Monday, March 10, 2008

A Celebration of Stories Book

This has been an exciting project that has taken almost two years to pull together. I started using stories in my shows a couple of years ago. The stories I tell are really silly and ones that kids can relate with. The stories in this book have been tested in front of audiences full of children of all ages. I’ve been amazed at the response I’ve been getting. There are some stories that I thought would just be good for younger children and, to my surprise, older children and adults have enjoyed them too. Story telling has completely changed the way I perform. Now I get an incredible response from every routine I do. So, I’ve compiled some of my favorite stories in this book.This book also encourages children to write stories of there own by explaining the key elements in a story. Children will learn about characters, setting, action and conclusion. They will also learn about important things like nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives.

This book encourages children to use their imaginations. It also teaches children if they can think of something or talk about something then they can write a story about it.

However, one of the most important things in this book is fun. Each story is written around an activity. Every story has a magic trick that kids can do using things they can find around the house, or they can learn how to build a puppet of one of the characters in the story.

This book will be available at my show or it can be ordered at

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

World Puppet

One of my main goals as a performer is to teach children to be tolerant. So, this world puppet will be able to help me talk about children all over the world. I think that building a world puppet has a lot of potential for humor. I should be able to poke him where China is and tickle him while I’m doing it. The actual puppet will be made a lot like a Muppet. It will be polyfoam with fleece over it… Now the question is, if the world could talk, what would it sound like?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wordsworth D. Worm

Almost all of my shows encourage children to read and I wanted a puppet to express that. I also wanted a puppet that was uniquely mine. In the past, I’ve purchased my puppets and there are a few other entertainers who have puppets like them. I thought about it for a while and decided that a bookworm was just perfect for that. Lots of libraries use a bookworm as a mascot, but none of them have a puppet. So, I spent the last month building Wordsworth D. Worm. He’s about four feet long because I wanted something very visual. Sometimes I perform for several hundred children at a time. His eyes move side to side and his antennas droop.

After looking up several pictures of bookworms I’ve found things that make a bookworm look like a bookworm. They are always green. They almost always wear glasses. And, many of them have the characteristics of snakes and caterpillars. This is why they are never pink like a normal worm. Finally, many of them have arms. I guess they need arms to hold books. I decided mine should have arms mostly because I wanted something else to move on the puppet.
The picture on the bottom is for my new business cards, brochures, and other material.

So, here he is, Wordsworth D. Worm.

Friday, May 04, 2007

A Celebration of Stories

I’m excited about this new show for 2008. I spend two years developing my presentations. The first year is research and development. I spend this time reading books on the subject and writing material. Then, I spend a year testing the material to make sure it is actually entertaining. That way I can guarantee a great show for a summer library kick off. The picture above is from a test show in Oklahoma.

Usually my goals in my shows are to have fun, while talking about a theme, while encouraging children to read. This time the theme is READING. This show will combine magic and puppetry to teach children what all the parts of a story are. Children will enjoy reading more if they know what it takes to make a good story. I’ll give fun examples of character, setting, action, and conclusion. This show also encourages children to write stories of their own.

While children are laughing along with a magic or puppet routine, they will learn about the different parts of a story. Here’s a taste of what that will be like.

Some stories focus on character. For example the story of the Three Happy Hamburgers has talking hamburgers and a vicious hamburger eating kangaroo.

Other stories focus on setting. The Haunted House is one of these stories. The setting is the front yard of a haunted house that has strange things in it such as pickles and porcupines.

Then there are stories that focus on action. I get to tell the story of How I Saved the World. Can I, Brett Roberts, save the world from an alien invasion by doing magic tricks? You’ll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Are Names Important?

“What's in a name? That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet”

Shakespeare didn’t seem to think names are important, but I tend to disagree. The title of a show is the introduction to the show. First impressions are important. When writing a paper, the heading is what grabs the attention of the reader. The sub heading gives a little more information, but if the heading isn’t interesting, no one will read the paper. It’s the same thing when developing the title of a show. The first thing that an audience will see is the title of a show. Sometimes they will come and see a show just based on that. A show can seem good or bad, just depending on the title.

For example, in my house, I’m the one who cooks dinner. I get tired of cooking the same thing all the time so sometimes I try something different. I told my kids that I was going to make chicken parmigiana.

They said, “Eww! That sounds gross!”

So I said, “Okay, I’ll make chicken spaghetti instead.”

