionals – AleCon is designed to appeal to any arts lover. Then we got on the horn and started talking to the many talented people we know. But being so talented, many of them were already booked! WONDERFUL for them, but it meant another round of “who would we like to hear speak or perform?” and more phone calls. On the other hand, we did have some folks who heard about what we were planning and approached us to ask if there was a way they could get in on it! So it was a bit of both, really.
AleCon also includes panels and workshops. Can you tell us a little bit about the range of programming and highlight a few cool learning opportunities?
Sure! One of the panels about which I’m most excited is the Musical Stylings panel. We’ve got three industry leaders – really AMAZING people – talking about how to take a melody and do something unique or different with it – like making a standard musical theater piece jazzy or making a jazz tune sound classical. They are so good at what they do, and I can’t wait to hear them share their knowledge!
We also have an Irish Dance workshop, a podcasting panel by some of Atlanta’s best, “Recording on a Budget” and even a Prop-making For Film panel featuring the man who does all the props for VAMPIRE DIARIES! And some of the most talented and varied performers lined up, too.
The full schedule can be seen at http://alecon.threequarterale.com.
I understand Three Quarter Ale has a secret origin story of sorts which will be revealed at AleCon. Can you divulge a bit of it or do we have to come to find out?
Oh, you’ll have to attend! Our characters are pretty malleable and timeless, so there are really many possibilities regarding their origin or story. But I have just finished an historical novel with one exciting version, which I’ll be debuting at AleCon on Sunday! Parts of it have been posted online, and it already has quite a following of readers who have been chomping at the bit for the last several chapters!

Three Quarter Ale as 2011 finalists in the Georgia Lottery All-Access Music contest.

You’re a trained opera singer and act at The New American Shakespeare Tavern, too. How do these skills inform your work with Three Quarter Ale?

As I said, all three of us are actors, and one of the most electrifying things about Three Quarter Ale is the stage show we put on. People really connect with these three characters, in part because they are so real. I think folks come to an event of ours as much to spend time with Rosemary, Ariana and Pete as they do to hear the music itself. That’s also why I’ve so enjoyed writing this novel! Watching these three lovable and imperfect people get into scrapes, lose their tempers, deal with being kidnapped by pirates, fall in love, argue with each other, comfort each other – it’s been SO much fun! And so very rewarding.
With regards to being an opera singer, Dolph (Wicked Pete) is very skilled at writing original music that makes the most of the skills Becky and I bring to the table. Much of what he writes for me, even if it’s got a heavy metal or ’60s rock chord structure, uses my classical voice. It makes for a very unique and interesting sound, and it’s something that our fans really appreciate about our music – that it’s truly OURS, and no other trio could do it quite the same way.

Three Quarter Ale plays coy. L-R: Becky, Dolph and Rivka.

Do you have a personal highlight/favorite moment in 10 years of Three Quarter Ale?

I think one we all share was our first CD release concert for our second CD, INTERTWINED. We always start each set or concert with our theme song, in which we shout a toast, “Drink Hail!” and the audience is cued to toast us back by shouting, “Wassail!”  We’d been doing the theme song for two or three years, and we knew our fans knew the cue…but still, when we shouted that first “Drink Hail!” and an entire theater full of people shouted back “Wassail!”, it was so loud and so enthusiastic that it literally rocked all three of us back on our heels! The sheer volume! The love that was pouring forth from folks who had driven all the way out just to celebrate with us! It was honestly elating, humbling, and beyond anything we expected. But who knows – maybe something at AleCon will top even that!!
After AleCon, what’s next for you and Three Quarter Ale?
Oh, heavens! Dolph’s working on a screenplay that gives an alternative version to the novel. We’ve got lots of new material not yet on a CD. We’ve even talked with some sequential artists about a Three Quarter Ale comic book or animated video. AAAAAND if you come to AleCon on Saturday night, you’ll see the surprise secret project we’ve been working on, too! Honestly, the possibilities are endless.
Note: All photographs are courtesy of Three Quarter Ale.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Back to the Eighties with Becky Cormier Finch of Denim Arcade

Posted on: Jun 8th, 2011 By:

Photo credit: Jayne Cormier.

Today many people make fun of music in the Eighties when pop stars sported ultra-teased mullets, super-wide shoulderpads, leg warmers and cut sweatshirts. Coming after the hard edge of punk, the sugary exuberance of Top of the Pops UK bands today seems quaint and something we sometimes like to forget we actually thought was rebellious at the time. Yet it’s easy to forget that for a lot of the ‘80s, only handful of Brit hits makers made the US Top 40, like Flock of Haircuts—excuse me Seagulls—, The Police, Human League, Soft Cell and Tears for Fears before John Hughes movies made at least one song by Simple Minds and a de-angrified Psychedelic Furs temporarily cool.

