Tag: Center for Puppetry Arts

Talk Art to Me: You’ve Got Mad Skills by Vito Leanza

 

Vito in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in a costume he designed and built.

“Any acrobatics? Tell us more about your rope spinning.”

How many of you have gone to an audition and have been asked similar questions by the folks behind the table at your audition? For me, personally, it happens all the time.

When I first moved to New York City in 1995 to pursue a career in Musical Theatre, the buzz word flying around was “Triple Threat.” For those who don’t know what that means, it refers to being a Singer, Dancer and Actor. What more could Producers and Directors want? That was the whole package!

Back then (and still true today) many dancers, were strictly dancers, some could sing, but their forte was dance. They were known as Dancers who
sing. Singers on the other hand, same scenario, were Singers who could dance or Singers Who Move Well. No one really asked you if you could act, they just assumed you could. They would know more if they handed you sides to study.

In todays competitive world of Musical Theatre, Film and Television, its almost demanded that we have a special skill to make us stand out, to land that role. This is true especially in Musical Theatre where shows are much more flashy, technical and exciting! Take the recent revival of Pippin! You get the picture? Our special skills are just as important as our singing/dancing and acting lessons.

Before I found my way into musical theatre, I just happen to have many special skills. I learned because I was interested in them, not because I needed them for my resume. Here’s my list of special skills that I love to rattle off to folks for fun, but they are all true.

I am a Singer/Dancer/Actor/ Acrobat/Puppeteer/Stilt Walker/Unicyclist/
Juggler/Improv Actor/Writer/Costume Designer. In fact at one point, below
my special skills on my resume, I was bold and wrote “Creative Beyond
Belief.”

Vito as an acrobat in Joseph and the
Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

I learned all these skills bit by bit as time went by. I learned how to ride a unicycle at age 9 because a unicycle club came and performed at my elementary school. As a kid, I was also a springboard diver. I competed in high school and was a scholarship athlete in college. I had always been acrobatic and one day, while hanging around my church gym, I took those diving skills and transferred them into tumbling skills, which lead me to being a Varsity Cheerleader for 3 years. After college, I worked at Walt Disney World where I learned how to be a puppeteer and stilt walker, which were jobs within my job as a character performer and dancer. Eventually that lead me to dance classes and Musical Theatre.

When I moved to NYC and had a real resume, I would be at auditions and the producers would glance down and look at my special skills and almost always ask about my acrobatics. In fact, I got 90% of my jobs because of my special skills.

In 1997, I auditioned for the national tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I went in and sang and they asked me to return for a call back. Before I walked away, something compelled me to speak up about being an acrobat. It’s important that when you have the opportunity to sell what makes you unique, you do it! The folks behind the table lit up and said when I returned for my callback, I could tumble for them. The next day at the dance call, they asked me to tumble and I did a few tricks for them. I got the job and spent 15 months on the road.

I am now in the Atlanta Gay Mens Chorus and currently working at Stone Mountain Park during their Pumpkin Festival. I was called in to audition at Stone Mountain Park after I was seen at Unifieds. I was asked to prepare a comedic monologue and a song. I did my monologue then sang my song. They (and there were 4 folks behind the table that day) looked down at my special skills and began to ask about each special skill one by one. One director literally said “Stop, I didn’t hear a word after you said Costume Designer.” He was still trying to process that when the others where already asking about my circus skills and my puppeteering. Clearly I got the job. But I actually got 3 separate jobs from that one audition. I was hired as a Puppeteer, an Improv Actor and a Costume Designer. Here’s the kicker, I am also riding my Unicycle in a parade as well as Juggling. 5 skills utilized!

Life is a journey. We learn new things that lead us to other new things. As performers, we have a world of opportunity to learn new special skills.
Atlanta has more and more quality theaters opening all the time, plus more tv shows and movies filming here. I encourage you to seek out a
Puppeteering class, an acrobatics/tumbling class, a circus skills class. Make yourself more marketable. There’s a reason it’s called a Play.

Vito holding a Shrek Dragon Puppet that he made.

Connect with Vito:

Email: vitoworld@yahoo.com
Website: http://vitoworldproductions.com/

Center for Puppetry Arts – C4 Atlanta Featured Member

There is always something going on at The Center…

The Center for Puppetry Arts is a staple of Atlanta’s arts community. Truly an Atlanta treasure, CPA preserves a long tradition of puppet making and performance; at the same time, CPA employs technologies that distributes their art form globally and fosters creative innovation through programs such as XPT (Xpertimental Puppetry Theatre), workshops and more. What I have always personally appreciated about CPA is their staff.  Always friendly. Always advocates for the arts. For example: Rainie Jueschke, CPA staff member, is always lending her voice in support of arts funding/advocacy. For smaller organizations, like C4 Atlanta, it means a lot to us to see the larger, more established organizations, speaking up for us all.

Photo of The Ghastly Dreadfuls: The Last Ghast plays Oct 11-27
The Ghastly Dreadfuls: The Last Ghast plays Oct 11-27

The Center has several exciting shows, workshops and more coming up in October–for all ages. Visit The Center again this fall. In the meantime, here is a little more about C4 Atlanta Featured Member, The Center for Puppetry Arts, in their own words (as answered by Marketing Director and C4 friend, Daniel Summers, Jr.)…

JH: How long has CPA been around?
DSJ: The Center opened in 1978 and we are proud to celebrate our 34th Anniversary this year. Since our inception, we’ve grown to include two theater spaces,rehearsal space, classroom spaces, museum exhibition galleries, puppet building shop, scene shop, two Distance Learning educational video-conferencing studios, and more. We’re not done yet.

