Our first 4 Foam Fingers Interview is with Gwen Dean from Puppets By Gwen. You may know her from that awesome GoDaddy Superbowl puppet commercial (aka the ‘I Quit Super Bowl Ad’)where she quit her job on live TV to follow her dreams!
1 – Where did you get your start in Puppetry? Was there a moment where you knew puppets would consume your life?
My father introduced me to the enchantment of puppetry when he made my sister’s teddy bear talk to me. I had a full on conversation with that bear and when my father began to speak in his own voice again I hushed him, letting him know it was rude to interrupt the bear. Looking back, I’m sure this is where my father realized he had a “special” child. I try to create that level of realism in every performance and I get away with it. That’s magic.
2 – Do you have a favorite moment in your career, or a project that you feel defines your body of work?
Yes, The Heiress Orphanage, my Children’s book which is soon coming out. It has everything my little heart desires in a project. My favorite moment however will forever remain my Super Bowl commercial with GoDaddy where I quit my day job to become a full time puppeteer… in front of one hundred million people. Nothing excessive or noteworthy about that, but it did save me a trip from climbing a mountain and declaring it from a mountain top, like a nut. That would have been crazy. I’m also afraid of falling off.
3 – Where do you draw character inspiration from? Do you have a set way of creating or do you allow spontaneity to take over?
I piece together the collective human personality from the idiosyncrasies and latent anxieties I notice in those around me. My characters are incredibly detailed. It make it far easier to get into or switch characters when they are well defined. Everyone has a job, an agenda and an M. O. Madame Brewhaha is based upon someone I knew from the upper east side. Alistair Weasel is an amalgam of the family lawyer, the family dog and a surprisingly clever Bronx born family member. One is a fortune telling shyster and the other is a lawyer. Both would pee on your leg and tell you that it’s raining. I can’t tell them apart either.
4 – Name one tip you would give an aspiring puppet builder / performer?
I say this repeatedly: “Don’t just wait around for someone to hire to you join their puppet troupe. It often works for independent actors or musicians that they make their own work. You can too. Start performing on your own, in front of actual people. Book your own gigs and start puppeteering live immediately.” Also don’t cut faux fur with anything but a razor on the cloth side unless you want to deal with an acre of purple fuzz. And find shoe glue (barge cement) at a cobbler shop and beg them for their cast away material. Fantastic mouth plates. Free.