So the early history of me and puppets is probably not dissimilar from yours if you were born in the early seventies. It goes something like this:
When I was really little, King Friday and Queen Sara Saturday ruled a kingdom of hand puppets on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Cornflake S. Pecially manufactured rocking chairs, X the Owl admired Ben Franklin from inside an oak tree, and Lady Elaine Fairchilde lived in a Museum-Go-Round, a design concept that would either delight or nauseate (or both), but give architecture critics plenty to chew on.
Around second grade, I was introduced to the Lonely Goatherd story through marionettes operated by the Von Trapp kids and their nun-turned-governess in The Sound of Music. The Baroness was still in the picture, but we all knew where things really stood between the Captain and Maria by the time those puppets took the stage. In the process of memorizing their catchy tune, I learned to yodel. Apparently so did Gwen Stefani.
All the while, there was Grover, the Count, and Bert on Sesame Street (my favorites in those pre-Elmo years I knew and loved). Our Betamax tape of The Muppet Movie was well worn, too. Decades later, Jim Henson-inspired puppets would catch my eye again, when used in “Dracula’s Lament” at the end of raunchy/romantic comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, one of my top go-to, guilty-pleasure movie scenes from the last five years. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, hear Jason Segel sing the vampire out of it on The Craig Ferguson Show.
But for the most part, once girlhood was over, there weren’t a lot of puppets in my life until Noah’s Ark at the Skirball became a part of my workday, from pre-opening to now. I could never decide once and for all which one I like best, but these days it’s the snow leopard.
This Sunday, the Skirball holds its first of what will hopefully be an annual Puppet Festival, inspired by the Noah’s Ark puppets that strut their stuff here every day. The Rogue Artists Ensemble is just one of many acts on the bill that will help further my puppet education (a friend who compulsively blurts out puns would likely say “puppeducation” right about now). I got a chance to talk to ensemble member Christina Aimerito about the Rogues’ upcoming performance of their original work The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone.
What can audiences expect to experience when they come see your show this Sunday?
We use several kinds of puppets in the show, along with video projection, audience interaction, and music. In short, they will experience old-fashioned theatre magic and a great story.
Which puppets really captivated you as a kid and why?
Of course we loved Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock. Puppets are so exciting! You never know what they will do next or how they’re going to do it! They are unpredictable and interesting to look at and have such distinct personalities. What’s not to love?
How did you get your start in this field? What do you love about your job?
We began making puppets and masks for fun in college and then we never stopped. Our job is fun because we get to work together to create theatre that matters. There is a magic in it that keeps you coming back for more every day.
What do you think it is about puppetry that makes people love it so, here and all over the world?
Puppetry is universal. It touches all ages, all cultures, all people! We project who we are on puppets. In them, we see our hopes and dreams, our vulnerabilities and our strengths. Puppets are capable of doing fantastical things that are sometimes difficult to do with actors. In our last play, we had a baby turn into a boat and sail away!
Do you have a favorite animal aboard Noah’s Ark?
The ostrich! We love the way the puppet manipulator uses their arms as the ostrich neck. It’s a beautiful design that is brilliantly executed by the Skirball puppeteers.