Friday, March 13, 2009


No doubt most of you know how much I hate auditions. And if you don't, here's a recap: Auditions are vile and icky.

However, a few weeks ago, I had an audition that seemed more like a party. There was more laughing in that waiting room than in most comedy clubs on a Saturday night. The reason: these are good folks.  Pound for pound, they are the most talented actors I've ever had the pleasure of playing with. These are puppeteers. These are friends.

A few years ago, I had the chance to learn the basics (basics only mind you) of puppetry at the Jim Henson Company. I was asked to join an improv group that Henson was forming. Improv...combined with puppets. I knew improv. I didn't know puppets.

I showed up for my first rehearsal and sat in the back. The folks in that room were (and still are) the best puppeteers in the world. The Neil Armstrongs of puppetry. Drew Massey. Alan TrautmanVictor Yerrid. Julianne Buescher, Bill Baretta, Brian Henson, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph. 

Now, I've been in enough improv groups to know how it goes. New guy/girl shows up, gets on stage and all the other members of the troupe sit back...ready to judge unmercifully. 

This was in the back of my mind that first rehearsal as it came to be my turn to take the stage. On a table next to me were about 50 puppets. I was told to take any puppet and do a scene with another puppeteer. The equivalent, I suppose, would be if a brick layer was summoned to Washington to crunch numbers with Timothy Geitner. 

I started sweating. I grabbed the easiest puppet I could find. A penguin. There were no arms to move. Just a mouth. The other puppeteer and I took our places at the front of the stage. (Not really a stage....we were in a small screening room.)

Now, here's the way this works. There's a camera right in front of us. It's higher than us. Above our heads. The idea is to lift your puppet into the view of the camera while keeping your head out of the view. Next, on the floor in front is a TV monitor that shows you what the camera is seeing. There's another monitor to the left, right and behind.

When you turn your puppet to the left, it's the opposite on the monitor and the puppet moves to the right. It's flopped. Okay.

So, you hold the puppet above your head, look in a monitor, know that right is left and left is right...oh, and improv a scene while being tremendously clever. It's a real brain buster.

I did my first scene with my penguin and...well, let's just say my dog would have done a better job. 

Like, I said, I've been in a lot of improv groups and if someone had shown as much lack of skill as I did, there would have been a goodly amount of sniggering and self-satisfaction among the other members of the group. 

But that's not what happened. The other puppeteers started showing me the right way to hold the puppet. They were only to happy to work with me. These were folks that wanted to share what they knew. Unheard of. (Unfortunately, I'm still pretty lousy.)

Since that night, I have come to have great respect for puppeteers. They are some of the best actors I've ever been around. They can do things that would amaze you.

A few months ago when Christian Bale had his little rant because the cinematographer was distracting him, I thought about my puppeteer pals. 

Imagine doing a scene with your arm above your head for upwards of ten minutes. You are crammed into a tiny little space under a desk(or the front seat of a car). Another puppeteer has his knee in your face. A script is pasted onto a monitor. It's hot. Now perform and make it good.

Anyway, this all leads me back to that audition two weeks ago. Yes, everyone wanted to get the parts(s). But even given the competition, there was laughter and camaraderie.

Given the choice, I'd be locked in a room with these people any day.


  1. I'm telling you, the way the Henson performers can improv on the fly continues to be astounding and impressive to me. If only I could have that talent. Reference this recent video with Ricky Gervais and Elmo (I'm assuming Kevin Clash?) -

    If the whole curling thing doesn't work out, I'd pay good money to see a Paul Rugg performed character in a Henson production.

  2. Allow me to stroke your ego for a moment and tell you that when I heard you were in Puppet-Up, I knew it would be good, and I had to scower the internet to find it.

    And I was right.

    If you were a sub-par puppeter, I surley didn't notice. I still wish I could find more episodes. It never came on TV did it?

  3. Taki - I think it just kind of went into an internet series on TBS... as far as I know it never became a TV show

    But that's so awesome! I met David Rudman a couple of months ago and he was as nice as nice can be. And, man, I'd love to meet the people you got to work with. Puppeteers are cool.

  4. Maz has a shrine to Jim Henson that she prays to each night. True story.

    She can also do an Ethel Mermon impression, and I've just come into alot of chocolate, and a bat. [~eyes her~]

    So Paul, you had a puppet-related audition a few weeks ago, how long do you wait for a call back? Or did they let you know already?

    And HOW DARE people come to YOUR blog and vote for Chuck Delore and Anson Cramm to be commentators over you! That's not right.

  5. I agree, puppeteers are the best actors you've never seen.