DVD review – Kukla, Fran and Ollie

DVD review – Kukla, Fran and Ollie

Summer is in full swing here at Wump Mucket Puppets super secret HQ.  We hope that all our pals both far and near are having a great summer!

This afternoon I met with a writer for Cincinnati’s weekly newspaper CityBeat for an interview.  Towards the start of the interview I was asked about my early childhood interest in puppetry, and what inspired me to become a puppeteer as an adult.  One of the names that quickly popped out of my mouth was none other than Burr Tillstrom.

Vintage 7up soft drink magazine advertisement featuring Kukla Fran and Ollie on the television.

Burr who?  I realize that his name may not be rolling off the tongues of many people these days, other than puppeteers and lovers of classic television.  So, here’s a short bio…

Burr Tillstrom was the creator and single puppeteer of the Kuklapolitans, a troupe of 19 very personable puppets who’s name is taken from their leader, a small clown named Kukla, who with his dragon pal Ollie and Fran Allison, the sole human in the show, performed “a children’s show for adults” on national television.  Did I mention that it was all ad-libbed on LIVE television?!?

My interest in KFO, as fans call them, began as a young boy in the early 1970s.  I loved watching them as the hosts of the CBS Children’s Film Festival every Saturday morning on television.  Ollie has always been my favorite, and certainly inspired me to create my very own dragon/serpent puppet, you know him as Cyril.

Wump Mucket Puppets with KFO DVD

Cyril and his puppeteer love watching Kukla, Fran and Ollie!

For many years the only option to revisit the gentle humor of KFO was old video tapes.  Eventually the internet provided us a chance to watch clips on the excellent and official Kukla.tv website.

It bothered me that this highly sought after program was seemingly lost to time.

Thank goodness I was wrong!  And the wait was well worth it!

Under the caring guidance of producer Mark Milano, who is also a big fan of the show, three fantastic two-disc DVD releases have brought KFO into the 21st century in grand style.  Not only have these wonderful programs been released on DVD for old fans to revisit, and make new fans of folks who may have not been around when they were first broadcast, but they are PACKED with bonus material!

Yes, as if it wasn’t enough to have KFO on DVD, we are treated to interviews, behind the scenes photographs, even home movies shot from the sidelines by director Lewis “Gommy” Gomavitz!

I could go on and on about how much I love these DVDs, yet I will simply suggest that if you have an interest in the history of either puppetry or television, buy them before they are all gone.  Gems such as these don’t stick around very long.

So what are you waiting for?  They are only available for purchase at Amazon.com.  Once you finish a few shows may I invite you to join me and other fans at KFO Facebook page.  We’re a friendly bunch of folks and would love for you to join us in celebrating Burr Tillstrom and his puppetry.

Thank you 2013! You ROCKED!

I had planned to create an entertaining end of year review of Wump Mucket Puppets adventures in puppetry over 2013, then I caught the flu.  Ugh.  I am happy to share that I am on the mend, and will do my best to keep you interested in a look back at what was a FANTASTIC year for me performing my puppets.  Let’s get rolling…

Happy New Year 2013 photo collage from Wump Mucket Puppets

Looking back at my goals for 2013 I see that some were met, some were lost, and a few popped up while the year was in full swing.  Wump Mucket Puppets had the pleasure of performing all over Greater Cincinnati to thousands (yup –THOUSANDS!) of children and their families.  Not too shabby for a little puppet troupe fueled by a dream.

Terrence Burke of Wump Mucket Puppets displays tools while building new space cat puppet.

Terrence Burke displays his measuring and cutting skills while helping build the Kitty Quo Quo Quo Qua puppet.

January was cold in Cincinnati.  It’s a very good time to stay inside and build a puppet.  You should try it!  The design team (Terrence, Lara, and Eleanor) put on their thinking caps to create a pet for our space traveling puppet pal G’Wazzl G’Wook.  What did we come up with?  Kitty Quo Quo Quo Qua!  Learn more about Kitty here. 

Cyril and Kitty Quo Quo Quo Qua rehearsing.  Wump Mucket Puppets

Cyril and Kitty Quo Quo Quo Qua rehearsing.   Performed by Terrence and Eleanor Burke.

