The Puppeteer featuring Kat Van Cleave

by | Jun 28, 2021 | 0 comments


As you might have noticed, or perhaps not, it’s been a minute since our last edition. With the states finally opening up, Summer street and studio session have been in full force. Pepper in a few commercial fashion and food campaigns to boot, prepping KNY’s Hamptons edition coming out next month (one you won’t want to miss), we thought we’d slow it down just a bit for this edition in the studio with Kat, Russ, Karjaka and choice.

He gently grabbed her face with one hand. No, like this she said, and proceeded to aggressively mush her face with his hand. Russ snapped away with Karjaka pulling the strings.

Muses come in odd forms. Rarely do we get to go full Mush Face. While some photographers and directors tout they “just mold clay”, I have even said this on occasion, however mush face is an extreme we’re dying to have. “Just do this here damn it,…hold this there, higher,… say this,… don’t do that”… and so on. Great art doesn’t live in the middle. It lives in the extremes. On or off, black or white, close up, far away, it’s aggressively extreme and in your face, and by that I mean mush face, or something soft and sweet in the eyes. Regardless of what, it is a choice.

Back here in the real world we’re never that lucky. Instead we test our patience and wait for our moment to push, pull, nudge, yell, whisper, berate and congratulate. Yes, berate. Meanwhile, always echoing in the recesses of my mind echo the words of Schempf from my music school days…

Remember, the act of active participation in not doing is often stronger and more deliberate act of doing. In not doing, we let something rest and finds its energy by letting it be and possibly guiding it if need be.

Kevin Schempf

With an hour or so to kill between clients in the studio, Kat, Karjaka and Russ sat for a second and strings began to tug, a choice was made, a face began to mush.

The magic of any artist is guiding his or her subject to the desired art in his/her mind. Clients always have an idea of what they want, but they, usually, leave it up to the artist themselves to get there. And when it’s forced by a model, client, corporate and the like, usually the end result is lacking. unsatisfactory or unfulfilling, take your pick.

We’re puppeteers. Masters of misdirection, we guide you through a bizarre journey beyond everyday life for those we are capturing, to create something bigger than social media and a scroll feed. While I hold my breath for the day you walk in say, have your way with me, let’s just create something fabulous, I’ll instead play the puppeteer with the gang and pull strings to pose you in perfect light.

Choose aggressively. Get mushy with me. Get Karjaka Face.

CARs: Your Mornings on MODERN Day Steroids.

The benefit of Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs) with CRAIG THOMAS

I like to think of CARs like the good 80’s version of Karate Kid (not the remake—there’s only one Pat Morita).  CARs serve a higher purpose in that they fine-tune the body to allow for bigger and greater things.  But, just like the “wax-on, wax-off” idea, CARs is the behind the scenes homework that is the driver for bigger and more grandiose possibilities.  I use it both as the opener to my day physically and as a sort of meditation and presence of mind.  The more efficient and better I get at movement capacity, the more calm and open my mind is and the more “centered” I feel.

Most of us who strength train, run, hike, climb, swim or any other physical endeavor usually do some sort of prepared ritual beforehand.  Whichever protocol we have decided to use is what we think best gets our bodies ready for the rigors of performance.  Warming up before starting a strength training session at the gym has long been known to facilitate blood flow to tissues and prep muscles and joints for ensuing stressors to ultimately reduce the chance of injury.  It’s been generally understood that preparing the body for the adaptations that strength training—of any sort—is a wise habit to adopt.  

There are many different philosophies on which methods are best: hopping on cardio equipment for 5-10 minutes, dynamic stretching, breathing exercises and even repositioning techniques like the postural restoration institute (PRI) proposes.  None are bad choices.  But I believe the Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs) sequence is the most optimal and prepares your body for the greatest range of motion it can achieve.  

The CARs battery is the backbone of the Functional Range and Kinstretch systems.  It is rooted in tons of science and works as a self screening process on how available a joint is to perform a demand of resistance.  It tests the limits and available space that a joint can use and allows the athlete to know ahead of time what he or she can expect to be able to do. It’s a sort of self examination that can be done any time of the day—I do them multiple times—and can even be used to enhance the current range of motion.  

The CARs protocol is broken up into segments of the body:  cervical and thoracic spine, scapula, elbows, wrist, glenohumeral joint, hip, knee, tibia, patella, ankle and toes.  Fingers can even be practiced.  Good coaches can detect most compensation patterns and help the athlete figure out what joint his or her body is having trouble controlling.  Breaking down the specifics of each CAR is what should be focused on to maximize each specific joint’s capacity. And as I get more full and clean movements, I can work on specific segments of the joint that I may have trouble with.  I become my own teacher in how my body can honestly move something without compensation and how available and prepared my body can be in specific positions like squats, overhead loading positions or any twisting demands.


The beauty about the CARs routine is that it’s portable, doesn’t require any tools, and can travel with you wherever you go.  It can be modified, rearranged, slowed down or sped up. It can be used with or without props or assistance materials (such as a wall or a stick).  It does, however, require specific requirements when making the full movements during the initial learning time period.  But it’s meant to be with you for the rest of your life as your own personal guide and “virtual” screening assistant.      