They got excited. They like chicken. They like spaghetti. The two together sounded pretty good to them…. So, I cooked exactly the same meal I was planning all along. I just called it something different.

There are different kinds of shows available in the world of educational entertainment. There are story tellers, puppeteers, singers, musicians, etc. Kids get more excited about some shows more than others. Out of all these shows, the ones with live animals probably get kids the most interested. Magicians probably come in second place. Sadly enough, puppeteers don’t stir a lot of interest. Most puppeteers I know are talented performers and puppetry is a very legitimate art form. But shows like Barney have made people believe that puppetry is just for young children. This is a sad fact that seems to be uniquely American. I actually performed a show once where a sign outside said, “Puppet Show, 3:00pm”… I only had about ten people at that show while most of my shows have at least a hundred. My shows happen to be variety shows with magic, puppetry, and story telling. However, I like to use the word “magic” in the title because that’s what kids are interested in.

This may sound egotistical, but I’m a celebrity. Not a big celebrity, but people do know who I am. During the summer, families will follow me from city to city. I’m always honored when people tell me that they do that. My name is one that people recognize. So it’s important that my name is used in the show’s title.

Sometimes a show’s title can be too clever to be useful. It’s important that a show be creative and original, but if the title is too clever then people might not understand it. For example, the movies “Jaws” and “Star Wars” have really simple titles. Simple is always best. Once people see the show then they can understand what it’s all about. The title is just there to get them in the door.

A show’s title is used to get people interested in the show. The aspects of that show that are attractive should be used in that title. And, simple is always best. So for me, a title like “The Magic of Brett Roberts” works best.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Muppet Mobile Lab

I just love mixing puppetry with technology. One of my first jobs as a puppeteer was operating animatronic characters for Showbiz Pizza Place. The Muppet Mobile Lab is very similar, although the technology is a lot better. This “puppet” has misters that spray water all around the car. It blows bubbles. It smokes. And, it can spray water out the front…. And, what is really groovy, is that it balances on two wheels. The actual Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker characters move fairly well. Bunsen’s body moves around and his head moves in all the directions it should. Beaker can just turn his head and move his mouth. He can also do that funny thing where he pulls his head into his shirt. I personally would like to see something horrible happen to Beaker, but no one asked me. The Mobile Lab works two different ways. It has preprogrammed skits that are pretty funny and, the puppeteer can improv. The improv was not as funny. I’m told that it’s actually Dave Goelz who provides the voice. If this is so, I think that’s great. He created the voice and mannerisms. It’s his character. However, I think it’s probably just a collage kid, who works for Disney, operating it.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Scientific Method for Choosing a Puppet

I use puppetry in almost all of my shows. While I used to build all the puppets in my shows, recently I've been buying them. I'm very picky about the puppets I use.

There are two theories that can be used for choosing, or better yet designing, a puppet that people can relate with. One is “The Magic Triangle” and the other is “The Uncanny Valley”.

First, The Magic Triangle is a technique Jim Henson used in designing puppets for television. He was the first person to realize that eye contact is important, even for a puppet. His characters were designed to look right into the television camera. What the Magic Triangle refers to is an imaginary triangle that can be drawn from the characters pupils to the characters nose. The sides of the triangle should be equal. Ernie, on Sesame Street, is a perfect example of this. Ernie’s eyes are actually crossed. However, they are only crossed enough to give the illusion that he is looking right at the child watching television at home. The Magic Triangle has a significant psychological impact on anyone watching the puppet. Public speakers maintain eye contact with their audience. This is just as important for puppets.

Second, the Uncanny Valley is a principle concerning the emotional response of humans to non-human entities. It was theorized by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970. It says that the more human-like a non human ententy is the more we can relate with it. However there is a point where a non-human object becomes too human-like and we are repulsed by it. If an object is nonhuman, but hase some human characteristics, then we notice the human-like characteristics and we are attrcted to it. However, if an object appears almost human then we notice the features that make it non-human and it appears strange to us. A teddy bear is a non human object. It has eyes and a mouth so we are attracted to it. A corps looks human, but we immediately notice the characteristics that make it non-living, so it makes us feel uneasy. This is why puppets that are more cartoon-like are more desirable than realistic looking ventraliquist dummies.

Mori’s theory also states that movement implies life. His familuarity chart changed dramatically when the non-human object was animated. Acording to his chart, we are very atracted to Bunraku puppets, because they move so much like a humans.

So, a puppet that can make eye contact, moves in a believable manner, and is realistic, but not maniquin-like is a likable character that people can relate with.