February started with a meeting with the producers of the local variety/talk show Cincinnality for Wump Mucket Puppets to make a possible television appearance.  A few good ideas were bounced around, yet sadly the program was canceled before anything was recorded.  We didn’t make it onto television this year, which is something that Coleman plans to change in 2014.

Cyril and Terrence Burke on the set of Cincinnality television show, February 5 2013.  Wump Mucket Puppets

Cyril and Terrence Burke on the set of Cincinnality television show, February 5 2013.

With the hope of the television appearance on the back burner, the puppet troupe kicked into gear for the public debut of our new puppet character Kitty Quo Quo Quo Qua at Happen in Northside on February 16th.  What a night!  What a crowd!

Here’s a video clip from the show:

Keeping things rocking and rolling, the puppets (and their puppeteer) where interviewed on the Ted Clark After Dark show at the rock club MOTR.  The audience were a bit older than our usual crowd, and may have been drinking something other than chocolate milk. Perhaps that explains their choice of words?  Still it was fun to bring our brand of silliness into a rock club, and Ted was a cool host.  Big thanks to fellow puppeteer Ryan Moore that night.

Enjoy Cyril singing “A Song About Cryptozoology”:

Valentine’s Day was a little over a week late at Wump Mucket Puppets H.Q.  It’s not that we forgot the date, it’s the news that was received on Tuesday February 26th…

Yes fans and friends, we had been awarded our first scholarship!  We were really going to the 2013 Puppeteers of America National Puppetry Festival!  Yipee!!!

Marching along into the end of Winter, the troupe performed at St. Boniface School in Northside.  We were part of the school’s Right to Read Week, and from what we’ve been told were  a big hit!  Here’s part of the kind thank you note we received from the children’s teacher:

Dear Mr. Burke, 

Thank you so much for bringing your Wump Mucket Puppets to St. Boniface.  We loved them!  We were even inspired by your program to make our own hand puppets.

It was around this time that I gave a bit of thought to my philosophy of puppetry, it’s very simple:  “Share the knowledge.  Spread the joy.”

We dodged a few rain showers in April to begin a very busy Spring.  The puppets entertained guests at the Voice For the Innocent/Connections: A Safe Place event at Sharon Woods.  And while the television cameras were looking elsewhere, the microphones at Cincinnati’s NPR affiliate, WVXU were on -inviting us into their studio three times over the year!  Here’s our April interview with host Jim Stump, as we talk about Cincinnati’s National Day of Puppetry:

Terrence Burke and Wump Mucket Puppets on WVXU-FM

Bob Abdou, Linda Mason, Terrence Burke at Cincinnati Area Puppetry Guild's National Day of Puppetry celebration

Bob Abdou, Linda Mason, Terrence Burke at Cincinnati Area Puppetry Guild’s National Day of Puppetry celebration, April 20 2013 at Happen, Inc.

The members of the Cincinnati Area Puppetry Guild presented a fantastic National Day of Puppetry with help from our host Happen, Inc.  It was marvelous to see so many happy people interested in puppetry!  I was a very proud father that day. My daughter performed with me, and even up-staged me to get BIG laughs!  Way to go Eleanor!

Eleanor and Terrence Burke give a pre-show warm up.  Wump Mucket Puppets

Eleanor and Terrence Burke give a preshow warm up at Cincinnati’s National Day of Puppetry celebration 2013.

If you have never attended a National Day of Puppetry, here’s a short video made by puppeteer Bill Yost:

At the beginning of May, we pointed the Wump Mucket mobile towards Columbus Ohio.  I was invited to speak about puppetry at Entertainer’s Camp, organized by our pal Bob Abdou.  What is Entertainer’s Camp?  It’s a day long, low-key, networking event for members of the variety arts (clowns, magicians, jugglers, balloon artists, and even puppeteers).

Terrence performs

Terrence performs “Dancing Queen” with Frank Cesario Entertainer’s Camp 2013

It was great to hang out with puppeteer pals and talk about…puppets!

Frank Cesario, Nate Brown, Terrence Burke at Entertainer's Camp 2013

Frank Cesario, Nate Brown, Terrence Burke at Entertainer’s Camp 2013

Best of all,  the end of day pie fight was a SMASHING success!

Terrence getting a pie in the face!  Entertainer's Camp 2013

Terrence getting a pie in the face! Entertainer’s Camp 2013.

