Blog : Puppeteers

Mastering the Marionettes!

The Stan Winston School of Character Arts announced they are running a 2 day web course on Marionette building by none other than Scott Land!! I’ve signed up immediately for the course and hope to see you all there! SIGN UP NOW!!

Also remember that SWSCA is also running a Puppet Mechanisms course by BJ Guyer later this month. BJ is a fantastic builder/performer and this course is sure to be a treat to attend! SIGN UP NOW!

How a Community Builds a Puppet Show


Up In Arms’ latest puppet musical, “Monster Intelligence“, makes its debut with 3 shows free to the public in Orange County, New York on May 10, June 7 and June 14, 2014. Looking back, it’s been quite the journey. Over a year ago, many of my friends in the puppet community had been discussing the hurdles we face as full time artists. Bookings were and continue to be low and balancing budgets and the prospect of producing new shows becomes difficult to reconcile. This article won’t be about the hardships that we all know too well. I’d rather focus on the triumphs and community of puppeteers and supporters who made this show possible.

Last year, I became aware of a grant available through our county office of tourism which promotes arts events here in Orange County, NY. Several grants would be awarded at a maximum of $5000. Part of the funding had to come from the applying organization which just meant I had to show that I was investing in my project as well. It was my first grant and I had two very smart and educated nieces guiding me as they were both familiar with the grant writing process. Months after the grant was finalized, I was notified that I was a successful applicant and my project would move ahead with funds from Orange County Tourism and the County of Orange. This is the major reason why the show was even able to move forward in production.

The grant and budget would pay for the script writer, music arranger, recording studio, puppet materials, additional puppet builder, scenery and props, photographer, talent rehearsal and performance stipend. Along with that, I had a community of people ready to lend a hand. Derek Lux is a builder from LA who was kind enough to buy an Up In Arms t-shirt when I had them printed to raise funds. I always enjoyed his artistry and was happy to be able to employ him as my additional builder. Although the materials were supplied, he jumped in at a reduced fee to help build some of the puppets. Pasha Romanowski from Project Puppet has always been a champion of all we do at Up In Arms and lent his artistry in drawing some initial concept designs for many of the characters. When it came time to construct props, I needed a drawing of a young monster for a cereal box. Of course, Dave Hulteen came to mind and I knew just the character of his I wanted to use. When I asked for use of the character, he not only allowed me to use it but, mocked up what he thought the cereal box cover might look like and it’s now being used in the show. These are all people that I’ve developed relationships with online over the years but, it still fills me with love and support that these people believe in what I do. Relationships in this community are everything to me. I met puppeteer Charlie Kanev at the POA festival in Swarthmore, PA last summer and he wanted to help in any way he could. I want to support this young talent, not only because of the friendship we’ve forged but, because of the amazing artistry and potential that he so obviously has. When I needed a butterfly for the opening scene, Charlie, with his knowledge of rod puppet mechs, built me a beautiful butterfly rod puppet with flapping wings. Charlie was instrumental in designing and painting some of the set pieces as well and will be puppeteering for the premiere performances. A designer I met at the Puppetry Guild of Greater New York (NYC) was Justin DuPont who designed and built a simple rolling frame for the monster’s doors which roll on and off during the show.

I took Colette Searls’ workshop “Directing for Puppetry” at the POA conference and realized that I’ve had to direct from within for my shows, being both director and puppeteer. Having an outside look at your show or having someone with that vision can be so helpful. With all of the great music and artistry that’s already gone into “Monster Intelligence”, I wanted it to achieve a greater vision. One of my favorite puppeteers that I’ve worked with on “Helping Drew” is Amy Rush as she’s always inspired better performance from me. I also met Joshua Holden, another amazing artist at the POA Festival, and enlisted the two to workshop “Monster Intelligence” so I could have that outside look and observe what’s possible with the various characters and their scenes. Amy and Joshua were a joy to work with and helped me see a better vision for “Monster Intelligence” that I couldn’t have completely seen for myself.

Of course, there are more than just puppeteers and puppet builders that made this show happen. I’m lucky to be part of an arts community where I live and called upon talented friends for the initial table-read of the show, vocal talent to record the show, Scott Test, our exceptional music arranger, my friend Hannah Blair Butler who created costumes for a few of the characters and, my insanely talented friend John Simpkins in Oregon who painted the backdrop for the show. Major kudos, of course, to my creative partner and script writer Alex Ishkanian for taking on the ‘monster’ task of bringing this story to life. “Monster Intelligence” is ready to be embraced by an audience with a community of exceptionally talented and caring individuals behind it.

Article by David Manley

Jim West Interview!

image_284Puppeteer Q&A with Jim West
Interview by David Manley
While enjoying a week at the Puppeteers of America Festival in Swarthmore, PA back in early August, I was taken by a wonderful sense of community. As a relatively ‘new’ professional puppeteer, there were so many in attendance I was able to learn from and those who were asked, were happy to share their experience. Through my work with Theatreworks, USA, I was introduced to fellow puppeteer Jim West who has been in the puppeteering business for thirty years. His shows have been presented for young audiences throughout the world. Jim has easily become one of my idols with his longevity in the business and the joy he gives his audiences through his colorful and engaging performances. To continue the spirit of community I encountered at the POA Festival, I contacted Jim to answer some questions for the Puppeteers Unite audience.
Q. How did you get your start in puppetry? 

