Playdoh Kolo, a traveling puppeteer and comedic creator, launched a multi-state tour with performances of “Namaslay: A New Puppet Musical” at Heck.house and Little 5 Points’ Findley Plaza. They work as a prop and puppet maker and performer, and are known for performances that use irreverence and humor to poke fun at society’s perverse priorities.
I had the opportunity to speak with Kolo about their experiences as they set off on an ambitious multi-state musical performance.
Thank you so much for taking some time to chat with me. What exactly is “Namaslay” and what does the name mean?
Playdoh Kolo: Namaslay is a puppet musical about two start up bros from Boston who become indentured work traders at a new age wellness center. The name “Namaslay” is a bastardization of “Namaste” and points to the hip marketing language of Instagram self-help gurus and the trendy spiritual capitalism embodied by such Silicon Valley companies like Google and Apple that promote mindfulness and meditation for those with the economic ability to do so.
How did you come up with the story and concept?
Kolo: I was thinking about how there are these rock gyms popping up everywhere and how it was kind of this perfect merger of a sterile office environment and a back-to-nature wholesomeness. I have nothing against rock gyms per say, but I would argue that the appearance of one in a working class neighborhood is a pretty good indicator of rising rent.
The story of Namaslay originated with a pretty asinine idea. I was like, “what if there was a rock gym that took over a small town by dropping boulders everywhere? Then the townspeople would have to learn to rock climb just to get around the neighborhood.” So this was the jumping off point and the basis for the musical’s setting, The Rock Gem Wellness Center and Resort, which from humble beginnings as a rock gym expanded to be a full fledged institution for holistic health.
What are some of the challenges and successes you’ve faced as you created a traveling puppet musical?
Kolo: The show was originally designed as a 14 person show for the New Orleans Giant Puppet Festival. We had an incredible cast of puppeteers, musicians, writers and artists making the show happen. It was a major collaboration. For this tour, my main challenge has been adapting the show down to a solo act. I’ve had to convert all of the puppets from rod puppets to marionettes so that I could manipulate more characters at once as a single performer. Another challenge is doing all of my own promotion, booking and tech! While also performing and getting from place to place. It’s like juggling five different jobs at once.
Between set design, storyboarding, songs, and the puppets themselves it looks like you’ve devoted a lot of time and energy to this production. Do you make all the parts and puppets yourself?
Kolo: I make all my puppets and props myself. But with lots of help! The ensemble for Namaslay had a build week gearing up for the NOLA Puppet Fest where lots of hands were on deck to build, paint and paper mache puppets. Much of the set building was led by one of the cast, Nolan Crees, and costumes were made by Justine Evans, who also played Frank Frankfooter in the premiere.
What do you hope that viewers will take away from seeing “Namaslay” in person?
Kolo: I hope that viewers enjoy the wackiness of this puppet musical. I aim for my shows to be accessible and fun and hope they inspire people to play and make puppets or goofy shows however they see fit. I hope it also alerts us to the messaging and marketing of ethical or “spiritual” consumption and calls us to consider how we can find holistic wellness without getting caught in the trap of old models of exploitation that are just hidden under a different guise.
What has your experience been like at Heck.house and the Little 5 Points performance?
Kolo: After my car caught fire, I had to readjust my show and schedule and figure out what could be salvaged. Paula at Heck.house provided me space to essentially have an impromptu artist residency and rehearse the show. Adam Clarke, a local puppeteer in Atlanta, jumped in and played Ked O’Bro, the protagonist of Namaslay, a start up bro and dog from Boston, while I played the supporting characters who he encountered throughout the story. Between the two of us there were over 20 puppets we were juggling.
I got connected with Kelly at Little Five Points through my friend Carmen who runs Turtle Island Trading in L5P. She was excited about hosting us and set us up with a slot at Findley Plaza. We also got help from Dre at Hydropops who provided us with a pop up tent for rain. I’m very grateful to everyone who helped get the show back up and running after the fire.
I’d say if you’re ever a puppeteer whose car has caught fire, Heck.house is probably the best place for you to land and recover. I was lucky that Paula generously offered her space and various materials and tools to be at my disposal. I also enjoyed working with some kids at Heck.house who came to play with puppets through Positive Growth Inc. Heidi Carpenter from Injest Puppets and I showed the kids our puppets and they came up with some funny skits and characters.
If you missed Playdoh Kolo’s performances here in Atlanta never fear. You can check out upcoming showtimes as they make their way up the East Coast.
- July 6 – Durham, NC at Shadowbox Studios with fellow puppeteer Cookie Tongue
- July 7- Greenville, NC at Alleycat Records with fellow puppeteer Cookie Tongue
- July 9 – Richmond, VA
- July 11 – Twin Oaks Commune, VA
- July 12 – Washington, D.C. at Rhizome with Boy Meets Pearl
- July 15 – Baltimore, MD at Black Cherry Puppet Theatre
- July 25 – Philadelphia, PA at Deep End Studios
- July 26 – Brooklyn, NY at PURGATORY BK
- July 28 – Brooklyn, NY at Starr Bar
- July 29 – Brooklyn, NY puppet workshop at PURGATORY BK
- July 29 – Brooklyn, NY at Windjammer Bar
- August 4 – Boston, MA at Arts at the Armory
- August 7 – Portland, ME at Apohadion Theatre
- August 8 – Manchester, NH at House of Goings On with Dei Xrist
- August 3 – Chicago, IL at Fallen Log in Kitchen 17
To keep up with future dates as they are announced, give Playdoh Kolo a follow on Instagram.