Bouncin’ With the Billion Jelly Bloom!

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Billion Jelly Bloom takes over the dance floor during the Chalk The Block Street Festival in El Paso, Texas. Image by Rick Tate

(Original article in GeekMom.com)

FamilyOne Halloween night in San Francisco in the mid 1990s, Rob Lord was impressed with the simple innovation of one woman’s costume—a jellyfish made from a clear plastic umbrella with bubble wrap strips for tentacles.

A few years later, he crafted six similar jellyfish, adding broomsticks and internal flashlights, allowing him and five friends to carry these jellies throughout Downtown Santa Cruz, California as performance art. Since then, this concept of taking large glowing jellyfish to the streets, beaches, deserts, parade grounds, or stage has blossomed—or “bloomed,” rather—into the Billion Jelly Bloom, a dance theater and large-scale puppet participatory art event the Lords call the “original crowd-surfing, dance partner-sized, Burning Man-ifested, luminous jellyfish bloom.”

Rob and Patricia Lord officially founded the Billion Jelly Bloom in 2010, a name created for a 2010 trip to the Burning Man Festival in Black Rock Desert, Arizona.

The term “bloom,” refers to the state where jellyfish congregate together in large swarms, sometimes consisting of thousands of jellyfish. These blooms have been attributed to everything from population density among the animals to climate change, but whatever the reason the sight of countless jellies together is impressive to see.

The Billion Jelly Bloom consists of several 600+ lumens bright, performer-articulated jellyfish available to be part of any occasion.

Patricia Lord, who serves as lead jellyfish designer, said the blooms have been a part of events throughout the United States, including one of the most eccentric art and free expression-centered events, Burning Man Festival.

“So far we’ve choreographed participatory civic blooms at Burning Man, over the Brooklyn Bridge, and across The High Line in New York City, and during the holiday shopping frenzy in Union Square in San Francisco,” Lord said. “We’d love to take these blooms to every major city in the world, and I have preliminary route maps for Paris and San Paulo currently on my desktop.”

The Jellyfish blooms have been so popular at events, a successful crowd-funding campaign, the OMG Jellyfish Kickstarter project, was recently created to produce “home versions” of these giant invertebrate sea denizens.

The design of these jellyfish vary slightly from the ones used in the Lords’ own events, as they are created to be more easy-to-handle and portable for private use.

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Jellyfish handlers of all ages enjoy these jellies. Image by Rick Tate

“Since we launched our OMG Jellyfish Kickstarter project a year ago we have distributed nearly 500 OMG Jellyfish to 30 states in the Union and six countries beyond,” Lord said.

She said she has been extremely pleased with the creative uses people have found for their own jellyfish. This includes OMG Jellyfish being used in stage productions in Latvia, at museum gala events in Houston, and at morning dance raves in London, New York, and San Francisco.

“In our backer survey folks told us they were planning to use them as a light in their children’s bedroom, at Coachella music festival, and as costumes,” she said. “One backer planned to surprise his retirement community by blooming the neighborhood sidewalk at night.”

Lord admitted she expected no less than “amazing creative” uses for the big performance art jellyfish, but has been especially thrilled to find the joy she has experienced “blooming” is consistent with the experience of other proud new jellyfish owners.

Lord, herself a mother of two, hopes the blooms inspire young and emerging artists to try something new themselves. Her advice to those wondering where to start is to throw themselves into new participatory art projects, such as an existing art project, dance troupe, flashmob, or other opportunities to become part of this interactive, communal blend of visual and performance art.

“Pay attention to those moments that you can’t stop smiling and do more of that. Then find a way to share this experience with others,” Lord said. “If you stumble onto something that is super fun for you and others then start thinking of ways to expand, either by open sourcing the idea, product, or project, or working internally to expand your events, production, et cetera.”

Lord said for her, every new bloom includes a moment of surreality, whether it’s at the playa at Burning Man or heading up an urban side street.

“I think these moments emphasize the beauty of the jellyfish swarm more than the epic fun in a dense festival environment,” she explained. “Our High Line bloom had a magical intersection with another participatory group called Decentralized Dance Party. They had a troupe of (more than) 200 participants all carrying boomboxes and dancing their asses off.”

“We had 25 jellyfish who know a thing or two about shaking their tentacles,” she said. “It was off-the-hook fun for two hours!”

Labyrinth’s Supporting Creatures

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It took some hard work on a lot of people’s parts to make Labyrinth the cult classic it is today.

