Category Archives: Cool people

“It’s Been Five Years, Dog!” -

Our recent performance of The Man Who Planted Trees (the 100th of this North American tour) at the Millennium Place Theatre in Whistler marked the 5th anniversary of touring with this show. There is snow on the mountains of British Columbia and it’s a long way in terms of ocean, altitude and years of accumulated experience since we first performed The Man Who Planted Trees at the Columcille Centre in Morningside in May 2006.

At that time, we had six shows scheduled at various schools, summer festivals and outdoor events followed by a Fringe run to round things off. Little did we know that that was just the beginning. Approaching 1,500 performances later, it’s still a rewarding and enjoyable experience to tell Jean Giono’s story to each new audience. Dog’s repertoire of jokes and insights has expanded, the set has undergone a rolling restoration, and the original costumes still fit (at a squeeze!).

To mark the 5th birthday we have made a video montage of photos from many wonderful, varied tour locations. We weren’t able to include each venue but it’s a tribute to everyone whose support has kept the show on the road.

And while we’ve been thinking for a while that ‘the next show’ will be about one of Scotland’s most influential sons, we’ve just recently given our ideas a working title –  America in the Morning: John Muir – One Wild and Precious Life.

John Muir was a man of extraordinary talents, including one for getting himself into (and usually out of) apparently impossible situations. He would become a world-famous naturalist, explorer, inventor of bizarre machines, a prolific writer and pioneer of the conservation movement, but in 1849 he was an eleven year old schoolboy with an insatiable thirst for adventure, living in a small town in Scotland, when one evening his father announced “We’re gan to America the morn!”

Development time will fit in around existing Man Who Planted Trees dates which include a 2-week 2011 Edinburgh Fringe run, our first performances of the show in French at the puppetry festival in Charleville, a Fall USA tour with a return to the Lincoln Center Institute, and a Spring 2012 North America tour. We plan to premiere the new show at the Fringe in 2012. We’re interested in new and existing partnerships for this project and continue to work with our agents Holden & Arts for North American touring.

Meanwhile, many thanks again to everyone who has played a part in this semi-scripted, semi-improvised adventure. If you’d like to stay tuned, see the links below where you can ‘like’ us on facebook, subscribe to our blog or have a look at our website (which we promise will look substantially more groovy come festival time!).

Oh and what about those pictures from Seattle that we promised? Here’s a selection with wistful music evoking the (admittedly only occasionally) wet weather of Washington State by the wonderful, Edinburgh-based singer songwriter Emily Scott.

And where are our next public shows? In the USA, it’s St Paul, Minnesota on 4th & 5th June. And in the UK, it’s in Bristol at the World Stage Festival 8-10th July.

Finally, if you’d like to hear about our next blog post – including  a wonderful pre-show lecture from the Chicago Humanities Festival – sign up through the ‘Email Subscription’ button over there —>

Thanks for swinging by!

Whizzing Across The Map -

I hope you enjoy clicking above on the video whistle-stop view of where the tour took us in March. (It’s made using a snazzy slideshow feature that comes with iPhoto ’11 in case you were wondering.)

Thanks in New Bedford go to the Zeiterion Theatre and the Whaling Museum as well as Ailie Cohen’s family and friends who took good care of us there. Don Cuddy wrote a lovely piece about our show for the regional press. (Oh and Elspeth’s grubby nose is from overly keen sniffing of ambergris.)

Congratulations to Leslee Silverman at Manitoba Theatre for Young People on getting a big national award while we were there. And to MTYP’s Derek Aasland for valiantly fielding headaches relating to shipping our set from Canada to New York while we were on our break in Georgia.

The Atlanta spell was a break between performing engagements when we enjoyed the hospitality and company of Rick’s family and friends. (Elspeth made the spring-themed
painted poem plate at All Fired Up.)

In Kingston we performed courtesy of Bardavon Theater (where Mark Twain used to perform) at Ulster Performing Arts Center (where Garrison Keillor was on stage the day after us). The puppet in the slideshow who looks like Elzeard Bouffier’s girlfriend was made by Grian MacGregor of Ivy Vine Players. Many thanks to Kay Churchill for welcoming us warmly and sending us away with special stuff from Tuthilltown Distillery, New York’s first legal whiskey distillery since prohibition.

