In memory of my father Denis Burke

I was recently in a conversation with a neighbor and was asked who my influence was as a puppeteer.  My reply was quick, “Burr Tillstrom, Caroll Spinney, and Jim Henson“.  Those men created or performed puppets that I really enjoyed as a child.  I admire their work and have viewed hours of their performances on DVD, read many books written by them or about them, even had the pleasure to meet Caroll Spinney several times in my life.  Yet, as I thought about my answer more while driving in the car with my children, there is a man who was far more influential on my work than any of those brilliant puppeteers.  That man is my father, Denis Burke.

My dad would be celebrating his 74th birthday later this week, if he had not suddenly died 10 years ago in late January 2001.  I took his death quite hard.  It really did a number on my daily life.  I began a spiral down into a state of mind that I never wish to see again and eventually agreed to see a counselor.  It was in those sessions that I realized that I needed to find an activity that brought joy back into my life.  I can’t recall exactly how it happened, yet the idea of working with puppets kept popping into my head in the Spring of 2001.

Puppets have always interested me.  Some of my fondest childhood memories are of watching puppets on television.  One of my most cherished memories from my boyhood, is when my dad drove me to Boston to attend a puppet convention (it was here that I first met Caroll Spinney).  My father was very supportive of my interest in puppets, and bought me a Musicians of Bremen finger puppet set to encourage my puppetry hobby.  Gosh, I wish I still had those little felt puppets today. 

As I remember back to those darker days in early 2001, I recall feeling so empty.  I was in my mid-30’s and was not prepared to lose my father so suddenly.  Is anyone?  Perhaps my brain kicked into a survival mode to help the rest of me survive the loss of my father.  Maybe the childhood memories of attending that puppet convention with my dad were waiting to be remembered fondly to release a feeling of happiness during that hard time in my life.  I may never know. 

The fact is that my father’s death brought on my adult interest of puppetry, which has brought me to the creation of the Wump Mucket Puppets.  That Spring I joined Puppeteers of America and the Cincinnati Area Puppetry Guild.  I began drawing ideas for puppet characters, writing down bits for scripts, all of that creative activity helped me to keep my mind off the aftermath of a parent’s death.
Sure, it took me a while to get those sketches and scribbles into the form of a live puppet show, yet I did it.

Back to the influence topic.    I guess I get the performer gene from my father.  He was a radio broadcaster for many years, and could cook up some very silly schtick for his radio shows in the early 70’s and into the 1980’s when schtick could still be found on the radio.  For those of you who have heard my Cyril the Sea Serpent character shout “SCHPAK! SCHPAK!”  during the show, I am borrowing it from my father as a bit of a tribute to him.  My Dad introduced me to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Ealing Studio comedy films, and the work of Mel Brooks and Woody Allen.  The man KNEW what was GOOD comedy.  I really hope that some of his comic awareness has rubbed of on my puppet show scripts.  I think that some of it has since I do hear people laughing at my puppets during the show. 

And that’s what got me started in puppetry in the first place, finding joy where there was sorrow.  Turning a frown into a smile.  Making people laugh is possibly the greatest thing that I can hope to accomplish as I try to do my very best as a puppeteer.  I know that my father would like that.

Dad & Terry December 1991
Denis and Terrence Burke, December 1991

Puppets & Projects for 2011

We are almost half way into January 2011 and I am happy to report that the Wump Mucket Puppets are entering the new year with several exciting projects and upcoming performances.

The projects:

“The Legend of the Last Kelpie” puppet play is “stewing” in my brain a little longer. At first I envisioned this as one of my quick little shows for children, yet as I scrawled down ideas it is beginning to look like a much more involved production, and will take more time to write, build, and perform. To tease you a little, it’s the story of a young girl growing up near the Atlantic Ocean at the beginning of the 20th century. The play will appeal to families, not just the tots.

“G’Wpunzel” will be the Wump Mucket spin on the Brothers Grimm tale “Rapunzel” featuring our resident orange alien puppet G’Wazzl G’Wook in the starring roll…wearing a purple wig.

WUMP MUCKET PUPPETS – The Comic Book! You read that correctly. I have sketched and rough drafted a mini-comic to sell at our shows in glorious black & white! Issue #1 tells the tale of how Cyril and Coleman first met.

Speaking of Coleman, his new fur arrived last week from California ,which makes sense since he’s a Sasquatch. His rebuild should be ready for the Spring shows.

Spring shows? Yes, dear reader, SHOWS! I’ll post the exact dates and venues as we get closer to that lovely season.

And on a more boring note, but cool for me, I have ordered business cards to help promote this little puppet troupe.

Photobucket

2010 was the year the puppets got out!

I am very proud that this year was the year that I finally got my little puppet show out in front of an audience with a grand total of seven shows performed in 2010.