Last month, a report in Variety magazine made a very brief mention of a possible sequel in development for the 1986 Jim Henson fantasy, Labyrinth. This was quickly followed up by an addendum a few days later saying that this was not actually something on the Jim Henson Co.’s primary agenda—at least not for now.

This news, of course, set the movie’s fandom, including myself, on a quick high of anticipation, followed by a sudden pit of disappointment. I was a 16-year-old dreamer of dreams, not ready to grow up, when David Bowie’s Goblin King Jareth first led us down that fantasy-filled maze of beasties with his horrible, oh-so-horrible, 80s hair-band mullet and no-imagination-needed tight pants. Some of the green screen (or blue screen) effects were obvious, the dialogue cheesy at times, and some of the music recording quality was a little off, but I thought Labyrinth—and Jareth—were beautiful creations nonetheless.

The critical response was, at best, mixed and the box office profit was pretty dismal. However, the movie has since become a cult classic, with a multi-generational fan base.

The original trailer for the film boasted the creative triumvirate of director Jim Henson, for which Labyrinth would be his final feature film as director, Executive Producer George Lucas, and star David Bowie, along with a 14-year-old pre-Rocketeer and A Beautiful Mind Jennifer Connelly, and “numerous goblins and creatures.”

Actually, it was those numerous creatures, both on- and off-screen, that helped make the movie visually appealing and fun to watch. Let’s take a look back at some of the individuals who may not have gotten top billing for their work on Labyrinth, but still hold their own geek and fantasy-world cred:

Terry Jones. This Monty Python member wrote much of the script, based on a storyline by Henson and Dennis Lee. Much of Jones’ Python-style can be recognized in the script, particularly in the scene with the very British rock wall harbingers of doom. Jones has worked as an actor, writer, producer, and director in several films, including as voice talent for a number of animated and CGI characters. He also served as host for the history documentary series Ancient Inventions, Barbarians, Medieval Lives and Terry Jones’ Great Mystery Map.

Warwick Davis and Kenny Baker. Both of these Star Wars alums worked as members of the Goblin Corps.

Davis, who portrayed the title roles in the fantasy film Willow and the B-horror Leprechaun series, has a pretty heavy sci-fi fantasy resume. He was Wicket the Ewok in Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi (and several other roles in the Star Wars saga) and Professor Flitwick and a goblin banker in the Harry Potter film series. He has also appeared in the BBC’s Doctor Who and Merlin.

Baker, who is best known as the man in the R2-D2 can, will be returning alongside Davis for Star Wars: Episode VII in 2015.

Kevin Clash and Danny John-Jules. These two are the best-known voice talents behind the detachable-limbed Fireys in Labyrinth’s reggae-influenced “Chlly Down” dance and mischief sequence in the film.

Clash, who also did puppetry and back-up work in other areas of the film, has become a household name for many parents, for his little red and furry alter-ego, Elmo. He was also the voice and puppeteer for one of my favorite Muppets, the hipster host of the short-lived Muppets Tonight, Clifford. Clash’s signature voice is a standout in the Fireys’ song; listen for a sassy Elmo voice saying, “Where you goin’ with a head like that?”

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Brian Froud and Terry Jones.

John-Jules gained comic con-style fame as part of The Cat in the kitschy-yet-popular BBC sci-fi, Red Dwarf, and is currently in the BBC crime drama series Death in Paradise. He also worked with Henson in an uncredited part of a street dancer in The Great Muppet Caper, and with Frank Oz as a doo-wop singer in the “Total Eclipse of the Sun” sequence in the movie version of Little Shop of Horrors

The Froud Family. Brian Froud and Wendy Midener worked as a husband-and-wife team in many of Henson’s works, including The Dark Crystal and Jim Henson’s Storyteller.

Froud, along with Terry Jones, is also the creator of weirdly funny fantasy art books, including the best-seller Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book.

Midener was a Muppet designer for several episodes of the original Muppet Show and the first Muppet Movie. She also worked as a fabricator for Yoda in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.

The part of Toby in the film was actually Froud’s son, Toby, who has since gone on to be a multi-talented puppeteer, special effects designer, and stop-motion sculptor for films like The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and ParaNorman. As a long-time puppeteer, he wrote and directed his first short film this year, Lessons Learned, which he funded by a Kickstarter campaign.