(And we didn’t visit the Yankees Stadium, by the way. But it was a landmark on our way upstate.)

Talking of baseball, however, we’re in Seattle right now and have just tonight seen the dress rehearsal at Seattle Children’s Theatre of the fabulous civil rights baseball drama Jackie And Me. Wonderful wonderful stuff!

There will be pictures and music to come from our lovely long run in Seattle. But for now, two reviews: one from Seattle’s Child (“No Mom, not funny,” my 8-year-old corrects me. “Hysterical!”) and one from The Seattle Times. My favourite pull-out quote: “And it smells good, too.”

(And the North American tour tally up until Kingston: 33 performances to over 6,000 people. That’s not including the Seattle shows. With them included – 69 shows for well over 15,000 people!)

A New York State Start to the 2011 Tour -

We’re 10 days and 11 shows into a 107 show tour of North America with The Man Who Planted Trees that takes us through till June.

Our first shows in Albany, NY were our last chance to say “our last gig before this was at the Sydney Opera House”. You might not believe this, having not read anything about it here but look – here’s reliable evidence:

Dog at Sydney Opera House

Dog at Sydney Opera House

So, Albany also has a distinctive performance space with iconic architectural features – Steamer Number 10 Theatre. Check out the quaint drawbridge … and the weather!

Steamer Number 10 Theatre

Steamer Number 10 Theatre

Because of the snow, many people who had booked tickets were unable to come which was a shame. But we were delighted to see folk who braved the knee-deep for a dose of warm French storytelling and evocations of the plains of Provence.

At Flushing Town Hall, as well as several performances, we took part in two workshops. One pre-show workshop for adults and children involved sock puppet making while the other was a masterclass with professional puppeteers from New York City. In a short time we saw some brilliant work and look forward to keeping in touch with people so we can see more from them in the future.

Masterclass with Professional Puppeteers at Flushing Town Hall

Masterclass with Professional Puppeteers at Flushing Town Hall (Photo: Steven McIntosh)

While not far from Manhattan, we only had the briefest chance to get a hit of the big city. However, we made it to the last night of Lily of the Conservative Ladies by Glass Beads Theatre Ensemble starring our actor, writer, puppeteer friend Danna Call.

And as a bonus, in the subway at Times Square, our favourite Beatles tribute band The Meetles were performing to a crowd of smiling, twisting, shouting passengers happy to press pause on their busy journeys.

Occasionally after our shows we meet young folk who are particularly keen on theatre and puppetry and at The Tilles Center at Long Island University we were honoured to meet Madeline. Here she is with a fabulous puppet she made of herself. She and a friend are currently working on their own adaptation of The Man Who Planted Trees and we are hoping later to see a video of their piece.

Madeline and Madeline

Madeline and Madeline

Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center was a little gem of a venue, and one that attracts big names to perform in its beautiful intimate auditorium. We were sorry to near-miss Robert Cray, Garrison Keillor and Patti LuPone, among others.

Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center

Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center

We left Long Island by ferry and now we’re in Massachusets where our next shows are at the New Bedford Whaling Museum under the auspicious umbrella of the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center. We delighted to be hosted by Puppet State extended family, Scott and Chrissy, brother and sister-in-law of Ailie Cohen who designed and built most of the puppets and set. Their friend Don wrote this lovely preview for our Sunday show.

Dog and Jean

Our next stop is Winnipeg at Manitoba Theatre for Young People. You can see a list of all our tour dates here.

Meanwhile, you might like to visit The Man Who Planted Trees group on Facebook or go ahead and click ‘like’ on the Puppet State page.

Celebrities are People we Celebrate -

Celebrities are everywhere in New York. And California for that matter. And we’ve had the whole Oscars thing happening while we’ve been here too. Our very own celebrities, though, are the people we’ve been meeting on our travels who we appreciate & celebrate, people who enhance our journey in so many ways.

