Creating a Caterpillar Puppet

The upcoming Uncommon Loons/Grand Rapids Showboat production of ‘Ziibi’ involves a large caterpillar puppet. As with most of the costumes, props and puppets in this show, we hope each element will be its own piece of art. The caterpillar will be a type of marionette with its skin dyed with batik techniques. Here is a log of our process. I’m not experienced in batik or puppet construction, so we are learning as we go. Here’s to trial and error augmented by rigorous research!

Step 1: Cutting the fabric to size and stretching it on a temporary frame. image(3)

Step 2: Drawing a pattern out on paper. Inked in black marker so that it can be seen through the fabric when we flip the frame over onto it.


Step 3: Flip the stretched fabric onto the pattern. Trace the lines in wax. This took three tries to get it right. The first two attempts were not perfect, as the wax didn’t soak through the fabric entirely in some spots. This allowed dye colors to bleed into each other later in the process. The lesson learned: keep the wax hot and move slowly so it can soak through. Straight lines are tempting to do quickly, but the end quality will suffer for it.


Step 4: Brush the dye onto the fabric within the wax outlines.

Step 5: The wax was removed with an iron and newspaper. At this point I should have put the fabric in hot water bath to get rid of the rest of the wax, but with a test wash another piece dyed the same way had bled into one piece of gray fabric blah. So we left it as-is and water-proofed it with clear silicone spray.

After this, I didn’t keep detailed photos of the process, but then the fabric was stitched lengthwise and gave it ribs and form with 7″ metal rings stitched in. The front and back were made from recycled milk jugs cut down, antennae made from foam backer rod.

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Photo from the show in August 2015:


Caterpillar in performance. Photo credit: Jennifer Mariano


Caterpillar in performance. Photo credit: Jennifer Mariano

The Making of a Moose

moose stilts

Concept of moose stilts and costume

The show ‘Ziibi’ we are creating with Grand Rapids Showboat, Inc. is going to be a spectacular performance celebrating life on the river with a lot of treats for the eyes and the ears. Among other elements, we’ll be exploring with stilt walking and puppetry. One element will be crossing the two. Here’s a peek at a life-size moose we plan to build for a performer to wear/manipulate. It seems to work on paper. We’ll see how it stands the test of a physical reality.

Moose Stilts

Stilt schematics

Thankfully cosplayers who like to dress up as werewolves, satyrs, and other creatures have figured out how to turn human legs into animal legs. With a few adaptations and the addition of crutch-like forelegs this still seems feasible on paper.

Antler sketch

Antler sketch

The moose head will be suspended out beyond the actual head of the actor and so the puppet head and antlers will need to be light weight. I’m looking at a 1/2″ or 3/4″ PVC skeleton and fabric with stiff interfacing for the mass of the antlers. The head will likely be a similar construction. In the end it must be light so that the actor can easily move the moose head by moving his own head.



Loons in Residence

Uncommon Loons Theatre Company

Old Central SchoolWell it’s official! The Uncommon Loons will be artists in residence at Old Central School on the third floor for the next three months!

What will we be working on, you ask? Great question! We will be working on Ziibi!

What is Ziibi, you ask? Another great question! First off, the easy answer: ziibi is the Anishinaabe/Ojibwe word for river. It’s the ‘ssippi’ in ‘Mississippi’. Ziibi means river.

What is Ziibi in our context? Ziibi is an upcoming spectacular theatrical production that celebrates life on the river. This is idea we’ve paddling around for some time… since last winter/spring, actually. We were looking at doing Ziibi for summer 2014, but we already had a Shakespeare in the Park project in the wings; with the scope of this adventure we wanted plenty of time to pull it all together. Ziibi is a show that we are creating as…

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Dancing with the Stars

Project: Choreograph, rehearse, and perform an original piece with a high school dance student.

Status: Completed!

The Narrative:

March 8, 2013

Our local performing venue and dance program does its own local version of Dancing with the Stars. This year I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to be a part of it! I’ve been working with Vienna Goad on choreography for Jailhouse Rock. Tech rehearsal is tonight (Friday) and the curtain opens at the Reif Center tomorrow, March 9. Here’s hoping for the win! If not the trophy, then we will hopefully be at least entertaining for the audience.


March 9, 2013

We won! It was great watching the Reif dance company and dancers from the James Sewell Ballet perform. Then at the end of the evening the four of us guys and our partners danced our pieces in succession. It was a great experience and in its 5th or 6th year now, I hope the Reif continues to do Dancing with Our Stars.

Link to newspaper article here.