Terrence Burke at Entertainer's Camp 2013

Who wants pie?!?

Then our Summer schedule blasted off like a rocket on it’s way to Mars!  It seemed like we were everywhere, well we were!  Libraries, schools, festivals,  there was no stopping our mighty little puppet troupe.  Somewhere we even found the time to give another chat, this time for the Cincinnati Women’s Connection.  It was during this speaking engagement that a member of the audience told me that my puppetry and love of using one’s imagination reminded her of one of my heroes, Fred Rogers.  I was flattered.

Terrence performs Cyril at the Cincinnati Women's Connection luncheon, July 18 2013.

Terrence performs Cyril at the Cincinnati Women’s Connection luncheon, July 18 2013.

August popped up quicker than you can say Puppetry Festival five times fast!  The car was loaded, the puppets safe in their cases, off to Swarthmore College we went.  We did make a stop along the way, Coleman gets hungry when traveling:


Now I won’t review an entire week, that’s been covered HERE.  However, I will repeat that attending the 2013 National Puppetry Festival was one of the happiest weeks in my life.  I was free to be my five year old self (more or less) for an entire week of nothing but puppets and puppeteers!  Will i be attending the 2015 festival?  You bet your Bert bedsheets I will!

Terrence Burke at 2013 National Puppetry Festival

Keep this puppeteer AWAY from sugary cereal!

Of course Cyril got into the spirit of the festival to perform during Potpourri:

We were even “heckled” by several Sesame Street puppeteers!

The Potpourri

The Potpourri “judges”:  Telly Monster, Grundgetta Grouch, and W. Performed by Martin Robinson, Pam Arciero, and Tyler Bunch. What’s in those cans?

As Autumn made it’s way to Cincinnati, the puppets and I kicked into festival season which brought us to the Edgewood Kentucky Fall Festival, CliftonFest, and a very special performance for our new pals at Saint Joseph Orphanage.  The big news for us was our new stage!

Wump Mucket Puppets perform in their new stage at Smale Riverfront Park

Wump Mucket Puppets perform in their new stage at Smale Riverfront Park, Cincinnati September 15 2013.

The stage was a planned project over 2013, and started late 2012 with the guidance and knowledge of California puppeteer Charles Taylor.  The construction of the stage was a team effort that included my neighbor, and fellow puppeteer, Jesse Mooney-Bullock.
Jesse opened his workshop to me and shared his woodcrafting skills as we constructed the stage together over a few Saturday mornings.

Wump Mucket Puppets stage being built at Bullooney PuppetWorks

Wump Mucket Puppets stage being built at Bullooney PuppetWorks, August 2013.

After I painted the frame, my wife Lara, and mother sewed the curtains for the new stage.

Sewing the curtains for the new Wump Mucket Puppets stage.

Sewing the curtains for the new Wump Mucket Puppets stage.

We had our share of troubles, yet in the end things were worked out and the new puppet stage made it’s debut performance at Smale Riverfront Park on Sunday September 15, 2013.  This was a very special show for me.  I was performing on the same stage as my friend Jesse, who had helped me so much with the stage over the summer.  I was also performing my show for my mother, who lives in New England and has never seen my puppetry -as an adult that is.

Backstage at Smale Riverfront Park

Backstage at Smale Riverfront Park. Looks like the puppeteer wants you to like his Facebook page.

Terrence Burke with the new Wump Mucket Puppets stage.

Terrence Burke with the new Wump Mucket Puppets stage.

Puppeteer with his Mum

Puppeteer with his Mum at Smale Riverfront Park.

As we rolled out the new puppet stage, we also stopped by WVXU again to chat about our trip to the Puppetry Festival and upcoming performances. Cyril considers this the best interview he has given, enjoy:

WVXU has been a fantastic friend to Wump Mucket Puppets.

WVXU has been a fantastic friend to Wump Mucket Puppets.

Here we are with WVXU’s Around Cincinnati host Robyn Carey-Allgeyer.

In puppetry you must be ready to improvise in a split second.  Sometimes this means changing the show a little to engage the audience, sometimes it means packing all your staging and sound equipment away when the weather suddenly changes!  Our second performance at CliftonFest 2013 was in danger of being canceled due to the rain.  What could we do?  There were children waiting for a silly puppet show, I had puppets…  it’s showtime!