Here are some of our stars – in the now-familiar 5-chunk blog post. In a busy world this seems to help both me as blogger to serve up and you as reader to digest. (And let’s just pretend – lazy snackers & grazers that we are – that five-course meals are what we eat all the time.)

1) Funny Guys & Film-Makers

Rick Conte is indisputably The Funny One in the cast of The Man Who Planted Trees, which has got to be a big part of why this show has such longevity (4 years old in May). So, few surprises perhaps that Rick’s LA-based high school buddy Eric Hunter is now a stand-up comedian. (Here’s Eric’s MySpace page). Eric and his groovy wife Michelle were great fun to hang out with on more than one occasion, most memorably taking us to TNT or Tuesday Night Thunder, an improvised comedy night in Hollywood where Michelle and her quick-witted team were performing to a full house of hooting, hollering Hollywooders.

Rick, Eric and Michelle

Rick, Eric and Michelle

Etana Jacobson, a friend of Elspeth’s from Edinburgh University days in 89-90 also joined us that night for laughs – and beers and Malibus at a warped kind of English pub on Sunset Strip called The Coach and Horses. Etana gained Man Who Planted Trees karma by filming several performances at the Edinburgh Fringe back in 2007 and is working now both in films and as a writer for video games. While Rick was rollerblading in Santa Monica and Richard was reading a book at a cafe by the shore, Elspeth and Etana saw the sights at Malibu’s Zuma Beach: surfers, dolphins, hawks circling with still-twitching prey, clifftop abseilers, a stunning sunset and a beachwear (then a no-beachwear!) photoshoot.

2) Bookers & Fans

It’s fair to say that most people who book The Man Who Planted Trees do so because they are in favour of it and that most audiences who see the show leave pretty happy . But we’ve been especially impressed by the enthusiasm of certain promoters – Jason and Peg, this is for you guys, are you ready? – and there have been some folks who have come back to see the show again and again – Ethan and Leslie … we’re talking about YOU!

Jason Holland, Manager of Education Programs at Orange County Performing Arts Center and Peg Schuler Armstrong, Production General Manager at the Lincoln Center Institute both signed up their esteemed organisations to have us after they’d seen the show at the IPAY showcase in Cleveland in 2009. (Freezing, it was, freezing!) Not overlooking the many other super people we met in Ohio, there’s something really nice about hearing from Peg, “Say Hi to Jason for me” and Jason in return sending us to New York with hugs for Peg. Jason and Peg reminded us that there is an active and friendly network of clued-up people in the USA who appreciate live theatre and the need for high quality provision of arts education. Long may IPAY – and other artsy orgs – keep that aim to the fore.

Ethan and Leslie live in LA and came to see the show in Edinburgh a couple of years ago. They got in touch when they saw that we were coming to California and brought friends. And they came again for one of the weekend shows. There’s dedication! We are honoured and really grateful for your  support and enthusiasm.

Ethan and Leslie

Ethan and Leslie

3) The Music Makers

Christian Muthspiel, who we were lucky to meet at Montalvo Arts Center in California right at the start of the tour, invited us to come to hear him play in New York. And we did. And we were very glad that we did. At the Austrian Cultural Forum (an incredible modern building by the way, super slim, super high and highly noteworthy) we saw Christian led a quintet playing his recently commissioned pieces inspired by Austrian yodel tunes. Amazing! Rich swathes of muted brass suggested alpine meadows while the rhythm section carried me leaping over fences into electro-accoustic fluidity with Frank Tortiller’s vibraphones stilling the rushing waters and Christian’s sampled trombone sounds wriggling towards cymbal shimmers that came from nowhere and left the audience stimulated and delighted.

Christian Muthspiel takes a bow

Christian Muthspiel takes a bow

And the next night – treat upon treat – Christian’s performance of fur und mit ernst playing and sampling solo trombone and piano with recordings of poet Ernst Jandl reading his own work. This was for Richard and me (both performance poets with a keen interest in musical collaborations) the most exciting combination of poetry and music either of us had heard. A really thrilling performance.

At the reception following the yodel jazz, Bobby Previte the drummer and Andrea Kleine, writer and performance artisit, made sure we were aware of the culinary delights that the Upper West Side of NYC has to offer and planted the excellent idea for a road trip at the end of the tour.