Cheryl McFadden. McFadden was a puppeteer with Jim Henson in the 1980s and worked as the choreographer for Labyrinth on scenes like Sarah’s ballroom dream and the Goblin City battle. She is better known in the sci-fi world as Gates McFadden, the portrayer of Dr. Beverly Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The fact that she worked with Muppets before joining the crew of the Enterprise is something I find exceptionally cool.

Henson’s go-to colleague, Frank Oz, did his bit with the film by serving as puppeteer for the iconic bird-headed Wiseman (voiced by another actor) and heir to the Muppet empire, Brian Henson, not only worked as puppeteer coordinator, but lent his voice to Sarah’s troll-like guide, Hoggle.

What about the dog? Well I’ve never found the real name of the dog who portrayed Sarah’s dog, Merlin, but fans of the movie realize the same dog who plays her real-life pet also plays the non-puppet version of Sir Didymus’s faithful mount, Ambrosius. This is only right, as literary-minded viewers will pick up on the fact that Merlin is known as “Merlin Ambrosius” in The History of Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Others who were nearly involved in the film included Michael Jackson and Sting, who were both considered for the role of Jareth. Several young actresses auditioned for the role of Sarah, as well, including Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Jessica Parker, Laura Dern, Marisa Tomei, and Laura San Giacomo. Two who were highly considered were Jane Krakowski and Ally Sheedy. Changes in either of these roles may have made the movie an entirely different experience.

A little something to think about before heading into that wonderful and weird maze…

Two Last-Minute Halloween Crafts from Minion Feeding 101

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The Halloween, I’ve created two easy Halloween DIYs for my family site, Minion Feeding 101. There’s still plenty of time to create these for your own special haunts:

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Our Fairy Skeleton Specimen takes very little effort to create a macabre and charming shadowbox display. Just find a plastic skeleton in those old Halloween trinkets.

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Our BBC Sherlock inspired pumpkin contains a surprise message from the sleuth himself, when lit.

Have a safe, spooky and Happy Halloween!

Haunt Your Home with these Freaky Frame Ideas

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Whatever your Halloween decorating style or needs—retro, chic, gothic, or just plain eerie—there’s a way to frame it. Each of these five haunting frame crafts take less than an hour to create, use inexpensive frames, and makes use of items you likely already have at home.

Vintage Mini-Movie Marquees. This is the easiest and quickest way to create a last-minute retro Halloween party decorations. Place quick print-outs of vintage monster films in plain black frames of different standard sizes (6” x 4”, 8” X 10”, etc.) for wall art or table settings. These are easy “theme starters” for parties as well. Go with “Universal Monsters,” “It Came From…,” “Gothic Horror, “ “Circa 1980s Slasher Films,” or “Witches and Wizards.” It is amazing how many cheesy movies have been made with really nifty posters.

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Framing vintage movie posters

Spider In The Window. Poke holes in a small pre-cut mat board with a nail or screwdriver, and lace some black twine or embroidery thread through in the “dreamcatcher” pattern. Try to make the weaving a little uneven or sloppy, so it will resemble a spider-web. Next, give a cheap, plastic spider ring an artistic or more realistic paint job with gel pens or paint, and lightly glue it to the web, off-centered. Place the mat on a pre-cut piece of glass or plexiglass (acrylic sheets), to keep it reinforced. This also gives it a more complete look.

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Dreamcatcher weaving, and a repurposed plastic ring turn a plain mat board into a nature-inspired design.

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The Spider Frame with back-light makes a haunting silhouette.

Emerging 3-D Face. This idea was inspired by the eerie emerging ghost face from Peter Jackson’s cult horror-comedy, The Frighteners. This image always fascinated me and gave me gooseflesh at the same time, so I decided to create my own as a little nightmare therapy. Gently smooth a piece of aluminum foil over baby doll face or small skull decoration, leaving some flat surface around the edges. Be very careful, as foil will rip if poked too hard. Place the face through an empty frame, and very, very gently fill the back with facial tissue, paper towels or cotton balls, to help it keep its shape. Cover the back with cardboard to hold it in place. Add a little watercolor paint or watered-down acrylic to help bring the details out.

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Smooth foil over a 3-D surface to make this “emerging” face frame.

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The emerging face

Creepy Eyes. Give the popular melted pony bead suncatcher craft a spooky edge by adding a pair or craft doll eyes. Use wire cutters to clip the eyes’ back posts off, so it will have a flat surface in back. Create a tray for the beads by smoothing foil into the center of the frame, as some frames can’t be placed in an oven. Place eyes in the center of the foil try and fill the rest in with pony beads. Place the trays on a baking sheet and melt them in the oven for about 25 minutes at 400°F. Once cooled, removed the melted beads from the foil tray and place them in the frame. Use craft glue or a glue gun to hold them in place. If the tray was handled carefully, the melted beads should fit right in the frame. Use gel pens or felt-tip markers to add details, if you want.

