When I’m teaching writing, one of the things I talk about puppetry a lot. In particular, I talk about the way it taught me to practice and how I apply that to fiction. It’s why I like taking classes that will stretch my skill set.
I’ve been a professional puppeteer for over twenty years. Most of that has been on stage. I’ve done some work with film and television, even including stuff for Jim Henson Productions. They are very, very different skill sets. I’m a damn good stage puppeteer and a competent video puppeteer. Most of that has to do with which I’ve practiced more.
So when the opportunity came up to audition for a Sesame Puppeteer Workshop came up, I jumped on that.
Sesame is holding a workshop for highly talented puppeteers, age 18 and over, who are looking to develop and hone their on-camera puppeteer skills. If you are familiar with the Sesame Street style of puppetry, and interested in the opportunity to participate in a puppeteer workshop in New York City in early 2014 please apply as directed below:
Make a short video (3 minutes MAX) showcasing your talents as a puppeteer following these guidelines:
- Introduce the video as yourself.
- Enter and exit frame with your puppet (it’s helpful if the puppet you use has good eye focus).
- Show a variety of character voices (3-4 minimum). Please note: we want to see your original character voices, not your imitation of existing Sesame Street character voices.
- Finish your video with a short song…we would like to hear you sing!
This is what my audition video looks like this. (By the way, the puppet is one I borrowed from the Puppet Kitchen since I did the audition while in NYC and away from my own stuff.)
Those three minutes? I spent a couple of weeks beforehand practicing basic lipsync again, because I haven’t performed any real video puppetry in awhile and my technique was rusty. Once I had that in my hands again, the main video only took four or five takes. Most of those were me forgetting which voice I was switching to.
And the result?
I was accepted to the workshop, which delights me.
DELIGHTS me. Among other things, it give me the opportunity to ask, in earnest, if they can tell me how to get to Sesame Street. I’m fairly certain there’s no other way to ask that question.
Now, to be clear. This is a workshop only. It’s not an audition for the show. Still, it is a chance to work with two of the top performers in the industry and, as they say, hone my skills.
So what does a workshop like this look like? Basically, it’s three days of puppetry work with a group of other people. It will be fun. It will be sweaty. It will be physically exhausting.
The acceptance email says:
Key items we will be focusing on at the workshop will include:
- Precise lip sync (variations in sync and manipulation)
- Bold characters
- Ability to perform with a standard monitor (not a mirror or reverse scan)
So… now you want to know what by that last bit means. Video puppeteers work in front of a camera and use a monitor to watch the performance as it happens. The easiest way to think about it is that the puppet is actually the image on the screen. You’re using the object on your hand to control the image on the screen.
What gets difficult for some people is that the monitor isn’t reversed. In other words, when I move my right hand, the puppet also moves it’s right hand. While in a mirror, the left hands is the one that appears to move. If you have a video program on your computer, open it and turn off the mirroring so you can see what I’m talking about.
It requires a little bit of rewiring of the brain, and some folks have trouble with it. Funny thing is, when I started teaching via G+, I had the exact opposite problem because I was so wired for monitor work, that I kept doing things backwards for the monitor.
Anyway… all of this is to say that this is going to be a heck of a lot of fun. I’ll be in NYC in early February, but probably will not have time to do much hanging out because of the aforementioned sweaty exhaustion.
And writers? If you need any clearer example that it’s okay to be a pro and still be a fan… You should have seen my face when I opened the email.
It’s only a workshop, but it’s still Sesame Street.
Now… I’m going to want to practice between now and then because we’ll be working long days and I need to get my stamina back up. Funny thing. Writing? Does not use the same muscles as video puppetry. This is where you get to play. Ask publishing/writing questions in the comments below and I will have a puppet answer them for you.