Andrea and Bobby

Andrea Kleine and Bobby Previte

A very different musical highlight in New York City is The Meetles, a busking outfit who specialise in Beatles songs. They don’t wear mop top wigs. They don’t sing in pseudo-Scouse accents. There are usually a lot more than four of them. And they are Fabulous! You can see a video of them twisting and shouting subway goers into a frenzy here – and below, at Strawberry Fields in Central Park, this little girl demonstrates that All You Need is Love. And sparkly pink shoes. And permission to dance.

4) The New Victorians

Last time we were in New York, we were playing at The New Victory, Broadway’s children’s theatre (sorry, theater) as part of their Scottish Season. It was wonderful to reconnect with their Director of Programming, Mary Rose Lloyd and her super switched-on husband, Derek who is Production Manager at the groovy East Village performance space PS122 (where they filmed scenes for Fame the movie) and their lovely puppeteer pal Danna Call. (Here is some vintage 2009 footage of Mary interviewing Dog – brave woman!)

Thanks to the uber-able Laura Hamilton, who fixed us up with tickets, we went to see The Complete Works of Shakespeare by the renowned Reduced Shakespeare Theatre Company. And thanks to the fact that Richard and Elspeth were seated right near the front, Richard was perfectly placed to be ‘invited’ on stage to help dramatise Ophelia’s dilemma vis a vis Hamlet by repeatedly running across the stage, which he did brilliantly even though being on stage and not being quite sure what you’re meant to be doing there is a performer’s irksome anxiety dream, if not nightmare.

The show was superb and we highly recommend you to see this company whenever you get the chance. And they are such nice people too. Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin from the original cast were joined for this show by the peppy Matt Rippy. It was Reed’s wife Jane Martin who I (Elspeth) was most glad to meet, however. As General Manager of the company – and cast wife – she has many of the same multifarious jobs that I do. I’m going to take her up on her offer to give her a buzz when things feel too multifarious on the road. And I might also nick her job title rather than playing switch-the-hats with Stage Manager, Production Manager and Office Manager.

5) The Lincoln Instituters

So apart from the music and the Shakespeare and multifariousness, what have we been DOING in New York? Well, shows. Twenty of them – shows number 16-26 of this tour (and number 1116-1126 in total ever – approx) at the Lincoln Center Institute, which is a centre of excellence when it comes to arts education, particularly education that encourages a meaningful and deep appreciation of live art.

Richard and Rick answer teachers' questions at the LCI

Richard and Rick answer teachers' questions at the LCI

Pupils and teachers from many New York schools have come to see The Man Who Planted Trees having worked with their teachers and Lincoln Center Institute teaching artists to consider some of the themes and artforms it involves. And following the show, they’ve carried on with their engaged explorations. The range of ages who have been doing this has been amazing – from pre-kindergarten (an age we’d normally shrink from but were sweet, well-behaved and great) to 10th grade who are huge, almost-adult inner city teenagers.

All the staff who we’ve dealt with there have been wonderful. On the production side, Eliza, Jamien, Brina, David and Keith have all been friendly, thoughtful and thoroughly professional. On the education side of things, Patty, John, Christopher and teaching artists Alexandra and Jean have shown us that this is really where it’s happening. And Peg – once more I celebrate Peg for giving me as a teaching artist myself the great opportunity to go into one of the classrooms to see exactly how it’s happening.

The High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry was set up by the Lincoln Center Institute and is right over the road in Martin Luther King High School campus. Their 9th grade class have been working with the inspiring Jean Taylor and their highly encouraging teacher Christina Procter, learning about a wide range of puppetry forms and a variety of styles of poetry. What they noticed when they saw the show has since informed their puppetry making and poetry writing and they are combining these in short films where their fictionalised puppet self dramatises one of their poems.

