Pennings aka general blog

Aaron Burr Sketches

No, these are not the sketches found in the basement of a New York bar (which has to remain nameless until negotiations between the bar, NYC, NYS, Chase Bank, and other interested parties make a formal, public presentation of this early American treasure) during the preperation for Hurricane Sandy.

They are, however, a couple sketches that I made after having a chance to view this material.  While remaining as faithful as possible to the original 1804 stage plans (which I was able to view) as far as the elements staged in the original production, these plans are intended as the basis of puppet adaptation that production.  Very little remains of O'Toole's late career puppetry, so confirmation of accuracy regarding the recreation of O'Toole's late career puppetry is, at this time impossible to verify.

Despite the current lack of access to these archives, I feel that this is the start of a re-creation of a stage and a show that would honor both Otis O'Toole's original theatrical production as well as his later puppet work.


Above, we see the stage of the original (and doomed) 1804 production of Aaron Burr - A Ballet Opera adapted to a toy theater setting.  Artifacts indicate that O'Toole utilized both toy theater and table-top puppetry during his time performing Burr's story in the taverns of NYC later in his life when he resurrected the opera on a smaller scale, both visually and musically.  Below is a detail of the Baby Aaron element, which uses modern solid state lighting to achieve the glow described by one of the few to view the scene on the big stage as appearing "not as a prop dropping from the rafters of playhouse, but as a gift descending from Heaven itself, its halo glowing with an ephemeral radiance that awed all in attendance and made even the Deists among us weep for the chance to witness such glory, both tender and grand".


Seen here and there for a bunch of years.


I first saw it Providence.  Down in the historic parking lot district.  Right on the corner that was home to late night skateboarders for a generation.  

Spotted it again in Times Square.

Then in Chicago.  Near the start of Route 66.  

Recently, twice again in NY.  

It brought me joy to spot it again.  I wonder how they have lasted this long, how many more there are.  How many more were there that are longer there?

The Modular Theater

EIGHT POINTS REGARDING THE MODULAR THEATER                             v1.2

Amanda Weir and Nicole LeDuc performing in a  Field's Point Sunset , intended as either a stand alone puppet show or as part of a larger piece.

Amanda Weir and Nicole LeDuc performing in a Field's Point Sunset, intended as either a stand alone puppet show or as part of a larger piece.

In the Modular Theater, performances are created through the assemblage of shorter pieces of work that are related and tied together as the artists involved see fit.  It is performed collage.  These pieces can be wholly created anew or entirely scavenged.  They can be stand alone pieces in their own right.  They can be reused.  A piece of Modular Theater is created when a Set List, Score, Script, or other term for a collection of these Scenes, or Tracks are assembled and performed.




  1. The Modular Theater is informed by Rock & Roll.  Rock & Roll in this context is to be understood as post-Elvis pop music.  
  2. The Modular Theater recognizes that theater has been disguised as Rock &Roll by various Rock & Roll practitioners.
  3. The Modular Theater contends that the formal presentation of Rock & Roll has created a comfortable space in which Rock & Roll fans enjoy art.  Examples include the Album, the Concert, the DJ Session,
  4. The Modular Theater is a response to the popularity of Rock & Roll.  In this it is reactionary.
  5. The Modular Theater wishes to meet people that do not already know theater.  In this way it is curious. 
  6. The Modular Theater is informed by a variety of Short Attention Span Theaters, such as improvisation, ten minute plays, story-telling, short form puppetry, spoken word, poetry salon (or slam if one prefers more violent imagery), & stand-up and may utilize forms originating from Short Attention Span Theaters.  In this way it evolutionary.
  7. The Modular Theater has a fondness for kinetic installation art.  This fondness is so great that it would not be unhappy if some pieces of art created under the roof of the Modular Theater were to be interpreted as such.
  8. This fondness extends to other art forms and the Modular Theater understands it might be viewed as those forms from time to time.  The Modular Theater is cool with that, as The Modular Theater has no ego, and wishes people to create and enjoy art as they understand it.

Because the Modular Theater is young and not yet fully formed, it feels the need to define itself partially by what it is not.  The Modular Theater wishes to stress that this is not the teenage impulse to claim it will not be its parents.  On the contrary, The Modular Theater is grateful to all its parents.

The Modular Theater is not a night of ten-minute plays.

The Modular Theater is not a Rock & Roll show.  Music is not required.

The Modular Theater is not a variety show, although variety is welcome.

