In Robin's Words...

I've been told I have a knack for taking a simple premise to an elaborate realization - which I think is a fancy way of saying I tend to take a joke too far. I would say that I've discovered my genuine obsession which I have connected to my deep love of craft. Rather than creating straightforward plays, I spend years meticulously hand- making fully realized worlds and characters into intricate puppetry-based performances.

My narratives consider capitalism, consumerism, and the resulting environmental catastrophe through a darkly humorous lens. Living in a time where the apocalypse is always and never coming is confusing!

In my work, and life, I am trying to find the balance of hope and despair, avoiding bleak narratives and naive optimism equally.
I tend to use mundane, everyday concepts to explore complex ideas and perhaps imbue the trappings and detritus of late-stage capitalism with some deeper meaning or magic. I grew up in Colorado Springs: the land of big box stores. The homogeneity of the landscape contributed to a deep sense of cultural emptiness. Making magic of plastic bags and parking lots is my attempt to reconcile the predicament of being born a soul in a body raised in a Walmart.

In the early two thousands, immersed in the underground art world in San Francisco, I discovered puppetry, a miraculous melding of all of my practices. To create a puppet work I had to sculpt, paint, write, and perform. I was attracted to puppetry’s traditional exemption from seriousness and the inherent humor and humbleness of the materials. In San Francisco, I created short puppet works and began working with the Cardboard Institute of Technology, a collective of artists creating immersive cardboard environments.

After moving to New York to build junk rafts with the artist Swoon, I began work on my first full-length puppetry piece “The Pigeoning,” a bunraku play about Frank, an office safety enthusiast who is convinced pigeons are plotting against him so he launches an investigation into this pigeon conspiracy. Many things came together for me while creating “The Pigeoning.” I found my people. I found my artistic voice. I was able to capture the balance of delightful and devastating that I had been striving for.

I expanded on this in “The Plastic Bag Store,” but on a much grander scale. This immersive play unfolds in a mock grocery store set up in an actual storefront, featuring products crafted entirely from discarded plastic. The production integrates my various techniques, including shadow puppets, animation, and bunraku, within a transforming set which the audience travels through. The narrative spans epochs, from ancient history to a distant future, all centered around the story of a plastic bag, its contents misconstrued by future archaeologists and enshrined in a 'Museum of the Most Valued Customer.'

While 'The Pigeoning' carried an environmental message, 'The Plastic Bag Store' is my first piece focused on a specific issue. My intent was to provoke thought, while avoiding didactic or preachy tones. Additionally, I was able to ground the work in reality. Through a fellowship at the University of North Carolina, I collaborated with actual archaeologists exploring the notion of plastic as future artifacts. And during touring engagements, we worked with local activists to amplify their efforts and advocate for plastic pollution policy.

I am currently developing a new work ‘'Home Depot Parking Lot.” Combining my cinematic and theatrical practices, this is a work of speculative non-fiction that explores the emotional impact of growing up in a world dominated by shopping centers and parking lots. The piece meditates on what it's like to live in the awkward space where the "built" and "natural" worlds collide. and asks whether these two worlds are truly separate from one another. My dream is for this work to be presented in shopping center parking lots around the country. This feels like a natural evolution of my site-specific projects and a way to have my work interact directly with the landscapes that inspired it.

One of the primary challenges I face as an artist is aligning the scale of my visions with existing presentation and funding structures. My ideas are BIG and blend various practices. When creating 'The Plastic Bag Store,' I secured several one-time grants and fellowships and was fortunate to find bold presenters willing to embrace the challenge of showcasing this unique work in non-traditional venues.

Yet, the question remains: how can I make this practice sustainable? How do I progress when my ideas continue to grow while theater budgets seem to shrink?"

Another ongoing challenge I face is creating work that doesn't negate its own environmental message. There is inherent waste in the process of development and touring, even when we are trying our best and I am constantly trying to reconcile this contradiction.

My process is highly collaborative. Most of my puppet characters don't speak so the story is conveyed through movement, music, and limited voiceover. This style of puppetry requires three performers to animate one character and requires an extensive rehearsal process as we work together to extract each gesture. Early in my career, I assembled a group of novice puppet artists to work with me, and through the development and touring of 'The Pigeoning,' they have all evolved into esteemed professionals who create their own amazing work. Music is essential to all of my projects, and I have worked with composer and lifelong friend Freddi Price on all of my projects. His music was nominated for a Drama Desk for “The Pigeoning.” These enduring creative relationships hold great significance for me, and I've always endeavored to support all my collaborators in their own pursuits.

The journey of 'The Plastic Bag Store' has been long and not without its challenges. Initially scheduled to open on March 18th, 2020, we had to close the doors after only one dress rehearsal, leaving a fully intact fake grocery store sitting in a deserted Times Square for six months. In the summer of 2020, I received a commission from the Center for Performing Arts at UCLA to film the puppetry elements of the show for online presentation in their 20-21 season. This proved to be a true blessing, as the dress rehearsal was never captured on video. When we were permitted to reopen for small audiences in the fall of 2020, the capacities were so limited due to COVID restrictions, that having all the puppetry performed live with a full cast would have severely restricted our audience size. We adapted the show to incorporate some of the new filmed elements in addition to a cast of live performers in our elaborate transforming set. This reconfiguration of the show into a blend of live theater/film/ art installation defies easy description but offers a seamless and very theatrical experience.

The Plastic Bag Store
Times Square Arts Alliance 2020
The Plastic Bag Store
Cardboard set construction for animation section
The Plastic Bag Store
Audience member traveling through the ice cave
The Plastic Bag Store
Installation detail
The Pigeoning- trailer
Dumpster Monster
The Dumpster Monster is a 15' tall inflatable garbage monster I made in 2015.