Wump Mucket Puppets perform a very odd version of Cinderella (in the rain) at CliftonFest 2013.

Eleanor warms up the audience with Kitty Quo Quo Quo Qua at Northside Farmers Market.

At our final outdoor show of 2013. Eleanor warms up the audience with Kitty Quo Quo Quo Qua at Northside Farmers Market.

With our outdoor shows finished for the year, we began to wind down and  prepare songs and skits for our silly holiday shows.  I have always loved watching the television Christmas specials such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and A Year Without a Santa Claus, and love to perform my puppetry at Christmas time.  This year I donated a performance to another of our non-profit friends, United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cincinnati.  The clients are a lovely audience, and always have kind words about my puppet show.

Terrence and Coleman the Sasquatch are in a mood for Christmas shows.

Terrence and Coleman the Sasquatch are in a mood for Christmas shows.

But wait, there is something very special that arrived in today’s mail -speedy delivery:

And there is is, more or less,  Wump Mucket Puppets had their busiest year ever!  We thank all our clients, audience members, fellow puppeteers, friends in the media, neighbors, friends, and family.  YOU are the reason I do my very best to create a family friendly puppet show that I would want to see with my children.  Thank you for your interest and allowing me to share my puppetry with you.  Puppets ROCK!

 

 

Thoughts of Boston

Boston skyline

It is never easy to deal with headlines these days.  It is even harder when it’s about someone you may know, or a place you are familiar with.  Especially when it’s your hometown.  I was born in Boston, grew up in the suburbs, then moved back to the city as a young man.

The tragic events at the Boston Marathon this week, the people who have lost their lives, or have been seriously injured, have all been in my thoughts.  I have difficulty understanding the reasoning for inflicting such pain, especially during a sporting event that brings pride to the city of Boston.  Why did this happen?

How does this tie in with my puppetry?  Boston is a part of me, I am a part of that city.  My childhood memories of attending a puppetry festival in Boston with my father, or watching classic Boston kid’s TV shows “Boomtown” and “Major Mudd” are certainly a part of my inspiration to create fun puppet shows for families today.

Tomorrow the Cincinnati Area Puppetry Guild will present our National Day of Puppetry celebration.  While puppeteers can not solve this horrible act of violence, we can offer something that our world could certainly use more of these days, and that is joy.

I hope that you will join us.

Happy Birthday Caroll Spinney!

Happy Birthday Caroll Spinney from Wump Mucket Puppets!

Today is Caroll Spinney’s birthday.  He’s 79 years young!  Those of you not in the puppetry world may wonder who he is.  Perhaps you have heard of the puppets that he’s performed on Sesame Street since 1969.  I am sure you’ve heard of Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird.

Little did I know it, Caroll Spinney was entertaining me several years before I watched his puppetry on Sesame Street.  You see, we are both from New England.  He performed as Mister Lion on the “Bozo the Clown” show that aired on Boston TV station WHDH.  I watched it almost every morning.  I remember being upset when my older sister started kindergarten.  Not only was she my first playmate, she watched Bozo with me.   Now we had to walk her to the bus stop BEFORE Bozo was on the air.   Not fair!

Here’s a video of Bozo that I probably watched in 1966:

Then in November of 1969, I  discovered something so wonderful and unique it would capture my imagination for the rest of my life…  Sesame Street, especially Oscar the Grouch!

My father was the morning radio announcer on WCCM in Lawrence, Massachusetts around the time that Sesame Street started.  His show was the usual news updates, weather reports, sprinkled with pop music of the 60’s & 70’s.  My dad knew that we would often have his show tuned in at home and would play “I Love Trash” for me now and then.  It was a special feeling, being 5, to have your Dad play one of Oscar’s songs for you on the radio.

As an adult I have had the pleasure of meeting Caroll several times.  He has always offered very encouraging words to me about my puppetry.  In 2004 I met him at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  I brought along my Cyril puppet to show him.  One of the university staff spotted the puppet as I brought it out of my bag to snap a picture with Caroll and Oscar.  She came up to us and firmly said “No outside puppets!” or something similar.  Caroll turned to her and calmly replied, “It’s okay, he’s another puppeteer with the puppet guild”.

