My journey creating and producing puppetry... trials, tribulations, inspiration and contemplation.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Puppet Building with Michael Earl

Back in January of 2010, I had a great time at Michael Earl's Television Puppetry Workshop in NYC. Michael and Roberto are making a name for themselves in the puppetry world as they offer classes coast to coast through their newly created Puppet School. I remember Michael's puppets being very effortless to operate. New puppet builders like myself are always searching for that 'perfect mouthplate' and I always love incorporating new building skills into what I already know. When I saw that his Puppet Making Workshop was being offered this past Thursday [Dec. 2], I signed up immediately.

Michael and Roberto's relaxed approach makes learning fun and accessible for everyone in the class no matter their level of expertise. Within a matter of a few short hours, five new monsters were 'born' into the puppetry world. Michael's puppets are very simplistic but big on personality.

I originally intended to bring a bag with me to carry my new creation on my way back through the city to my home-bound train. I left the bag at home and slung the new creature over my arm as I walked the few blocks to my uptown subway stop. I'm glad I left the bag behind as I saw the quick glances and smiles blooming on the crowd of faces as I walked by. Those moments remind you of why you chose to be a puppeteer.

This Saturday, Dec. 4, was the holiday parade in Beacon, NY and my new little monster just needed a Santa cap and he was a natural for the day's festivities. I thought "Ned" was an appropriate name for the time being and he made many friends and took lots of photos with people on his first public outing.

Me and Ned before leaving for the parade

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Down & Dirty Dog Puppet

I took Matt Ficner's puppet building workshop in Spring of 2009. It's been well over a year since I began building my own puppet using what I learned in Matt's workshop and I have FINALLY finished it. The foam head base was built last year after I knew my 9-5 job was going to be outsourced. The puppet was one of those projects I kept putting off until the job ended. It finally came to pass this October and, slowly, the puppet muse crept back in and before you know it, fur was flying and I was slinging the hot-glue gun once more. As a graphic designer, there's nothing I like more than what we call "down and dirty tricks" - simple tricks to get a job done. Matt's method to puppet making was a great crash-course in "down and dirty" puppet making. I had a lot of fun watching this guy take shape and finally come to life. The ears are pose-able with a built-in wire armature. The nose was sculpted from light-weight sculpey clay and its wet-like sheen was created with stain glass paint. Following are a full body view, head close-up and ear span images.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Thank You Richard Hunt!

Sunday, July 18, I was excited to produce Jessica Max Stein and her presentation on Richard Hunt. More than the presentation itself, the whole experience reminded me of an episode of Fraggle Rock where someone comes in to your life and causes you to look at a part of yourself and leaves everyone positively affected for having met.

Max's two-hour presentation was filled with wonderful stories of that Muppeteer that we all love, Richard Hunt. Video clips included vintage Sesame Street, Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock. It was a joy to relive those moments with Max's insight into Richard's life and career.

It turned out Max and I are both queer, Jewish, Muppet fans who hail from Niskayuna, a town in upstate NY. Her experience and my own had some similarities and it was great to get to get to know a kindred spirit.

Max created this uber-cool Toronto Fraggle Geography Google Map inspired by her recent trip to Toronto. Check it out!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fantastic Puppets

Wednesday, June 16, I took a day trip to Lexington, MA to the National Heritage Museum to catch the Jim Henson's Fantastic World Exhibit before it's final bow on the East coast at the end of this month. I had heard some casual fans say that they had wished there were more puppets in the exhibit but, if you are a true fan of Henson or just a fan of the artistic process, this exhibit had plenty to make you happy. When I first walked in and saw a 1970s full-bodied Kermit sitting in a display case, the 10 year old in me just stared and wanted to say hello to my old friend. It was wonderful to connect to that youthful awe again. The exhibit was dotted with gems such as Jim's original concept drawings and college-age poster designs. As a creative person, I could appreciate what a well-rounded artist and how amazingly talented this man was.

The old commercials played on loop in one room including this great Ideal Toys commercial from 1966 that featured some of the irreverent humor from the Muppets that we all came to know and love. As a puppet builder, it was wonderful to finally see to some of the great Muppet creations and study their design up close. I don't want to give everything away but, suffice it to say, it's something every Muppet fan should try to see. So far, the last booked leg of the tour is 10/30/10 - 1/23/11 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. If you haven't seen it yet, I would highly recommend it.

Thursday, the 24th, I found myself in Brooklyn, NY taking in St Anne's Warehouse Labapalooza which featured 4 snippets from developing puppet artists. The artistry was inspiring and Lone Wolf Tribe's Hobo Grunt Cycle was phenomenal to say the least. Kevin Augustine weaved a beautiful narration with very little dialogue. The images were hauntingly beautiful and the theme of life, death and rebirth was captivating.

Friday, June 04, 2010

The Rainbow Connection: Richard Hunt, Gay Muppeteer

I'm very excited to be producing this event in July.

The Rainbow Connection: Richard Hunt, Gay Muppeteer, a presentation by author Jessica Max Stein, will be held Sunday, July 18, 2010 at 2pm at the Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center, 12 Vassar Street, Poughkeepsie, NY.

Richard Hunt joined the Muppets at age 19 and went on to be a central performer on the international blockbusters Sesame Street, The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock, creating such beloved characters as Scooter, Janice, Beaker and Statler (in the Muppet balcony), even briefly performing Miss Piggy in her early drag queen days. Hunt died of AIDS-related complications in 1992, only 40 years old.

Author Jessica Max Stein is working on a biography of Hunt, based on her best-selling zine The Rainbow Connection: Richard Hunt, Gay Muppeteer. Her 2-hour presentation includes over an hour of Muppet clips interspersed with details of Hunt's fascinating story as a Muppeteer who happened to be a gay man. She teaches English at the City University of New York, and lives in Brooklyn.

