Adventures of a Semi-Wild Animal Tamer

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Book Review: Jim Henson: The Biography

After about a year-and-half of off-and-on reading, I recently finished Brian Jay Jones's "Jim Henson: The Biography". At 490 pages (not counting the hefty notes and bibliography sections), it's definitely not light reading, but it's by far the most in-depth biography I've ever read.

I cannot praise the quality of this book enough. I really felt like I was right there with Jim all the way through his life, from his early years in Mississippi to his youthful quest in Maryland to get into television; through his many years of advertising work and his attempts to popularize his Muppet characters and land them a weekly half-hour television show; from the early Sesame Street and Muppet Show years, through the amazing ups and downs of producing his masterpiece movies (Dark Crystal and Labyrinth), and on into his later years when he focused back on television and tried unsuccessfully to sell the Muppets to Disney just before his death. It's all in there, and with the level of detail that can only come from years of research into Jim's life.

On the dust cover, there's a quote from Frank Oz stating that, in spite of knowing Jim for so long, he still learned things he had never known from reading Jones's book. I thought that was probably mere sales hype, but after finishing the book, I am not surprised at all that someone who had been close to Jim could learn something new about him. Honestly, it's so thorough and detailed, I wouldn't be surprised if Jim's own family even learned a few things about him from this book.

What I found most interesting was how reading this book made me realize some things about myself as a puppeteer. Jim's life story has given me a different perspective on what it means to be a successful puppeteer and what it takes to get there. I couldn't help looking for possible similarities between Jim and myself, and while I'm certainly no Jim Henson, I did notice a few commonalities that I would never have thought about before.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone truly interested in learning about Jim Henson: his life, his family, his accomplishments, his failures, his dreams and aspirations. I will warn, though, that there are more than a few quotes (primarily from Oz) with uncensored expletives, so this book would not be suitable for all audiences. I'll also warn that the next to last chapter is a real tear-jerker with its detailed description of Jim's final days and memorial service. Have a full box of tissues handy before you start that one - you're going to need them.

Mood: pensive

Evolution of a Tarantula

This Halloween season, I debuted a new first of it's kind puppet for me that also has roots going back over ten years: Terrence Tarantula, who is a rather large marionette.

Back in 2005, I created a large costume puppet tarantula that walks on all eights. I performed this character walking on hands and feet using hand stilts to balance myself, much the same as with my triceratops, billy goat, and arctic fox. The costume tarantula was very popular, but after four years of working with him, I had grown tired of lugging the rather large fourteen pound costume around to do performances. So, I retired him and built a flying fox fruit bat to take his place for Halloween events.
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Mood: chipper

Great Regional Puppet Festival Report

This year through fate and circumstance, I decided to try attending the regional festival for the mid-western region of the Puppeteers of America: the Great Regional Puppet Festival (GRPF) in Saint Louis, Missouri. This was my first regional outside of the southeast region, and I thought it would be a nice change of pace to meet puppeteers from outside of my region in a casual kind of festival environment. National festivals are great for meeting a wide range of people, but I find regionals are better for actually getting to know people.
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Mood: cheerful

Introducing Roopert the Kangaroo

It's been a while since I debuted a brand new character, but after months of hard work I'm thrilled to introduce Roopert the Kangaroo:

Roopert represents a new direction for me, for while he's as large as many of my costume-puppet creations, but he's not a costume-puppet. He's a special style of oversized mouth-and-live-arm puppet inspired loosely by the animal characters in the Lion King Broadway show.

I'm hoping to develop a scripted performance around Roopert next year, but in the meantime he's available for general walk-around meet-and-greet. If you'd like Roopert to appear at your next event, he'd be more than happy to hop on by.

Mood: bouncyish

Braxton Bear Visits the Smoky Mountains

My annual spring getaway took me up to the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina this year, and Braxton Bear came along hoping to finally meet some of his cousins. Unfortunately, the weather turned rather cold this year, making my spring getaway feel more like a winter excursion -- it was so cold that it was actually snowing at Newfound Gap, which is along the crest of the mountains when you are crossing them on US 441.

With the weather so cold, the local bears were still hibernating, so Braxton still hasn't met any of his cousins (well, other than one that had been stuffed and put on display in the lobby of Unicoi Lodge). Even so, Braxton made the best of his time in the Smokies and posed for a few pictures in his natural habitat. You can find them in our photo gallery.

Mood: chipper

Had a Blast at the Children's Healthcare Mascot Trot

This past Saturday, Orville the Ornithomimus braved the freezing cold to participate in Children's Healthcare's annual Mascot Trot, part of their Strong Legs Run fundraiser event. With winds up to 22 MPH and a wind chill around 25°F, it was quite an unusual experience, but Orville made the best of it.

With the coldest weather I've ever seen for the race, many of the normal entertainment activities didn't or couldn't happen, but Orville and the other nineteen mascots did their best to make up for that. And what a bunch: everything from the KSU Owl and Freddie Falcon to Spiderman to Priscilla the Pig to the Coke Polar Bear to two (yes, two) Elmos! Oh, and I can't forget a special shout-out to Orville's good friend, Wally the Lion! All things considered, it was a great day with plenty of photo ops and lots of hugs, even if no one seemed to be able to correctly pronounce Orville's species (it sounds like this: Orn-ith-oh-meye-mus.)

Kevin Pittman and his Forest Friends hopes to participate again next year (it will be our tenth year at the event), but we're not sure yet who will be going. More to come on that in 2015 as we get a little closer to the event.

Mood: chipper

Puppeteer Becky Ray Needs a Kidney

Please watch and help if you can:

Becky's Kidney Video (Featuring Leslie Carrara-Rudolph)

Visit Becky's Website for more information on how you can help.

Mood: pensive

Welcome to Our Blog!

At long last, I can finally debut the official blog for Kevin Pittman and his Forest Friends. My name is Sheldon, and I will be the official spokesfox for Kevin and all of the Forest Friends here on this blog.

What can you expect to find here in the future? Well, I'll be letting you know about some of Kevin's adventures in the magical world of puppetry, reporting on some of his big performances, sharing tips and tricks about puppeteering and puppet building, and relaying puppetry news of interest to anyone living in metro Atlanta or anywhere in the southeastern United States for that matter.

Please feel free to share links to these posts (there's a "permalink" for every post listed at the bottom of the post to make sharing easy). However, please be respectful of our copyright in our posts and don't copy them to other places without Kevin's explicit permission. If you'd like to request permission to re-post something, just use our handy Contact Form to get in touch with him. No permission is needed to re-post general puppetry event announcements, BTW - feel free to copy and re-post them anywhere you'd like!

Mood: chipper