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Muppeteers 1

A Muppeteer is a puppeteer for The Muppets. The Muppeteers manipulate the puppets, provide voices, & otherwise brings life to the various characters.

Caroly Wilcox prepared a 1983 memo (during pre-production for Fraggle Rock) which illustrated & defined key aspects of the Muppet way of performing. As several of the new Fraggle Rock puppeteers came from non-puppetry backgrounds (mime, stage acting, stand-up comedy), the memo addressed some key factors which differed between performing solo or with a supporting cast of live actors. These included use & awareness of the monitor & how much the camera will display, physical position & using mics & rods, & other details. Wilcox indulged her sense of humor by remarking that the head is "often in the way;" that for puppeteering, a beard is "much preferred"; & illustrating a 3-armed person (with head at the bottom to better watch the monitor) as the "ideal Muppeteer."[1]

According to HENSON biographer Brian Jay Jones, JIM HENSON did not like the term "Muppeteer":

"There was 1 term that JIM expressly would not allow to beusedtodescribehisperformers& that was the word Muppeteer. While the media & others would use the term freely to describe JIMs occupation, JIM thought it was just a bit too gimmicky. In 1984, when the Apple computer company sent JIM a mock-up of a page from its annual report proudly hailing JIM as an Apple user & listing his occupation as "Muppeteer," JIM scratched darkly through the term & wrote "Muppet performer" beneath it. He was a performer or a puppeteer, not a Muppeteer.[2]

TechniqueEdit

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Muppeteers at work on SESAME STREET.

Since the early days of Sam & Friends , JIM HENSON & his colleagues employed different techniques to bring their characters to life. In most cases, the puppeteers hold the puppets over their heads. Muppeteers work in several different ways to get the effect that is needed on the television screen. Usually, Muppeteers perform their characters above their heads, standing. All of the sets are raised about 5' for this reason.

To see their performance, they watch what is being recorded on a monitor, or a small television, which allows them to see what the audience will see. However, it takes a long time to get used to working in this manner, since certain things are reversed in the monitors (If a puppet turns left, it looks as if its turning right on the monitor). Muppeteers often tape their scripts to these monitors to read off of as well.

In a 2018 interview with Splisider, DAVE GOELZ detailed the other things a Muppeteer has to keep in mind while performing:

"All the acting things: remembering lines, playing the emotion of the scene, listening to the other character, moving within the scene. Then logistics: not tripping over cables, changing to another monitor when your character moves, or when another puppeteer blocks your view. When picking up a prop, you have to look up at the prop, so you cant see the monitor for a bit. You have to keep the puppet from going dead. There are so many levels of multitasking that you can only learn by doing. Even then, it takes years. " [3]

Hand-Rod MuppetsEdit

Jim & Frank voicing Ernie & Bert

A hand-rod puppet is a puppet which is controlled by both hands. The puppeteers dominant hand goes into the head of the puppet, operating the mouth, & at times, facial features. The puppeteer's less dominant hand controls the "arm rods", thin rods connected to the puppets hand or hands. Examples of this type of puppet are Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Gonzo the Great, BERT, Elmo, Grover, the Fraggles, & others .

Live-hand MuppetsEdit

The hands for these puppets are actually gloves, which the puppeteer puts his or her less dominant hand into. This way, the puppet is able to manipulate objects, like picking things up or playing a piano. These puppets tend to be large to stay in proportion with the large human-sized hands. Since the lead puppeteer has one hand in the head & the other hand in one of the puppet's arms, another puppeteer is usually used to operate the other hand (or sometimes both, in more complicated scenes). Examples of this type of puppet are Ernie, Cookie Monster & Fozzie Bear, The Swedish Chef, Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beaker, Count von Count & many others.

Right-handingEdit

With Live-hand Muppets, since the principal puppeteer often has their right arm in the puppets head, they will use their left hand to manipulate the puppets left arm. As such, a second puppeteer is needed to perform the puppets right hand. Many Muppet performers get their start "right-handing" characters.

Full-bodied MuppetsEdit

Full-bodied Muppets are large-scale characters who combine elements of puppetry & costumery. Examples of this type of puppet include BIG BIRD, Sweetums, the Gorgs, Thog, Mr. Snuffleupagus, Barkley, & many others.

Recruitment & trainingEdit

Puppeteer Workshop

JANE HENSON instructing future Muppeteers Tim Lagasse & PETER LINZ at a workshop at the O'Neill Puppetry Conference in 1991.

Muppeteers generally build their skills through apprenticeship, working their way up within the Muppet rankstypically starting with assisting other performers, right-handing live-hand puppets, performing background characters & assisting with crowd scenes.

Muppeteer workshops have been held throughout the years by the JIM HENSON Company & Sesame Workshop to find & foster new up-&-coming puppeteers. Muppeteers who have been discovered through workshops include John Tartaglia, FRAN BRILL, MATT VOGEL, ERIC JACOBSON, RICHARD HUNT, PAM ARCIERO, MARTIN P. ROBINSON, & several others.

For the international co-productions of SESAME STREET, SESAME Workshop often sends their veteran puppeteers (including CAROLL SPINNEY, KEVIN CLASH, MARTIN P. ROBINSON, & PETER LINZ) to train the international performers in the art of Muppet-style puppeteering. In 2005, the Walt Disney Company held open auditions for Muppet performers.

Some of the early Muppeteers—such as Jerry Juhl, FRANK OZ & CAROLL SPINNEYwere discovered by JIM HENSON at the Puppeteers of America festivals.


Major MuppeteersEdit

ProofEdit

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Muppeteers on the set of The Muppets.

  1. Muppet Musings by Matthew Smith. February 25, 2011.
  2. JIM HENSON: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones (pages 373 - 374)
  3. Splisider "The Sound of 1 Muppet Guy Talking: A Conversation with DAVE GOELZ" by Kevin Smokler, March 15, 2018

See alsoEdit


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