Zines will be available for sale at the event. (See for details.)

Tickets are $5, cash at box office/day of show. Reservations suggested, seating is limited. Call 917 502 4098 or email Event info:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Stuffed and Unstrung

I will never forget, as a young Muppet fan, eagerly writing the Muppet Show Fan Club and asking them about the possibility of coming to see a taping of the Muppet Show. At the time, I had no clue that it was taped in the UK but, that was beside the point. I received a reply from some staffer at the fan club explaining to me that the Muppet Show was not taped like a regular show with an audience. I may have been young but, this, I understood because I was eager to see the process! I was chomping at the bit wanting to see how it was actually done! As a young puppeteer, I needed to see my creative peers in action. Alas, my dreams would be put on hold for a good 30 years.

Last Saturday, April 10, I had tickets with friends to see Stuffed and Unstrung at the Union Square Theater in Manhattan and finally got to see the process in all its glory. The giddy 10 year old inside was unleashed as I purchased a Stuffed and Unstrung t-shirt. I spied the tarp-covered mound of puppets on stage as the neon "Stuffed and Unstrung" sign flashed above.

When the actors took the stage and the familiar "Puppet Up" theme played out before us, I eagerly anticipated the merriment and [very] adult comedy that would keep us all in stitches for a nearly 2 hour show. How lucky I felt to see skits like the aliens visiting an erotic bakery or the news story of Justin Bieber after being attacked by Godzilla - or the Hot Dogs in their 12-step program breaking their addiction to Tiger Woods. These were all so hysterically portrayed but, because of the fact that this is improv, would be unique to the time I saw the show. Thinking of how many different skits were made up on the spot like that during the run of the show just made you appreciate what they are actually creating all the more.

It warmed the true fan's heart to see a couple of classic Henson skits worked in to the program. Brian creates a skit on the fly after intermission that makes your jaw drop when you realize what's happening. After having mastered that piece, he must have a blast creating it every night. Still, he drops a little improv into it to make it unique for every show. The audience participation skits are a lot of fun and each person invited up on stage looked like they were re-living a part of their childhood too. How can you not smile with these incredible puppets within arms reach?

I thought it was cute and kind-of telling when a staffer parked herself at the front of the stage during intermission to guard the puppets. You would have to actually have a pretty good reach or jump up on stage to get close enough to the puppets but, I guess they must know there's enough rabid fans out there with little self control.

If you can make it to Manhattan, Stuffed and Unstrung is running through Saturday, May 29 and, beginning April 29, all 9pm shows will be moved to 8pm for all those who cherish an earlier bed-time. Go see this fantastic show! You will be happy you did.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Puppet Slam February 5th, 2010

Friday night, 2/5, I found myself in SoHo with a couple of good friends to take in the "Puppet Blok Gets Punched" at Dixon Place. The Dixon Place Puppet Blok teamed with Drama Of Works' PUNCH Puppet Slam for a night of adult puppet entertainment. It was a mix of drama, song, poetry and comedy with styles ranging from hand/rod puppets to bunraku and shadow puppetry. There was an awe-inspiring black-light performance by Evolve Company, a touching shadow puppetry homage to a soldier leaving home for war beautifully sung and performed by Alissa Hunnicutt with Sarah Lafferty, a loving tribute for a departed loved one by Papermoon Puppet Theater and rib-tickling comedic scenes provided by James Walton, Suzie Wong, Patryk Wilinski and Kim Mikenis. Bravo to all involved in bringing this show together. This was my FIRST adult puppet night out and it felt great to bask in the talent of my puppeteer peers and feel inspired. If you're in the NYC area, check in with Dixon Place for future Puppet Blok performances and Drama of Works PUNCH

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Michael Earl Television Puppetry Workshop

Yesterday, I took a very informative and hands-on workshop in NYC for television puppetry. The teacher, Michael Earl, is a former Muppet performer as well as a puppeteer on projects such as the "Men In Black" films and "Team American World Police". Michael is such a pro and watching him bring to life his simple, classroom puppets was like watching a Sesame Street dress rehearsal. It was a different story when us students got in front of the camera but, having the technique to practice is great.

The class was a full day from 10am to 5pm with a half-hour lunch. With a limit of 8 students, we all got ample camera and puppet time. The class was broken down into various exercises that started simply with the bare hand in order to understand the movement and get use to the opposite orientation of the movement on a monitor. Specific poses and techniques were emphasized that could then be built upon through practice. Songs were used to help with various techniques and Michael was a patient, professional guide throughout.

Strictly from a 'fan' perspective, Michael provided anecdotes and lessons from his years with the Muppets and learning from his mentors such as Frank Oz and Jim Henson. It was thrilling to hear his stories from his 'Muppet' days and I could have happily listened to those for half the day.

If you think you know puppetry, wait until you start performing to a monitor. Our class ranged from seasoned Broadway performers to a person just starting in puppetry and everyone in between yet, I feel we were all pretty new to this style of puppetry performance. It certainly created great energy from everyone and it was interesting to learn something from each unique energy that people brought.

If you get the opportunity to take one of Michael's workshops, I can't recommend him enough. Even in a one day class, so much is covered that it is certainly money well spent. You'll want to take notes so bring a notebook and Michael welcomes puppeteers to bring their own puppets to use later in the class. The monster puppets he uses for class are perfect for the exercises and are easier to use when the whole class is doing the same exercise.

Michael has up-coming one-day workshops slated for NYC, San Francisco, Chicago and Atlanta. I highly recommend anyone interested to sign up now. Michael said the workshop in NYC for March 2010 already had 6 students on the waiting list. That leaves only 2 slots left so, puppeteers - jump on it!