We are happy to welcome Frogtown Mountain Puppeteers to the 4 Foam Fingers series. You will quickly realize from the replies to the series below they understand very well that the “magic” of puppetry often times comes from your own life experiences and influences. This may be one of my favorite stories of the series, the Frogtown Mountain Puppeteers crew is just fantastic and I love their vibe beyond words.
1 – Where did you get your start in Puppetry? Was there a moment where you knew puppets would consume your life?
Like many kids we started with a cardboard box stage in the basement. Our mom had even made us some hand-made Cookie Monster Puppets. Years later; my brother, Erik, got reintroduced to puppetry by Andrew and Bonnie Periale (Perry Alley Theatre) who taught a course in puppetry during his last year at college. After a few years of sporadically making puppets for craft fairs and performing short shows in pairs, all three of us created a full length show together, “The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.” We rented the town hall, did our own advertisement, and had our friends sell tickets. We had no idea how many people would attend but almost 300 people showed up! The success of that show was what really confirmed that puppetry would be a major part of our lives.
2 – Do you have a favorite moment in your career, or a project that you feel defines your body of work?
One favorite moment that sticks out is when we performed “Everybody Loves Pirates” at the 2004 Northeast Regional Puppeteers of America Festival. This was our first time attending a puppet festival and since we were based out of Bar Harbor, Maine, we hadn’t had the chance to meet many other puppeteers besides the Periales. The opportunity to perform in front of a full audience of fellow puppeteers and the warm reception they gave us was certainly a memorable moment in our career.
3 – Where do you draw character inspiration from? Do you have a set way of creating or do you allow spontaneity to take over?
Some ideas for characters come from our own childhood experiences, such as the annoying guy on the jet ski who used to buzz past us while we were kids vacationing on a serene Maine lake. Decades later, he now makes an appearance in our Pirate show. (The pirates are less tolerant of him than we had been.)
Character voices can come from past influences as well. For example, our Headless Horseman has a strong Norm MacDonald accent.
During the puppet construction phase, some characters will come out just like we had imagined while others evolve as we build them; sometimes for the better but we also have a bin of puppets labeled “mutants.” I often do a rough sketch before starting a puppet just to solidify an idea in my mind but I don’t worry too much about veering from that either intentionally or unintentionally.
4 – Name one tip you would give an aspiring puppet builder / performer?
For both building and performing I believe that the puppet’s eyes are the most important. If you put on a set of well focused eyes and learn to direct that focus then your puppet will come to life. Although, now that I think about it…we do have a pirate puppet named Captain No Eye who only has two eye patches. (So every rule is meant to be broken, maybe that’s my tip?) For live shows, durability and comfort cannot be overlooked too!