Dances With Dragons
- By Kerri Pinchuk
- Published on April 03, 2012
|Puff T. Magic Dragon|
What’s the most effective way to carry a 35-foot-long glowing dragon?
“Ideally, you’d have six people,” Jessica Mola explained. “Five to actually hold and puppeteer the dragon’s head, three ribs and tail and one person to spot. Too many people and the puppet gets tugged in too many directions.”
If anyone knows, it’s Mola. She’s one-half the team that heads Rock Camp Productions, a popular visual and performance arts company out of Rock Camp, West Virginia.
Mola and founder Seth Abramson mastermind the outrageous spectacles festivalgoers have been remarking on for years. They are also engaged to be married later this year.
Those crazy kites that had you mesmerized at FloydFest? Thank Rock Camp Productions. The glowing cowboy you danced with at All Good? That was them, too. It’s safe to say that most festivals owe some aspect of their arts presentations to RCP.
[FIND more information on Rock Camp Productions on their official website.]
“Our goal is to bring people together in creative ways and enhance every show we attend,” said 21-year-old Mola, who’s steeped in every aspect of RCP from public relations to donning the 45-pound battery backpack that powers the giant glowing dragon. “We aim to encourage positive, creative energies through our art. Ultimately, we enjoy inspiring anyone who experiences our artwork.”
RCP’s signature production, “Glodeo!,” features a cast of colorful characters: glowing puppets Dr. Molly Glo (21-feet tall, 105 pounds), Siddhartha “Sid” Glo (23-feet, 324 pounds) and Puff T. Magic Dragon, the aforementioned illuminated dragon. The puppets dance and weave their way through crowds, and the trickiest part of the stunt ensues when Sid actually rides Puff.
In addition to “Glodeo!,” RCP’s site-specific installations, costumes and kite shows have been seen across the country (one Seattle performance was even featured in an Emmy-winning documentary).
The company’s resume reads like the celebrity guest list to an awesome and incredibly random party – they’ve done work for Phish, “The Today Show,” The Smithsonian Institution and Heidi Klum.
[FOLLOW Rock Camp Productions on Facebook.]
|Inside Puff T. Magic Dragon|
In 2004, Secluded Forest Festival commissioned Abramson, now 32, to design a vehicle that would “crash land” a group of performers on site. He successfully transformed his van into a UFO that carried the “alien” musicians, acrobats and fire-spinners around the festival grounds. When organizers asked Abramson the name of his company, he looked around at the West Virginia mountains and came up with Rock Camp Productions.
Though Secluded Forest marks RCP’s official inception, Abramson had been producing larger-than-life art installations for nearly a decade.
“Even as our Rock Camp festival puppet tour was getting its legs, I was constantly producing,” Abramson said.
A theater and dance major at Trinity College in Connecticut, he later studied interactive telecommunications at NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts.
While in New York City, Abramson landed loads of event-production gigs with trendy nightlife spots and major corporations like Bloomberg Media and Discover Credit Unions. He embraced the opportunities to create and test new pieces. Molly Glo’s grand debut at a Paul Oakenfold show was actually a project for grad school while in residency at club Crobar.
[FIND complete lineups, analysis and ticketing information for all your favorite festivals in our 2012 Festival Guide.]
Most importantly, he networked with industry pros and began to tour regularly at festivals like All Good, Gathering of the Vibes and Bonnaroo. Moving back to his family’s farm in West Virginia, he adopted the role as a sort of ringmaster for the counterculture.
With a core team of about 10 artists and performers, the self-pronounced “scene philosopher” unleashed his puppets, kites, acrobats, dancing bears and other tricks and treats on festivalgoers along the East Coast.
A major turning point in his career came at All Good 2008, when one of Abramson’s heroes acknowledged his work.
Anastasio held a nearly five-minute conversation with Sid, asking him questions even though Sid clearly could not answer back.
“It felt incredible to be recognized by one of my favorite bands and truest inspirations,” Abramson added.
Impressed by RCP’s work, Phish commissioned Puff the dragon for Festival 8 in Indio, California the following year. Other than the band, RCP was the only East Coast performance group at the festival, a feat Abramson considers “landmark” in his development as an artist, performer and producer.
Meanwhile, Mola was raised in the festival scene by her father and admired Abramson’s work from the outside. In one photo from an early Gathering of the Vibes, a 13-year-old Mola posed with a dancing bear mascot – “possibly Seth, but at the very least, one of his crew”.
She worked as a stage manager at a local theater in Connecticut before meeting Abramson in 2009. After urging from several mutual friends who pronounced her and Abramson “two peas in a pod,” they finally crossed paths at a party in New York.
She agreed to join the RCP crew on its upcoming summer festival tour, and, following a successful run at All Good 14, Abramson offered Mola a position with the team in West Virginia. She said yes.
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|Puff T. Magic Dragon|
“I’d found my calling,” she said. “Finding a way to meld my theater career and my love of festivals and art was a dream come true.”
While a major part of their art is aimed at enhancing the audience experience, Mola points out that RCP performs for musicians as well. At Gathering of the Vibes 2011, she was able to “gift” a giant glowing wire-and-carbon-fiber heart to Further while they were on stage playing “Ripple.”
“The experiences we provide to our audiences and the musicians are the most impactful and important to me,” she added.
As festival season approaches, RCP is embarking on a spring tour with EOTO and working on plans for a few summer contracts that are still under wraps. To prepare classic pieces like Molly and Sid for an appearance at somewhere like All Good, it takes at least three weeks of prep. To build an entirely new piece? Two months of careful planning, building and testing.
In between tours, the team constantly maintains their equipment, builds new pieces and brainstorms new ones, on top of staying organized with booking negotiations, public relations and the upkeep of the family farm. RCP likens their work to Broadway and Hollywood productions, where there are always unforeseen challenges and obstacles. In an inconsistent industry, the key, they say, is to be adaptable.
|Puff T. Magic Dragon|
[FIND more information on Pink Moon Festival on the event's official website.]
The inaugural extravaganza, a celebration of Pinky’s life on her birthday weekend in 2009, drew crowds with local bluegrass, jam and folk rock talent. The 2010 lineup grew to include EOTO and The Lee Boys, and 2011 featured Particle and Donna Jean Godchaux Band, plus incredible eye candy, like a black-light mini-golf course, created by the producers themselves.
“The wedding is going to be wild,” Mola said. The couple is booking their favorite artists and claiming the entire Pink Moon weekend as their wedding after-party.
“Seth and I make a great team,” she added. “Together we are pushing Rock Camp Productions further than anyone imagined it could go.”