Puppet Up

I woke up Monday morning and decided, “This week I want to learn a lot about puppeteers.”

Okay, that didn’t happen at all, but I’m not sure I could have learned more about the craft as quickly as I have this week if I tried.

My education began while stuck at a friend’s house with nothing to watch besides “Being Elmo”, a film about the rise of Kevin Clash, “the biggest, never-recognized star ever”.  Having purchased tickets for Henson’s “Stuffed and Unstrung” weeks before, I was taken in by the documentary’s exploration of how puppets are crafted, the skill set of a puppeteer and the various, truly creative personalities that make up some of my childhood favorites: namely Labyrinth and The Muppet Show. Seeing the “behind the scenes” production of something I’ve taken for granted throughout my life proved quite interesting.

With “Being Elmo” acting as a natural prequel to our planned improv excursion, last night my Second City cohorts and I to headed to the theater for Brian Henson’s “Stuffed and Unstrung”, an adult-themed, entirely puppet-driven comedy show. I believe that one could watch this show for hours on end and never tire of the antics involved, as there are so many elements to observe and appreciate.

While one show, (the show of simply the puppets interactions), takes place on the screens of the theater, the audience member can choose to watch the action above or the puppeteers below. Arms thrust high in the air, puppeteering seems a true workout, the actors running about the stage, diving in and out of the scenes, and keeping a close watch on the on-screen action by following the monitors below them. This approach, sans curtain or frame to hide the performers below, proved wildly entertaining, especially during Brian’s dance about the stage as a theater usher. Absolutely phenomenal work.

A true treat for the audience, the show includes two throwback pieces originally written and performed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz while they were only 20 years old. I remembered seeing each as a child, and my heart went out to Jim’s son as he filled his father’s shoes for these comical pieces.

Worth a mention, the show’s co-creator a truly skillful emcee (recognized from TV’s Ellen), Patrick Bristow, led the audience through the evening. Having formerly studied improvising, I appreciated Patrick’s antics with the audience and walked away with some memorable tricks.

And finally, I recognized that I can actually be a bit jealous; an emotion I don’t often feel. The show contained two audience participation pieces, the later piece allowing a girl from the audience to act as a puppeteer alongside Brian Henson. A small part of me considered buying tickets every night until I stood on the stage; it looked delightfully fun (and complicated!).

Highly recommended, if you have the opportunity to go see “Stuffed and Unstrung”, sprint to the theater. It is truly a “Puppet Up!” good time.


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