On the other hand, our charts were loaded with big-haired hard rock and metal bands from Van Halen to Bon Jovi, Cinderella to Motley Crue. Michael Jackson was the King of Pop. Billy Ocean crooned “Caribbean Queen,” Rick James undulated to “Super Freak,” Huey Lewis claimed the “Heart of Rock n Roll, Prince spawned an fleet of protégées, and Madonna seemed to spawn an entire genre to herself.

While many cover bands play ‘80s music, Atlanta’s Denim Arcade tries to capture both the decade’s sense of fun and unique sound using similar equipment from guitars to keyboards—the signature instrument of synth pop. Made up of seasoned musicians out to have some fun, Denim Arcade includes Wade Finch (lead and rhythm guitar) and John Christopher (bass), who first played together in the alternative band Noise Dot Com; Andy Womack, who has drummed in a wide variety of bands for more than 20 years including Atlanta-based Renaissance Festival phenomenon, The Lost Boys; and lead vocalist Becky Cormier Finch, best known for Three Quarter Ale, a fast-growing popular Celtic rock band that was a finalist recently on the GEORGIA  LOTTERY’S ALL-ACCESS MUSIC SEARCH show.

ATLRetro caught up with Becky to find out why these talented musicians decided to go back to the Eighties, what to expect at their next show this Saturday starting at 10 PM at @tmosphere, and what’s up next for Three Quarter Ale.

I understand Denim Arcade actually grew out of another ‘80s cover band called Great Scott. How did the band get started and get its name?

Both bands got started because of friends with a shared love of ‘80s music and a love of performing. “Great Scott,” of course, is Doc Brown’s signature phrase in BACK TO THE FUTURE. We had a line-up change, and decided that with a female lead singer, “Great Scott” didn’t really fit. No one in the band is named Scott, anyway! I believe a group of friends was at Manuel’s Tavern, having a conversation about quintessential ‘80s things, and my friend Bettina just blurted out “Denim Arcade” and it stuck!

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This Week in Retro Atlanta, Feb. 21-27, 2011

Posted on: Feb 21st, 2011 By:

It’s a veritable luau feast for Retro activities in Atlanta this week, and ATLRetro has some tough decisions about what to do, especially on Saturday night.

Monday Feb. 21

Joe Gransden & his smokin’ 16-piece orchestra present another Big Band Night of jazz at Café 290, featuring Sinatra, Bennett, Basie and Joe’s originals.

Tuesday Feb. 22

The current incarnation of seminal progressive rockers The Church play their haunting melodies not just under the Milky Way but at Variety Playhouse. Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra are at Symphony Hall. Or if you live on the east side, swing dance to the Atlanta-New York Connection at the unlikely location of Northlake Mall’s Food Garden starting at 6 PM. Then head to Twain’s in Decatur for a Joe Gransden jazz jam session starting at 9 PM.

Wednesday Feb. 23

“If Elvis had been a woman, he probably would have sounded just like Kim Lenz,” says Rolling Stone. Decide for yourself when the scarlet-haired rockabilly queen brings her fiery voice to the Star Bar with her band The Jaguars. And if the night weren’t rockin’ enough, local faves Atomic Rockets and Junior, Dolan & Cash are also on the bill. Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at The Glenwood. Catch Joe Gransden every Wednesday night at 8:30 PM at Jerry Farber’s Side Door. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven, starting at 8 PM.

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Weekend Update, Feb. 17-20, 2011

Posted on: Feb 17th, 2011 By:

The weekend is so close you can almost taste it.  As usual, ATLRetro reminds you about what’s happening, including a new section at the end with ongoing events such as theater performances and exhibitions.

Thursday Feb. 17

Celebrate one of the most dynamic decades in pop music history when LIBBY’S AT THE EXPRESS PRESENTS THOSE FABULOUS FIFTIES, featuring songs made famous by Nat “King” Cole, Rosemary Clooney, The Mills Brothers, Buddy Holly, Hank Williams Sr., and the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley. The variety show stars local chanteuses Lisa PaigeWendy Melkonian and Libby Whittemore, with musical arrangements by Robert Strickland, tonight through Sunday Feb. 20 at 7:30 PM at Actor’s Express in west Midtown.

Ghost Riders Car Club celebrates Vietnamese New Year with classic ’50s honkytonk and rockabilly every Thursday in February at Pho Truc in Clarkston. Listen to Tongo Hiti’s luxurious live lounge sounds, as well as some trippy takes on iconic pop songs, just about every Thursday night at Trader Vic’s. The Joe Gransden Trio is at Atmosphere from 7-10 p.m. And Breeze Kings play the blues at Northside Tavern.

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