Puppeteers Train, Bond At Conference
LIANE HANSEN, host:
This past Thursday, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce announced the Muppets are going to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. That's probably welcome news to a group of puppeteers who trained and rehearsed this past week at the O'Neill National Puppetry Conference in Waterford, Connecticut.
Mark Herz of member station WSHU paid a visit.
MARK HERZ: The conference is like an intense puppetry camp. It's on a large estate with four theaters. Participants eat and sleep here and generally work from sun-up to long into the night. On any day, there are dozens of rehearsals all over the grounds. In one, a bejeweled white-faced Queen Elizabeth I is being put through her paces.
Unidentified Man #1: Queen opens. Go ahead.
Unidentified Man #2: (as Queen Elizabeth) I (unintelligible) that took this queen (unintelligible) first to arrive, which is (unintelligible).
Unidentified Man #1: Does the head move at all?
Unidentified Man #2: Once I get her down.
Unidentified Man #1: Okay. Get her where you can articulate her the most...
HERZ: Out on the grass, a dozen puppeteers lie on their backs and pass balloons around using their feet. Others dash back and forth bouncing long rods on their open palms. Puppeteers have to use their whole bodies in their art.
In an amphitheater, Shakespeare's green winged (unintelligible) in marionette-form is rehearsing.
Unidentified Woman (Puppeteer): Then slip by from her bum, get on top of she and tailor cries and falls into a (unintelligible)...
HERZ: From marionettes to shadow puppets to Muppets, it's all going on here. Kathy Mullen(ph) has been in all the Muppet movies. Now, she makes puppet films to help kids in developing countries. One of his films on land mines done in English and dubbed later, plays on Kabul television once a week.
(Soundbite of TV show)
Unidentified Man #3: No one goes to that house, Tucci(ph). There must be land mines in there. Remember, when...
Unidentified Man #4: When in doubt, stay out.
HERZ: Mullen says most cultures have puppet traditions and they're perfect vehicles for teaching.
Ms. KATHY MULLEN (Puppeteer): They're international, they cross all borders, they're non-threatening. They can say things people can't say.
HERZ: Martin Robinson has been using puppets to teach for 30 years. You probably know him.
Mr. MARTIN ROBINSON (Puppeteer): (as Snuffleupagus) Oh dear.
HERZ: Yep - Snuffleupagus. Robinson is a proponent of what he calls puppet anarchy.
Mr. ROBINSON: We wrote down all the rules of puppetry, every rule of puppetry that we could think of, and then we proceeded to break them, to break their arms, break their legs, disembowel them.
HERZ: In one of this year's projects, puppets were constructed from vegetables, made into a salad and eaten. Before they were lunch, those puppets probably seemed as alive as any of the puppets here.
For NPR News, I'm Mark Herz.