CARs is my morning wake up call to get going.  Feeling my body fully both in trying to move specific joints and also not allowing others to come along for the ride allows me to understand what it’s like to be in control of my movements before I start my day.  It helps to both conserve energy through less superfluous body compensations and improve energy flow by recruiting on the muscles that cross that joint.  Efficient.  Simple.  Effective.  

Broadway: We Have a Comedy Problem

You know what’s funny about Broadway? Nothing’s funny about Broadway. At least not anymore. A quick glance at the current lineup for the grand reopening of New York theatre will indicate more drama than in the male ensemble dressing room at “Kinky Boots.” And not “fun” drama like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” or “The Sopranos,” I mean angry, political, “important” drama. The upcoming theatre season in New York makes “Nomadland” look like “Ace Ventura.” That’s not to say there isn’t anything lighthearted happening on the Great White Way. “Mrs. Doubtfire” is an unabashed farce, the hit musical “Six” is more upbeat than not, and the long running Disney commodities aren’t exactly Eugene O’Neill plays. Still, one can’t help but notice a palpable dearth of the good old-fashioned comedy on the Broadway stage. And it’s not just big budget productions either. Many Off-Broadway houses have announced programming that looks more like the Democratic National Convention than theatre seasons, tackling every issue known to man from gay rights to racism to abuse–scripts intended to “raise awareness” or push every agenda other than comedic escape or generalized merriment. While I am happy to report far more comedy happening in places outside of New York–regional houses and even community theatres seem more intent on bringing happy shows to people–it might be time for the New York theatre community to deal with topics other than gun control and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. 

This begs the question: why is theatre so serious?  I don’t necessarily think that there is a shortage of desire to make people laugh. Television still, thank God, is producing regularly hilarious content. But a cursory dive into the arts scene reveals that Broadway is fundamentally averse to the idea of humor in 2021. It’s not just us, it’s happening in film too. Of the 2020 Best Picture Oscar nominees, there wasn’t a single comedy. “Requiem for a Dream” would’ve looked hilarious next to these films. Why are we scared of comedy right now? Is it because we think we aren’t allowed to have any fun because of the grim year and a half we’ve just experienced? That’s precisely the reason we need to laugh. It is the job of the cast of “Puppetry of the Penis” to provide a counterbalance to the drab, horrible world we live in.

So why can’t we laugh, then? Like most problems, it starts at the top. Producers and investors are  so reluctant to live on the edge, overwhelmed (understandably) by both the fear of being irreverent and the fear of being canceled forever (#FOBCF). Of the producers that are brave enough to try to make someone laugh in 2021, their writing sessions are taking place within a “woke pressure cooker” with creatives paralyzed by anxiety of what they can and cannot joke about. Word has it that “Mrs. Doubtfire”, based on one of the most financially successful films of the 1990s, is undergoing changes so as to not be transphobic. And now GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) is making appearances at many pre-Broadway workshops letting the authors know what jokes they can and cannot make. Because what could be more hilarious than a self proclaimed “media-monitoring” organization writing your jokes. Coming to Broadway next spring: a new comedy from Moms Against Drunk Driving.  

Book of Mormon, one of the most uproarious and brilliant comedies to ever grace a Broadway stage, just recently announced a reopening date in November. Their creative team convened after twenty cast members across different companies wrote to address what they felt was “problematic” language in the script. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the writers of this as well as ‘South Park’, are inarguably two of the smartest, most sophisticated comedic minds that planet earth has to offer. As the composer Robert Lopez said, “They would rather close the show than make it politically correct.” While I know the show well, I don’t know first hand which specific moments of the script were called out as problematic, but I will certainly give these cast members my full respect and attention due to the fact the show was written over a decade ago and, yes, comedy itself evolves. Things that were funny in the early 2000s sometimes just objectively don’t warrant a laugh in 2021, and it’s not the fault of anything other than human evolution. And maybe, perhaps, some of “Book of Mormon” needs a second look not because it’s “problematic” per se, but rather the world we are watching it in has changed. Here’s what I do feel confident in saying: the point of the show is that it’s supposed to be overtly racist. It’s ironic.  Sometimes “problems” are a good thing in art, and in the case of “Book of Mormon” it’s problematic on purpose. I would posit that the authors’ very offensive depiction of Uganda isn’t intended to be a literal representation of the country onstage, but rather used as a vehicle to mock what ignorant Americans view of Africa is: it’s to poke holes and de-escalate the real problem of our cultural short sightedness. The reason it is poignant is because of the problematic language, not in spite of it.

We cannot, as artists, allow our knee jerk reactions to personal discomfort necessitate the forced rewriting of someone else’s show. By having to rewrite comedy as a response to feeling uncomfortable, we are catering to those who don’t understand irony, nuance, subtext, or deep thinking. As artists, why don’t we invite our audiences to rise to the intellectual level of people like Matt and Trey instead of asking writers to lower themselves to the level of people who don’t get it. How about we try really hard to see where someone is coming from and if we can learn from it head on, rather than crudely canceling something because of a setting or turn of phrase? The sanitization of art is not only going to be the death of comedy, but the death of culture and understanding of others. And while there is a well intentioned call for artists to feel “safe” in the creative process, it will be at the expense of both personal self-understanding and every show being boring as hell. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch “Joe Dirt.”  -NP

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