Caroll Spinney and Oscar the Grouch with Terrence Burke

Caroll Spinney and Oscar the Grouch with Terrence Burke at Miami University 2004

Not only has Caroll helped educate and entertain millions of children through his puppetry, he has been the inspiration to many puppeteers, myself included.  Thank you Caroll, have a wonderful birthday.

Want more info about the life and career of Caroll Spinney?  Then you will want to check out the new film that is being made: http://www.iambigbird.com/

 

 

The holidays are here!

As I rehearse our holiday show’s songs, I remember being a boy growing up in the late 60’s and watching the Christmas specials on TeeVee.  I love the Rankin/Bass produced shows the most, with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” being my favorite.  The puppets were great, the music catchy, and the show has a Bumble in it!

Giving this a bit of thought, it seems to me that watching “Rudolph” in the late 60’s may have been the foundation for my interest in strange creatures, oh and puppets too!

Here’s a clip of Bumble to enjoy:

After watching that, I noticed that Bumble’s roar sounds a bit like this creature that I enjoyed quite a bit in my youth:

Who would have guessed that 40+ years later, that my puppet show’s lead characters would be a Sasquatch (or Abominable Snowman) and a Sea Serpent?

Hmmmm…  Interesting.

Wump Mucket Puppets with young fans at Taft Museum of Art Cincinnati

 

Big Bird needs YOUR help!

I am a huge fan of puppeteer Caroll Spinney.  Why this particular puppeteer?  Why not Jim Henson?  Why not Gus Alligretti?  Oh, believe me, I love Jim’s and Gus’s work quite a bit.  Yet for some reason, in 1969, my almost 5 year old eyes watched Caroll perform Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird on Sesame Street and loved them ever since.Oscar the Grouch autograph sent to Terrence Burke from Caroll Spinney

It was at that point in my life that I can say that I was bit by the “puppet bug”.  I do remember that one of the things that made the Oscar puppet so appealing to me was that he was originally orange, and guess what?  Orange is my favorite color!  I also enjoyed his sarcasm, yet probably didn’t quite understand what that was back then.  Not too long after seeing the premier of Sesame Street, my father took me to a puppetry convention in Boston to meet the orange Oscar and his puppeteer.  I did not know it then, but it was a life changing moment.  Meeting my puppeteer hero and his superstar puppet character would plant the seed in my very young head that one day I too would be a puppeteer.

Now let’s jump ahead a few decades to 2004.  I learn through the puppet grapevine that Caroll will be in the Cincinnati area to promote his book The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers.  Of course I was in the audience to hear him read from the book.  I remember being so happy that I almost began to cry.  The early part of that decade was an emotional time for me.  My father had suddenly passed away in 2001, I was having a difficult time finding a job that I wanted to be at, and my wife Lara and I were expecting our first child.  During those years I was slowly laying the foundation of what would eventually become the Wump Mucket Puppets.  Caroll Spinney, Oscar the Grouch, Terrence Burke and a peeking Cyril the Sea Serpent.

Caroll’s reading was lots of fun, especially when he brought out Oscar and sang “I Love Trash” to the audience.  After the reading I hung around the reception area to get up enough nerve to say hello.  I am glad that I did, for Caroll was very kind and appreciated the fact that another member of the puppetry community had come to see him.

A couple of years passed, we were busy raising Eleanor, and expecting our son Tiernan’s birth.  I was still getting things together for the puppet show during my “free” time.  I mailed Caroll a letter with a photo or two to share my progress with him.  A while later he replied with a very kind note that included this message:  Note from Caroll Spinney to Terrence BurkeI was thrilled!  The puppeteer who’s work captivated me as a child and inspired me to become a puppeteer as an adult had just suggested that I “keep puppeteering!”.  Wow!  Now I really had to get my puppet show together and get my puppets out where children could see them, after all, Caroll Spinney had told me to!

I am very pleased that a documentary is being made about Caroll, his life, and his work as a puppeteer.  If any of our readers or audience members have the means to contribute to what I consider a very important film, please follow this link:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/iambigbird/i-am-big-bird

I have made a contribution, and hope that some of you will too.  Thank you.