 

JH: Why did CPA form?
DSJ: Vincent Anthony, our Founding Executive Director, was organizing a national convention of puppeteers when he realized that there was a need for a central hub for the puppetry community. He envisioned a place where the centuries-old art form could be recorded, where new trends and styles could be explored, and where both professional and the general public could learn more about the art of puppetry; these three tenets led to the formation of our Museum, Education, and Performance departments.

JH: I have seen more live performance show with puppets over the last few years. What
gives? Is this a trend?
DSJ: Well, puppetry has always been used in performances in numerous cultures; some argue that puppets were some of the first “performers” as puppets have been found in tombs and were used extensively in ancient ceremonies and rites.
Today, it does appear that puppets are being used more frequently again. These choices have been shaped by the great work of Jim Henson, Julie Taymor, and others. In fact, like we do here at the Center, shows like Sesame Street and the Muppet Show have always actively encouraged audiences to try their own hand at puppeteering and being creative.

JH: What is CPA’s vision for 5 years? 10 Years?
DSJ: Our vision is to be the premier puppetry center in the world. That’s right, you got it, the world. To do this, we have a four-year strategic plan, which can be downloaded from our website (http://www.puppet.org/about/who.shtml);
highlights include expanding our Museum, increasing our presence at community events and regional festivals, and expanding our Distance Learning and Outreach programming. We’re big believers in long-term, strategic planning.

JH: Why is Atlanta a good fit for CPA?
DSJ: To a degree, Atlantans have always appreciated the importance of arts and cultural programming; today, our metropolitan region has over 450 arts groups – and that’s not even counting our various community organizations. This sense of the importance of the arts, as well as the proximity to so much of the region (not to mention the world’s busiest airport), made Atlanta the perfect place to launch what has become the nation’s premiere nonprofit dedicated to the puppetry art form. Plus, while we are the ninth largest metropolitan area in the country, we’re still a small enough community that an organization of our size can have a very real, tangible impact. We have never wanted to be “just another arts center”; instead, we’ve always wanted to be a vital part of what makes Atlanta great.

JH: Who is CPA for?
DSJ:Simply put: Everyone. We are honored to be what is often a young child’s first cross-cultural performance

Photo of Fraggle Rock
Be sure to check out the Center’s exclusive Jim Henson exhibits that feature many iconic characters, including the Fraggles.

experience. We work with educators and local school districts so that we are an integral part of our community’s educational matrix, often providing much needed arts-infused educational experiences to balance with classroom curriculum. We present guest artists from around the world and present two different performance series so that children, teens, and adults can find something uniquely appealing. We teach a range of classes from beginner-level Create-A-Puppet Workshops to professional-level Puppet Building intensives. We offer continuing education and professional development courses for educators, performers, and artists. We represent the global art form of puppetry, showcasing how every culture has some form of puppetry within their unique cultural context.

JH: How does one get involved with CPA?
DSJ: We have numerous ways for the public to become more involved. Of course, the simplest way to become involved is to be a patron; the audience is as important a member of the show as the artists. If you want access to exclusive events aswell as a chance to become a donor, then look into becoming a Member of the Center. If you’re interested in learning more about puppetry, then attend one of our museum tours or a lecture or class in our Explore Puppetry Series. Can’tmake it to the Center, but want to involve us in your school or community– book a Distance Learning program or a Puppet Factory. Want to be a part of the creative process – become a participant or director in XPT (Xperimental Puppetry Theater). What’s more, every department at the Center relies on volunteersand interns to help with our daily operations as well as special projects; we are constantly looking for new volunteers and interns (http://www.puppet.org/ contribute/volunteer.shtml).

Happy patron from the Puppet Building Intensive. The Center offers great professional development workshops on a variety of puppetry topics.
Happy patron from the Puppet Building Intensive. The Center offers great professional development workshops on a variety of puppetry topics.

JH: How is CPA involved in the arts community? The community at large?
DSJ: The Center, and its staff, frequently work with area artists and arts groups to incorporate puppetry into their own productions and work. Additionally, it seems that many of Atlanta’s professional arts community have worked with the Center in some form or fashion during their careers; annually we employ about 60 full/part-time artists, designers, directors, painters, musicians, builders, stitchers, docents, curators, teaching artists, administrators, etc. For over 25 years, XPT has encouraged creativity and new works with participants from every walk of life and every level of skill.

Regarding the community at large, the Center is frequent guests at community festivals where we offer fun, educational activities that encourage creativity and an appreciation for the arts. Throughout a season, the Center supports the community at large by offering over 70,000 free or reduced tickets, as well as free museum days, so that everyone has the opportunity to explore puppetry. Each year we donate tickets to more than 400 local organizations for their own fundraising efforts.” 

Thank you, Daniel! And a big THANKS to the Center for Puppetry Arts for being a part of what makes Atlanta a great place to live!