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Sunday, April 17, 2011

wooden performance

So here we are.
In my long history in voiceovers and as a Muppet Performer on Sesame Street, I have brought many inanimate objects to life. I have played, to name a few: a shoe, a telephone, a tumbleweed, a jacket, and a teapot. I have also played various vegetables and foodstuffs; in fact, I have played both Bean #3 (for Sesame Street) and Bean #2 (for Cartoon Network’s Sheep in the Big City). It is my goal to someday get cast as Bean #1. Then I’ll know I’ve made it.
These objects were turned into characters with eyes and mouths, odd as that may seem to you normal people. It’s something we’re so used to in the puppetry world that saying sentences like Do I sound like a cheese? and Can we adjust the eyelids on that cake? are perfectly ordinary and sane.
That said, I had a new experience last week. I played a door and a shelf. Not a talking or singing door or shelf with eyes. Just a plain old door and a plain old shelf. 
In your face, Meryl.

See, people forget that whenever something moves onstage, or in a film, or on TV, there’s a person doing that, either manually or via some mechanical device, with precise timing. (What, you think those doors in Star Trek actually worked? The computer was a disembodied voice and Christmas lights.) 
And while this work is most often done by big burly grips with nicknames like Joey Legs, in the odd little world of puppet-land these tasks are sometimes given to puppeteers who crouch and hide and carefully coordinate their movements, via television monitors, with the more important performers who breathe life into national treasures like Elmo.
In this case, the door had to swing shut in a way that looked natural and realistic, but also so that it also foiled Super Grover’s attempt to walk through it at just the right time. And the shelf, held up by only one screw instead of two, had to look like it was being raised by a puppet squirrel (who could not actually raise it), and then had to fall in the appropriate manner. 
One would think that a door could just act like a door. But no. The door itself was useless. Useless. And the shelf, ugh. It just sat there like a lox. It needed someone, an artist, to make a door actually behave like a door and a shelf do what a shelf does. Oh, TV. You and your ironies.
And when the time came to choose that special someone, that skilled artisan, that gifted thespian with the appropriate range and years of experience who could effectively and realistically make a door act like a door, well... not to toot my own horn, but... they turned to me.
Of course, I was the only person not doing anything else at the time, but still.
Yes, it was a performance for the ages, ranking up there with the spear-carriers and back-ends of horses who have preceded me in our great theatrical history. Someday I may tackle a window, or perhaps even storm shutters. Sure, there’s the risk of being typecast, but how many people can list “wood” under Special Skills on their resum├ęs?
Although, I still hold out hope for Bean #1.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.

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