 

Bitter about Litter

Over on our Facebook page I recently shared with our fans where ideas from songs come from.  Sometimes the ideas pop into my head and I have to search for a pencil to scratch it down before it’s lost to time.  Other times ideas are more obvious and are inspired by daily life.

Coleman at our info table at the Taft Museum of Art

Here’s the first verse of a tune that Coleman sings in the show:

Oh it make’s be kinda bitter,

To see all this litter thrown all over the ground-ground-ground.

It makes me wanna scream, to see tires in a stream,

when they should be spinning round-round-round.

This song was inspired by the litter that I pick up nearly every morning while taking my daily walk around my neighborhood.  It makes me sad that the people who throw their trash on the ground do not care about the place where they live enough to keep it nice and clean.

When I was growing up I remember watching TV public service announcements that featured the costumed character Woodsy Owl (another way to say BIG puppet).  Back then children were encouraged to “Give a hoot, don’t pollute”.  Are today’s youth missing that message?

When Coleman introduces his song in the show, he expresses how sad it makes him feel when he finds litter strewn about the forest and picnic grove. I hope that a little bit of his song is lodged in the minds of the children watching my puppet show so they remember that “every litter bit helps”, and help keep our planet a cleaner place.

Here’s Woodsy Owl’s tune that found it’s way into my childhood memories:

Woodsy Owl PSA from Youtube

 

What’s with the strange creatures?

My interest in strange creatures, aliens, and other oddities probably started a few years after I became “puppet crazy” in the early 1970’s.  I remember that my father had an interest in these sort of things.  Dad (Denis E. Burke) used to watch the  TV show “In Search Of” with my siblings when we were young.  Years later, my dad had a radio talk show on WBZ radio in Boston and interviewed M.I.T. scientist & lecturer Robert Rines.  I was spellbound that a scientist was researching The Loch Ness Monster, and my father was interviewing him!  Later in his radio career, my dad interviewed physics professor and ufologist Dr. Harley D. Rutledge.

UFO and Nessie on the wall of Ha Ha Pizza in Yellow Springs Ohio

Around 2005, as I began to get things together for what would become the Wump Mucket Puppets, I was having a bit of trouble how to tie it all together.  I wanted a theme or idea that held the show together.  I was reading books by cryptozoologist Loren Coleman at the time, and had one of those “eureka” moments!  I loved puppets.  I had a very strong interest in cryptozoology, aliens, and strange things.  Why not combine the two?

Cyril the Sea Serpent had been built, and was developing as “the monster of ceremonies” for the puppet show.  I had found a furry little brown puppet from my childhood packed away in a box, originally called “Furry Guy” by my then toddler daughter Eleanor.  It didn’t take too long to rename the puppet “Coleman the Sasquatch”, as a wink to Loren Coleman as well as a fond memory to camping trips with my family and the Boy Scouts (Coleman camping gear -get it?).  I eventually came up with the idea for an alien puppet character.  I seem to remember that the name came first, followed by a sketch, and eventually the puppet we know as G’Wazzl G’Wook (his full name) was part of the show.

G'Wazzl at Julian's Deli in Loveland Ohio

It wasn’t until G’Wazzl was built and ready for the show that I noticed that the puppet resembled a chupacabra a little bit, although G’Wazzl is much friendlier and prefers Play-Doh to goats.

Chupacabra and Jackolope on wall of Ha Ha Pizza Yellow Springs Ohio

So what strange creatures and alien beings are in the future for Wump Mucket Puppets?  Coleman has already made a few references to his cousin Snavely from Pennsylvania during the show.  Cyril talks about his Aunt Bessie during “The Song About Cryptozoology” bit.  A little voice inside my head has suggested creating a Loveland Frog character to perform at our shows at Julian’s Deli, which is not far from the frogman sightings in Loveland, Ohio.  We shall see and leave this a mystery for now.

Mural on the wall of Ha Ha Pizza in Yellow Springs Ohio

In the meantime, beware of the puppeteers in black!