The Modular Theater is not random.

The Modular Theater is not a compromise or a pandering.

The Modular Theater attempts to not only speak to audiences but also to listen to audiences.  In this way it is friendly.

-David Higgins

Puppet Manifesto 2


Before pulling the trigger about pulling some strings

Before wielding the rod that might spoil your show





what you are doing. 

Consider also what you want to do, but consider what you are doing and have done before you do more. 

But… don’t consider too hard what you have to show for your efforts.  More importantly,

Consider your impulse

Consider your intention

And, if you are certain that your impulse is not best expressed as novel, sculpture, or  some other non-performing form, then consider:

            The dancer,

            who can tell stories and share emotions with the human body alone

            The mime,

            who can do the same thing, but in a weird and not very graceful way

            The storyteller,

            unencumbered before the audience

            The musician,

            who can touch dark ancient part of brain with sound

            The singer,

            Who, through song, combines the complexity word and the primitives of tone

And consider the actor

There is not another figure on stage that can do what the actor does.  Neuroscience confirms what has been known for centuries.  When we see a person in the same room as us portray an emotion or state of being, we feel it. 



Pain, joy, fear, hunger, thirst and so on.  We don’t simply recognize it, we don’t merely understand it a larger context of any social, political, cultural information we have gathered.  We feel it.  The same neurons fire in our brain as if we were having the experience as the actor is portraying.  And this does not happen with an actor on film, in two dimensions. 




If you understand that the power an actor brings into a room is not required by your art


If you understand that the power an actor brings into a room even prohibited by your art


If you need to tell truths that can’t be believed when spoken by a human


If you need to arrive at the artwork’s destination only after traveling through the childhood imagination and fascination even when your audience is adult


If you need to

If you refuse to allow the writers and readers of words to claim a monopoly on the use of the term “poetry”


If you must bend time and space like a film, but in the same room as the audience


If you must not be constrained by the physics of a human body, but must tell a human’s story

or if you must tell a universal story with the voice of beings and objects unable to speak


If you must make sculpture sing and dance


If you find that you need to fit the whole show into your suitcase.


It is apparent that no better solution exists…



the puppet from,

among all the puppets that exist and

among all the puppets that you can conceive of.

Choose the puppet

            that will best serve


                                    most fully be your



Puppet Manifesto 1



We were all once children who turned sticks into wands, built sandcastles, made dioramas, played with dolls, built forts or anything else that was not truly the thing we built, we understand that we were once all artists without knowledge of the term and once made art without knowledge of its distinction from life.

We have seen many children become adults, and, in becoming adults, we have seen many humans accept the bonds of specialization and accept the false choice between artist and non-artist.

We understand that the purpose of art is not to entertain or edify ands that those phenomena are incidental to the true purpose of art, which is communication.

We understand that the commodification of art requires compartmentalization of art types in order to more easily manufacture the appropriate sensationalism around what is increasingly becoming referred to as content.

We understand large segments of the population to have trouble hearing and seeing, having become immune to the charms of digitization in addition to being interrogative of other humans, including human performers.

We hold these truths to be self evident: 

That not all stories are created equal and

That each story must be given life through the liberty to pursue its happiest state by whatever means necessary


FORM a more awesome SOCIETY,


PROMOTE  the general WELFARE and




so that the puppet not be trapped in any part of town in which it travels, whether that be the school-room or the late night club and we OFFER THE PUPPET a place in the mainstream as we are able to understand it.



class to club,

child to adult,

reality to fantasy

and back again

STAND BY THE PUPPET whenever and where ever it may pause during its travels.



SPEAK FOR THE PUPPET, because a puppet is not a robot, and it needs our help with this type of thing.


For giving both the vanguard and ancient practitioners of non-narrative, non-naturalistic performative art an alternative to dance and “performance art”.

For giving storytellers the elements that suit their words.

            And, for allowing us:

To be gods or children as we deem appropriate

To make art that is not separate from craft

To sneak under watchful eyes, deadly serious in a children’s medium, or fearlessly silly in front of adults

To tell the truth as if a jester without being as creepy as a clown

To make theater in a state that music as enjoyed before teenagers

RAISE THE PUPPETEER, born in a spirit of both renaissance and eternity,

as s/he dreams, writes, plans, builds and performs

high enough

that s/he may transcend and/or deny false barriers

and become  a greater, wiser and more articulate realization of our younger selves.

Higgins, 2012