Thanks to everyone who came out and clapped and laughed at the puppet’s silliness. I really appreciate your interest in my puppet shows.

Here are a few photos from the “first annual” Wump Mucket Puppets Holiday Sing A Long Puppet Show:

Our puppet stage is ready for the show

Cyril & his tail.

Cyril & Coleman singing holiday tunes.

So what does 2011 hold in store for the Wump Mucket Puppets?

Hmmmm…..

Excellent question. The idea gears are already turning for an Irish themed skit to perform around St. Patrick’s Day. The “Coleman” puppet will be rebuilt, and I have found a faux fur that looks GREAT! I have had a request from my daughter Eleanor to figure out a way to rig the puppet stage to drop ping-pong balls onto the puppets…so that will be a fun challenge.

So 2011 will be filled with exciting projects to keep this little puppet troupe rolling along into new and exciting adventures in live family friendly puppetry.

A big thank you to YOU, our audience. When I hear your laughter and applause I smile knowing that you know that the Wump Mucket Puppets ROCK!

Wump Mucket Puppets Holiday Sing-A-Long & puppet show

You read that right. We’re squeezing one more show into 2010!

What: Wump Mucket Puppets Holiday Sing-A-Long & puppet show. Join the puppets as they sing some of their favorite Christmas time tunes, and perform an encore presentation of the soon to be a classic “Lil’ Red Sasquatch Hood” skit.

When: Thursday, December 30th at 11 AM

Where: Sidewinder Coffee & Tea
4181 Hamilton Avenue in Northside -Cincinnati’s “hippest” neighborhood!

How much: FREE!

Arrive early so you can get a good seat and bring your Jingle Bells!

What’s next?

As 2010 starts to wind down, I look back on it with some pride. I have finally, at the age of 45, become an amateur puppeteer. Is being an amateur a bad thing?
Not really.

I recall a line from Ken Nordine‘s “Adult Kindergarten”, “No one lives long enough to be anything but an amateur.”
Perhaps if I had followed my passion for puppetry back in the 80’s or 90’s I may be able to pay the bills with it. Then it could have become a “career” rather than a hobby.
Careers have always scared me, I have followed several of them and never really been very happy to where they have taken me. Whereas hobbies are doing something I love for the pleasure of it, nothing else. Sure, some hobbies may lead you to grand and wonderful places to meet fun and exciting people. I am up for that journey, as long as they aren’t wearing suits and neck ties when I get there.

As I move this little puppet troupe into 2011, I have begun to research puppet friendly venues to perform the show. Nothing solid to report just quite yet, however there are a few promising possibilities on the horizon.

I can tell you that I will be performing “Lil’ Red Sasquatch Hood” at a private holiday party for my fellow Cincinnati Area Puppetry Guild members next month. I have been a CAPG member since 2001, when I began to focus my creative energy towards puppetry. They are the nicest puppet people I have met, and it will be a pleasure to perform for my puppetry guild.

Dim the lights, it’s slide show time everybody!

Here are a few photos from the three performances of our “Lil’ Red Sasquatch Hood” show on October 27, 2010.

Slide show of “Lil’ Red Sasquatch” puppet show

Many thanks to Jan Stenken at Winton Montessori School and William Lambeth at the Northside Farmers Market for having me perform.

Thanks to my daughter and son, Eleanor and Tiernan, for being my test audience and inspiration to perform puppets for children.

Thank you Mum and Dad(R.I.P), for seeing that I had an interest in puppetry all those years ago, and encouraging me to (finally) be a puppeteer.

Yet most of all, a HUGE HUG & KISS to the love of my life, my wife Lara, for staying up very late with me as we worked together to get this little puppet show out our front door and in front of an audience.

For those of you still reading (Hi Susan, Chris L., and Ruby Mae) thanks for your kind words of support as I ever so slowly put this little puppet troupe together, you are VERY cool people because you know that PUPPETS ROCK!

WOW! I’m bushed

Well my big puppet day of 3 shows all performed live on the same day is over.

Almost everything went well, and I even got the kids to laugh!

I’ll post more pictures soon.

Goodnight puppet people, Zzzzzzzz….

Photobucket

FREE PUPPET SHOW!!! – Wednesday October 27th – 5:30 & 6:30PM

Well the big show is coming up next week. I hope that you’ll come and see us!

WHAT: Wump Mucket Puppets presents: Lil Red Sasquatch Hood

WHEN: Wednesday, October 27th at 5:30PM and repeated at 6:30PM (the same show will be performed LIVE each time)

WHERE: Northside Farmers Market @ North Presbyterian Church, 4222 Hamilton Avenue in Northside.
Google Maps Link

HOW MUCH: FREE!

WHY: For fun of course!

I hope to see our Cincinnati friends & fans there!