A. A friend told me about an audition for Poko Puppets produced by Larry Engler, and I got cast and did some work for him. Then Marshall Izen was looking for a new partner. Larry recommended me and I got cast because Marshall’s first pick had a conflict with the Village Halloween parade. So I got the job. Thirty years later, he’s still in my life and I’m still doing puppets. Marshall was represented by TheatreWorks in 1983, and after five years with Marshall, I started a one-man show, also represented by TheatreWorks, called “North, South East and Jim West,” using hand puppets, shadow puppets and cartooning, which Marshall directed. Eventually when Marshall retired, I took over doing the larger puppet shows for TheatreWorks, building on Marshall’s material and adapting it for my own. At the same time, I was supering at the Metropolitan Opera and had the opportunity to develop hand shadows for a production of “Manon” directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle.
A. In developing shows, I like to use a variety of puppetry. I find that by changing the visuals, I can keep the attention of a younger audience, so I contrast shadow puppets in one segment with rod or hand puppets in another. Also by segmenting the show, I can hold the young audience members’ attention better than I could with one long story. In conjunction with the variety of puppets, I also demonstrate how the children can make the puppets themselves at home. Hopefully, this will keep them more engaged if they see how to use their own imaginations. I have been criticized for de-mystifying puppetry, but my shows have never been about me showing off, they’ve been about me showing how you can do it too—that it’s easy and fun. I also like the shows to be colorful, and certainly music enhances the puppetry.
A. I try to make my own puppets, especially the ones I show the audience how to make, but I also have Muppet-style host puppets in my programs, and those I will design and then commission professional builders to fabricate for me.
A. In my 30 years, the business end has changed dramatically. We’ve gone from an era of abundant field trip opportunities for touring artists to one where teachers are very limited as to the number of outside activities they are allowed to provide for their students per year. These limitation are due to a variety of factors, including gas prices, budget cuts and standardized testing. Consequently, a booking agent has to adapt to a new playing field and that isn’t always easy. However, there are venues where I’ve been presented for many years, where they’re still selling tickets and filling their houses. I keep working to make the shows relevant to the current curriculum, which helps teachers to justify the investment of their time and field trip allotment.
A. Thirty years of touring has been an amazing experience. You see places you would never have set out to see that are fascinating, fun, some quite beautiful, I don’t think I’ve missed a single contiguous state in the U.S. Beyond our country, I’ve also performed in Bermuda, Canada and Malaysia, the latter booking the result of producers from Kuala Lumpur seeing my show at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in New York.
A. I always try to enjoy the locale, whether it’s Mardi Gras in New Orleans or riding elephants in Malaysia. I even had a fish pedicure in Malaysia, where little fish eat the dead skin off your feet. It tickles, but the result is amazing—really old baby feet! But I really think the most beautiful place I’ve visited is the California coast highway right here in America. Big Sur is my idea of heaven.
A. My immediate plans are to return to Malaysia this fall with a stop in Borneo, where I hope to keep my head. Solvent retirement is a more distant goal.