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Mellting the pony beads

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Creepy eye frames

Paranormal Landscapes. This ghostly effect is achieved by a simple art journaling trick called packing tape transfers. Find an image of person in a catalog or magazine, and carefully rip (not cut) it out of the magazine. The rougher edges look more “surreal” when completed. The figure doesn’t have to be ghostly; that comes later. Place a piece of packing tape over the front of the image, and soak it in a shallow dish of water for a few minutes. This will cause the back of the page to peel off easily, leaving a transparent image. Cut away any excess tape, and smooth the transfer over a picture of a house, garden or other area to make it appear “haunted.” If you like, enhance the image with a little glow-in-the-dark paint or nail polish to give it an extra glow.

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Making the packing tape transfer.

Place these “ghostly” Halloween displays, in front windows, or on a fireplace hearth. It’s also fun to discreetly put them on a shelf with family photos, where they demand a second look. They also have the potential to spark a conversation, so be ready with good back story about your “dearly departed” who haunts the photo. They are sure to be the guest of honor at any spooky gathering.

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The finished, ghostly look

Kooky and Spooky Tales for Autumn

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Gather around the campfire or dinner tale and swap some “ripping yarns” this fall. Photo by Rick Tate.

My father always knew how to spin a crafty tale.

He would share these stories around the dinner table when he returned from work, on the porch on summer evenings, in the car on long family trips. These stories were sometimes a little spooky, oftentimes hilarious, but always told with a twinkle in his eye. He continues to share them enthusiastically with his grandchildren when he visits.

The best part was that these stories didn’t come from beautifully illustrated picture books, nor were they professionally produced one-man dramatizations. However, to my brother and I, our cousins, and our friends, they were the greatest.

With the weather cooling off and the haunting season upon us, now is a good time to rediscover the simple art of telling a story. No technology or visual aids are needed, just imagination, enthusiasm, and healthy sense of humor.

For those who still don’t know where to start, I’ve includes three “skeletons” of stories I’ve gathered from family gatherings, late night radio theater, and college road trips.

I call these “skeletons,” because they are just the bare bones of the story. It’s up each storyteller to make them as still, imaginative, spooky, or detailed. I’ll start with one of my father’s favorites I remember him telling me on rainy afternoons, after finishing all the Uncle Scrooge comics to read for the day.

The Mad Scientist and the Bloop Machine

There once was a city high in the hills. The leader, an egotistical man, wanted something no other leader in the country had. Inventor after inventor came to the leader’s desk with new ideas, but no one had anything original enough to please him. One day, a crazy-haired, wild-eyed mad scientist came to his desk and said, “I will make you a Bloop Machine. You will be the only one in the world to have one.”

“What is a Bloop Machine?” leader asked.

“You have to let me make one to find out,” the mad scientist said.

The leader was so curious, he agreed, and gave the mad scientist the job. Unfortunately, they saw no progress one month later, so he summoned the scientist for an update.

“I still need three helicopters,” he answered.

The leader reluctantly granted him the helicopters, but three months later, there was still no progress. He summoned the scientist once more.

“I need three long cables to finish,” the scientist demanded.

The leader once again gave the scientist what he wanted, because he had to see what type of machine needed cables and helicopters. Six months later, there was still no progress, so the leader, now very angry, demanded the scientist finish the machine.

“I can only finish if you find me a large lake,” he answered.

The leader, against his better judgment, found a large lake, surrounded by trees and hills, and one month later, the scientist called and told the leader to gather everyone in the city at the lake to see his wonderful Bloop Machine. The leader declared the day a national holiday, and everyone turned out to the lake to see this one-of-a-kind-machine. Everyone waited and waited to see what would happen and finally, late in the afternoon, they heard the sounds of three helicopters. They looked up in the sky and saw the helicopters carrying a large, elaborate machine, suspended on the end of three cables. It was covered with blinking lights and gadgets of all kind, and everyone, especially the leader, couldn’t wait to see what it did.

The helicopters centered the machine high over the middle of the lake and released the cables. The machine fell down, down, down, and when it finally hit the water, it made a loud “BLOOP!”

