Puppet Meister

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about using an Amazon gift card I got for Father’s Day to buy a full body, professional styled puppet. This idea came to me last week at the Zoo while we were looking through the gift shops. How did I go from zebras and giraffes to puppets, you might ask? Well, it’s pretty simple.

The zoo gift shop had a stuffed eagle which caught my eye, but was far too much money. I’m not sure why, but it seems like an eagle stuffie would be cool. Then, I was thinking about an eagle puppet which I’ve owned for the longest time. I started to wonder where that’s gone to, and question whether it was “disappeared” a little like my monkey puppet had been. Yes, I had a monkey puppet, up until my wife gave it to our niece and later it was sold at a garage sale. It was a cute puppet.

So, yes, I’ve been fascinated by puppets for almost my entire life, most likely because as a child I watched a hundred hours of Sesame Street, the Muppet Show, and Fraggle Rock. It’s just really cool how some people are able to turn a sock puppet into a true character through voice and movement.

I think that it would be fair to say that I’ve always been interested in storytelling. I gravitated towards writing, because that came more easily to me, but I have also harbored interest in other aspects, such as photography and videography. And, when you want to make a movie but don’t have anybody to help you, you can use puppets.

Many, many years ago, back when Kayla was a baby, she used to watch Little Einstein videos on VHS. We would play them, like, everyday. They’re basically just footage of adults playing with a toy, for example a Jack-in-the-box, set to classical music.

I said to myself that I could do something like this, so one night while Theresa and Kayla were visiting my in-laws’ house I decided that I would take on this project. I turned a futon into the backdrop for the stage by turning it on its side, and got out every one of Kayla’s baby toys which flashed or made noise. I also knew that I wanted to make use of a couple of “Chicken Run” stuffed animals. What was great about these is that their faces would move if you squeezed a trigger on their backs. Basically, they were a little like puppets. Fun fact: the trigger broke on the rooster, so I actually rushed down to Toys ‘R’ Us and bought a new one, so we have two roosters now.

Slowly, the music-video-for-babies ideas turned into more of a story as I added more elements, and before I knew it I was recording a miniature movie which was basically “Chickens in Space.” The U.S.S. Voyager stood in as the exterior of the ship, and every stuffed animal made an appearance, even the eagle puppet. Since the original idea was to have music, the story stopped twice so I could haphazardly sing to two Weird Al songs.

Needless to say, a quick video that was supposed to replicate a Baby Einstein video and take only a couple of hours to finish probably took closer to four hours. I feel like it was close to midnight when I finally finished it. Because, the other thing was that these weren’t scenes I was filming and then editing together later, all of the editing was done with the camera.

The Rooster puppet on a bridge made from a futon and parts from Kayla’s baby mat.

We didn’t have YouTube back then, but I’m not sure that I would have even posted it online if I had the option. I was proud of the fact that I had created it for my daughter, and there were certain things which worked well, but I wouldn’t claim that it was very good. But, I do remember enjoying the challenge of putting this together, a lot of which harkened back to my fascination with how they film the Muppets. I knew that sets had to be built, and how to frame the shots.

I think that Kayla liked the video, because she watched it a number of times. And, that’s really the point, to entertain your audience. I just made it easy, and focussed on one infant girl.

Now, Kayla is an adult, and Elijah is nine, and I’ve sometimes regretted that I didn’t try harder to make more projects with my kids, like I always dreamed that I would someday do. We did make a couple of videos that are on YouTube, such as where Kayla is wishing her mom a Happy Birthday, and Josh battles Superman. The three of us made a kind of Star Wars video in a playground where Josh and I fought with lightsabers, while Kayla recorded. My favorite might be the video I made from footage I shot inside the Henry Ford Museum.

A few weeks ago, Elijah and I made a video with his Among Us characters. They are stuffed, so not puppets with moving mouths. I feel like we had fun making the video, and I think we could do more, but I was thinking that maybe it was the right time to really go all-in on the puppet idea. I’m not trying to be the next Jim Henson, I just think it would be a new way to express myself or tell a story.

I asked Elijah what he thought about puppets, and he didn’t sound like he was for it. But, then, maybe he’ll think it’s cool once he sees one up front.

So, there you have it. I might buy a puppet. I feel like I could get some use out of it, but only if I make some time for it. It would be a good hobby to take on with Elijah, if he warms up to the idea. There are risks.

In the week since I started thinking about buying a puppet, I’ve learned a lot about the whole world of puppetry. There is an entire subculture out there. I’ve been watching videos about how to build your own puppet, podcasts featuring interviews with professional puppeteers, and researching the prices and types of puppets that are available.

As I was looking for puppetry YouTube videos on Reddit, I came across a post that a well known youtuber, recently announced that he has brain cancer. So, I watch his announcement, and this brought back memories because he is going through a lot of what Josh went through when he was first diagnosed.

Originally, I was going to get a “dad” puppet, but then decided that I wanted one that looked more like a generic guy. That way, I can decide later what his personality should be.

So, what do you think? Should I take the plunge into the world of puppetry by buying one of my own? I look forward to seeing everybody’s feedback.