Ray from HSAII with his two of his puppets

Ray from HSAII with his two of his puppets

Here are a few links for those of you who’d like to find out more about the imaginative work that the Lincoln Center Institute are doing:

Aesthetic Education, Inquiry and the Imagination (PDF download)

Online courses dedicated to inquiry, imagination, and arts and education

LCI’s Imagination conversations across the USA

So, three cheers (or should that be five?) to everyone who’s helped us have an inspiring and enjoyable time on tour in California and New York City. Next stop – New Jersey, upstate New York and Vermont. See you soon!

5 Good Ways to Begin a Tour -

1) Have it All Pan Out in San Fran

There’s a lot of trust involved in setting off with all your goods & chattels bagged up in the hope of getting to a precise spot thousands of miles away and performing a show. Even if it’s a show that’s been on the road for nearly four years already. There’s brand new, as-yet-untested bits of kit here, remember.

Almost all our bags arrived at the same time as we did.

Well, we reached San Francisco at night on 8th Feb after a super-long voyage. Elspeth’s suitcase showed up a day or so late, but sometimes it’s nice to discover that there’s zero option about what to wear. And on this leg of the trip, we were not stung for excess baggage either.

For our day in San Fran the sun shone and we saw as much as we could in a short space of time.

The view across the Golden Gate Bridge from Vista Point

Painted Ladies

San Francisco Skyline with 'Painted Ladies'

Great Thai food. But what they call 'medium spicy' is HOT!

We were pleased to pick up a shiny red hire car into which everything fits beautifully. It’s a Dodge Grand Caravan.

Richard with the Dodge Grand Caravan

The car hire woman said Richard looked like a grown-up version of Harry Potter!

And the GPS/sat nav thingy guided us like magic to our first venue.

2) Reside At Your First Venue (Which Should Be Beautiful and Scenic)

Montalvo Arts Center is a beautiful place. The Carriage House Theater is part of Montalvo Villa which was built in 1912 by California’s first elected Senator, James Phelan.

Carriage House

Carriage House Theater, Montalvo Arts Center

Lucas Artist Residencies

These are the two artist residencies where Rick, Richard & Elspeth stayed at Montalvo

3) Have a Hassle-Free Set-Up and Great Audiences

Neat Workshop

You've gotta love an organised workshop space when there's things to glue and stick.


And nothing gets creases out of hessian/burlap better than - or cheers up a stage manger like - a steamer!

The Man Who Planted Trees - Stage shot

Four performances with great audiences, hoots of laughter and pin-drop silences.

Dog in basket after the shows

Dog, relaxing post-show, is pleased with how it went.

4) Hang Out With Very Cool Artists

The Lucas Artist Residency Program at Montalvo means that there are a bunch of very cool, accomplished artists living here and we really enjoyed spending time with them. Particularly cool is the fact that there’s a ‘Culinary Fellow’ here – Michelle Fuerst – who cooks aMAzing meals for the artists. So there are three composers at the moment: Christian Muthspiel, Richard Marriott and Eve Beglarian. Nicole Schmoelzer is a visual artist who’s our next door neighbour here in the leafy glen – her and her amazing canvases drying in the sunshine. And Violet Juno is a performance artist who has shared her work with us during highly entertaining evenings of food and laughter.

Eve Beglarian

Eve in her studio. Thanks for the coffee!

Rick post-show

Rick with Nicole, Richard and Violet after a show

We’re sad to leave and hope to keep in touch with all these guys!

5) Extraneous Adventures in the Neighbourhood

Before we left, everyone was saying ‘You’re going to California, how exciting!’. Rick had been here before but Richard and Elspeth hadn’t and were withholding judgment until we saw what it was like. Well – it’s fantastic! We’ve enjoyed the quaint, kooky delights of local Los Gatos and took a trip up the coast past Ano Nuevo up to Half Moon Bay. Rick had a quick dip in the ocean and luckily got out before the rip tide dragged him away. Richard fell in love with a sleek, vintage Volvo – and the pelicans. And Elspeth accidentally stood on a dead seal.

Redwood Bay

Rick's dip

Rick's Heroic Dip in the Ocean

Elspeth silhouette

Elspeth getting over the dead seal experience

Rick, Elspeth, Richard

Onwards now towards Orange County. With a stop-off at Carmel by the Sea. More swimming? We’ll see!



See more photos on flickr »