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.

Q. You have a great catalog of shows developed for Jim West Puppets. I saw your show “Aesop’s Fables” and was taken by the variety of puppets you used from hand puppets to rod puppets and shadow puppets. It really kept the audience engaged. What do you think goes in to making a good show?

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.

Q. Do you create your own puppets as well or commission any builds with other artists?

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.

Q. I think there’s a common misconception with any artist that having a booking agent means you’re set. What is the business end of being a puppeteer according to Jim West?

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.

Q. Drew Allison of Grey Seal Puppets said in one of his blogs “Sometimes the places those little hunks of polyfoam take me are just too cool.” Where have your puppets taken you throughout the States and across the world? 

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.

Q. When you’re in a place like Malaysia, do you get the time to see sights, experience the culture and make the best of a rare trip?

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.

Q. What’s next for Jim West Puppets, what kind of future do you wish to create for your company?

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.

Sad News

I’ve written about Michael Earl and his Puppet School classes in previous posts. Most teachers in puppetry classes can not compare to the caliber of experience Michael brings to the table. CLICK HERE FOR MORE ABOUT MICHAEL

I was going to fly out to New York and attend one of Michael’s classes but unfortunately (due to a death in my family) I had to postpone. Michael had expanded his classes to  such cities as L.A,  Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago and everyone who attends have nothing but positive things to say.

Last night I was shocked to see the following post on Facebook by Michael Earl…

Hello dear friend,

You probably haven’t heard from me in a while so I wanted to share some news.

About six months ago I started to feel constipated most of the time and lose weight. After some suspicions I finally was able to have a colonoscopy and they found colon cancer. Because of the size of the mass, they told me I’ve had it for awhile. Hmm. That was a shocker. Well, I’ll just have to walk through this experience and hopefully come out the other side healthy once again.

In general I’m functioning although I’ve lost 35 pounds without trying and I feel tired and weak most of the time.

Ironic how I’ve had mostly unused SAG health insurance most of my life. But since retiring from TV and film and starting Puppet School, the first years of a new business are hard, and I have no insurance at the moment. I’m taking a leave of absence from Puppet School at the end of September to be treated for the cancer so I can focus on getting well.
My former student and friend, Amy Smith, suggested I tell you all what is happening and give you an opportunity to help me out with medical and living expenses. To facilitate this, she graciously created a website for me where you can make donations and be up to date to my treatment. Any amount is appreciated. Thanks, and I look forward to updating you with good news in the months ahead.

The link to the website is:

Good thoughts and prayers also appreciated.

Thank you participating in my recovery!


Very sad news. Please give what you can and let’s help a fellow puppeteer in need.


I received the following email a couple of days ago- please note when the posting states “me, my and we” it refers to Yvette Edery and company and not this writer. 🙂

After 5 years in the making, I have successfully completed a new partnership with my Marionette and Marble Sculpture Professor from the Academia Del Arte in Italy, Edoardo Scullino.

We are now able to bring you personalized, one of a kind marionette collectible gift items for the holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and of course film, television, theater and other needs.

Edoardo and I are offering a limited edition of handmade, woodcarved marionettes for only 350 dollars each. You may send me a photo of your loved one via email and we can even create a portrait!

The wait time is just a couple months and this offer is for a limited time only. We look forward to creating puppets of your favorite characters, loved ones, teachers, friends, historical figures, spiritual guides, childhood imaginary friends, anyone and anything- we can bring it to life for you and yours!

Your personalized marionette is just a step away, so email me with your postal mailing address, date you would prefer the marionette by, a photo if you seek something specific such as a portrait, and other relevant details.

Each purchase supports the arts and we thank you for your support.
If interested contact Yvette at

Yvette Edery
Director, ArtistrYE
Professor, New York University

Puppet Hawg

Puppet Hawg is run by puppeteer Ray Newcomer, but don’t let his last name fool you. Ray has been building and using puppets since 1991. Check out Ray’s site! He builds puppets that are lightweight, have good hand-holds, and won’t bust the piggy bank!

The Puppetry Club

The 2007 Puppetry Club commercial advertises their show which is scheduled for Saturday May 26th @ 7 pm in the Canton Little Theatre. There is also “Making of” videos for the commercial too (Part I  /  Part II). Great work, I admire these younger puppeteers. They are very skilled, enthusiastic, and give great insight to why they love puppetry and dedicate their time for this show.

Star Wars Insider

The Star Wars Insider (published by Titan Magazine) has published a interview with Kanja Chen– based on his amazing Star Wars puppets. The news item is covered in the magazine’s “Bantha Tracks: by the fans for the fans” segment. It includes amazing photos of Kanja’s puppets, and reveals some of the trials and tribulations he had making these masterpieces. Kanja also reveals his next Star Wars puppet character to be build…but I’ll leave that to YOU, the reader, to find out. Get your copy now!