Adventures of a Semi-Wild Animal Tamer

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New Life for an Old Character

Hard as it is for me to believe, I've been doing puppetry and building puppets for over sixteen years now, and during that time I've built nearly seventy-five puppets. Over twenty of them are fully-body costume-puppet (AKA body puppet) style characters, which I've always loved, but as one gets older it isn't as easy to climb into these giant things and bring them to life like you can in your twenties and early thirties.

Triton the Triceratops as a Static Display
That's not to say that I don't do costume character performances at all any more - I certainly do. Just not as many, and about half of my characters of this style are now retired for various reasons. A few got worn out from being popular, and some others just didn't quite work out in terms of designs. For example, I once made a giant tree-frog costume where I got down on all fours and hopped like a frog. I'd found I could do that pretty well at home, but didn't realize what my body would feel like after three thirty-minute sets of hopping in one day! That was the first and last time I used the tree frog in public.

Another retired costume character that got a little more time in the limelight was Triton the Triceratops. Inspired from seeing the triceratops in the Dinosaurs! show at the Center for Puppetry Arts, I'd been wanting to make a similar quadruped triceratops since 2003, but didn't get to the point of having the right opportunity and skill set until 2009, when I developed Triton to use at a local natural history museum.

Triton was definitely a hit, but he was a pain in the neck for me - literally! Try as I might to lighten his head, I just couldn't get the weight down to a comfortable level, and ultimately I started having neck muscle pain that still haunts me to this day. It's not chronic in the sense of hurting every day, but it doesn't take much now to irritate those muscles and get them hurting. Thus, Triton was retired after just one year of roughly every-other-month appearances. I soon disassembled him and packed most of him in a large plastic bin, but after a while I started thinking about him and wanted to do something useful with him.

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Mood: chipper

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.

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Mood: pensive

Evolution of a Tarantula

Terrence 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