Puppeteer Terrence Burke of Wump Mucket Puppets

For our younger readers & fans of my puppet show, my I suggest the book Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures That May or May Not Exist

DVD review round-up time

In the last couple of weeks I have had the pleasure to view two new films (on DVD) that I found very touching.  Thanks to the Cincinnati Library for being such a GREAT library and adding these DVDs to their already amazing collection

The first is a documentary following the puppeteer Kevin Clash, you know, the man beneath the world’s most famous furry red monster.  The film is titled “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey”, and what a journey (and treat) this film is.  I found myself close to tears as the story is told of how a child from a working class Baltimore family follows his dream all the way to Sesame Street.  I remember when I was around 10 years old and read about Kevin in an issue of National Geographic’s World magazine for children in the 1970’s, and thinking “Wow!  He makes his own puppets”.  Who knows where I would be now if I had followed that road back then?  Keeping in mind that I grew up watching “classic” Sesame Street I first found Elmo to be annoying.  Neither of our children became very attached to the puppet, yet we do have a number of toys and things with his likeness printed on it around the house.  Over time I have accepted Elmo, and found humor in his appearances both on and off Sesame Street.  I was pleased that the filmmakers captured a very real look at this very talented and successful puppeteer’s life when he is not performing Elmo.  He’s a human being following his dream, just like many of us.         Here’s the trailer.    I give this **** and recommend that you see it.

The next film that I enjoyed is also about a puppeteer (imagine that!), well puppetry was just a part of the volume of work completed in the lifetime of the film’s key figure, Fred Rogers“Mister Rogers & Me: A Deep and Simple Documentary Film” is the work of brothers Benjamin and Christofer Wagner, and what a wonderful piece of work it is.  At the start of the film Benjamin recalls his time spent as Fred Rogers real life neighbor and then takes to the road to speak to some of the people that Fred Rogers was friends with in his life time.  You may have heard of a few of them; Susan Stamberg, Tim Russert, and Found Magazine’s Davy Rothbart .  Each person had wonderful memories to share about the person Mister Rogers was and how his work touched their lives.

I was one of the early viewers of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” as a young boy in the 1960’s and like Sesame Street it was the puppets that pulled my young eyes to the television screen everyday.  My childhood had some difficult times, and I can recall wishing to live in “The Neighborhood” or “The Land of Make Believe”, since everything seemed so more appealing to me back then.  Now, as a father of two children, I try to keep Fred Rogers simple yet very true words of wisdom in my everyday life.  The Wagner brothers have created a very simple and honest film that helps continue to spread Fred Rogers wisdom to a world that I feel could really use more neighbors like him more than ever.  Here is the trailer.  I give the film **** and a cardigan sweater.

Terrence Burke performing Coleman the SasquatchWatching these films made me reflect on a few things;  My own childhood, both the good times and the not so good times. The past 8 years of fatherhood, and my work as a puppeteer.  One thought stayed with me, and that is we are here on this planet a very short time.  We should do something that we love and share it with others.  If you watch either of these films, I’d love to know what you think about them.  Drop me a message at www.facebook.com/wumpmucketpuppets

Thinking about Jim Henson today

Today puppeteer Jim Henson would have turned 75 years old.  I wonder if he would still perform Kermit the Frog if he were still with us.  My guess is that he would, since it seemed to me that he truly enjoyed performing the character.

Kermit and Jim Henson statue at the University of Maryland

You can add me to the long list of puppeteers who will tell you that Jim Henson, and his work with his puppet troupe The Muppets, are a major influence in their puppetry.  I imagine that many of us grew up watching him perform Kermit, Ernie, Rowlf, Doctor Teeth, and The Swedish Chef on television.

One of my attractions to Jim Henson’s work, is that he created real characters with his puppets.  Surely this was not done single-handedly.  Jim Henson had a great team of puppeteers, writers, and production people that made his puppets come alive on our TV screens.  This creation of believable puppet characters is what I try to accomplish with my little puppet troupe.

Cyril looks at the Kermit statue.

One other thought that came to me this morning, as my seven year old daughter enjoyed a few episodes of “Muppet Babies” between bites of Cheerios, would Jim Henson continue to create programming for families and young children?  What would his work look like in the 21st century?  Would he continue to work with felt & foam, or pioneer with computer generated “puppets”?  We can only speculate.

I will continue to wear the Henson influence on my sleeve by creating and performing puppet characters that I hope that children enjoy.

Cyril and Terrence at the Jim Henson statue, University of Maryland. May 2011


Thank you Jim, and Happy Birthday!