My dad always referred to stories like these as “shaggy dog” tales; a type of story that seems to go on and on to a rather pointless ending. He excelled in this genre, and all we kids loved it. Oh, the blank stares and awkward laughs that met the end of that story were priceless, but the more we would think about it in the future, the more it made us laugh.

Both my girls have taken to the storytelling tradition, and they love to tell stories. My daughter’s favorite is one we heard over a late-night radio show of Halloween music and stories. She has retold this one in her own way several times.

The Ceremony

"Grandpa," sharing one his many stories with the grandkids.

“Grandpa,” sharing one his many stories with the grandkids.

One fall afternoon, a family had just sat down to the dinner table, when their daughter returned home from school later than usual. She hugged all her family, pet her dog and cat, and apologized for her tardiness. All through dinner, she sat quietly with a concerned and confused look on her face. After dinner, when everyone was relaxing in the sitting room, the mother asked the girl why she was late and why she had such a strange look on her face. The girl stopped from playing with the dog and sat down in a big chair. The cat jumped up on her lap.

“I was bored with my usual path home, so I took a side trip through the woods. It was there I saw the strangest thing,” she said. “There was a large hollow tree off in the distance, and it appeared to have a glowing light coming from it.”

Everyone listened politely. The cat even perked up his ears, but the dog just sighed. The girl continued her story.

“I carefully looked down in it, and saw I was peering down into a great, vast ballroom,” she said. “There looked to be a huge ceremony, with rows and rows of soldiers and spectators standing on either side of room. Somber, beautiful music was playing and I saw a group of six soldiers carrying the body of what appeared to be royalty on a large flat platform. He was dressed in purple, with a silver crown and holding a sword. It was then I realized, I was witnessing a funeral for a fallen monarch.”

By now, she had everyone’s full attention. The cat had even lifted up his head and looked directly into the girls eyes. She hesitated slightly, before finishing her story.

“Here’s the strangest part. Everyone appeared to be,” she paused slightly as if unable to believe her next words. “Well, they appeared to be….cats!”

“At last,” said the cat as it jumped off her lap. “Old George is finally dead. I am king of the cats, now!”

At that, the cat ran from the room and out of the house. The dog just sighed.

This final tale is one I learned in college and is just as fun for a group of adults at a fancy dinner party, as it is for kids. The only rule is that it has to be told in the first-person.

The Escaped Madman

I was driving down a creepy side road one night when I came across a sign that said, “White County Asylum For the Criminally Insane.” About a mile down the road, it was beginning to rain and I saw a hitchhiker, soaking wet on the roadside. He was carrying a large black bag. If felt bad for him and pulled over to offer him a ride. When he got in the car, he had a desperate, slightly deranged look on his face, and I remembered the asylum nearby. I glanced nervously at the black bag and asked him nicely what he was carrying in it.

“That’s none of your stinkin’ business,” he growled.

I was slightly worried, but didn’t want to press the issue. A few miles down the road, the man, who had been staring straight ahead, suddenly reached for his bag and peeked in it. He quickly closed it up, and tossed it in the back seat.

“Are you sure you won’t tell me what’s in that bag?” I asked.

“That’s none of your stinkin’ business,” he snapped.

I was getting more and more nervous, and was soon pretty scared. Was this man a doctor? Maybe he was law enforcement. Perhaps even, an escaped madman. I realized I couldn’t go on anymore, so I pulled the car over.

“You need to tell me what is in that bag, or I am not taking you any further,” I demanded.

He looked at me pointedly.

“That’s none of your stinkin’ business.”

That was when my anger and bravery kicked in. Madman or no madman, I leaned across him, pushed open the door, and kicked him out of the car. I drove off and could see him in my review mirror standing by the road, shocked.

When I reached home I looked in the backseat and realized, I still had the bag. Finally, I could get to the bottom of things!

Remember, it is in the personal details, the right setting, and most appropriate timing that is the essence of storytelling. Make some stories seem like a real event or make sure everyone is occupied with a fresh batch of cookies or s’mores before sitting down to tell the tale. Swap genders around (it doesn’t matter in any of these three stories if the people are male or female) or set it on another planet. Give them names, maybe a little back-story if you have to fill time.

Even if the story itself produces a few rolled eyes and groans, the experience itself will be what is remembered and cherished.

As for what was in that black bag left behind by the escaped madman, when you are inevitably asked that question, you look the person right in the eye with a smile and say:

“That is none of your stinkin’ business.”