The Ottumwa Courier

June 17, 2014

Puppeteering 101

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — When you look into eyes of your favorite Muppets character, can you tell their pupils are slightly crossed?

Audience members learned this puppet-building secret and more at David Valentine's workshop at Bridge View Center Tuesday morning.

Valentine works for Jim Henson Company, Puppet Heap and Vampire Cowboy Theatre Company. You may also recognize some of his work from the 2014 hit comedy "Muppets Most Wanted."

Thingy Thang, a yellow monster puppet, was constructed by Valentine and used in the movie. "That was the first one I got to build, and it has my name inside of it. I was very serious while working on it, but inside I was just very starstruck working with all these celebrity bags of fur around me," Valentine said.

People of all ages attended the presentation and learned basic puppeteering skills as well as some of the secrets behind the construction of everyone's favorite puppets such as Miss Piggy.

The office where he works is equipped with 100 Miss Piggy heads because, "She has a new and different head attached to the same body every day when filming a new movie because the corners of her mouth start to crumble," explained Valentine.

There is a certain respect for all of the puppets that Valentine and his company works with. He explained that, "When I was refurbishing a Kermit and walking back and forth to an air-controlled room to glue or over there to do some sewing on it, I always had to put a fabric bag over it so it wasn't like carrying a dead puppet around."

Once Valentine took the bags off the puppets, he had audience members come up and try various puppets on for size. People learned how to make the puppet's mouth move naturally as well as how to move the puppets in a realistic nature.

Miriam Kenning, co-artistic director of American Gothic Performing Arts Festival explained that, "Puppets have a unique human piece to them, and that's the most exciting part. They are a significant part of our culture."

The puppets Valentine creates have very human characteristics. They are created with eyebrows that move to give different expressions when you squeeze bicycle brakes and wire fingers that are able to give you an approving thumbs up when necessary.

"About 75 percent of the joy of making these characters is when someone puts them on and gives them their own voice and attitude," explained Valentine.

That is exactly what audience members at the workshop did. Every puppet had a different voice and personality depending on who happened to be controlling the character.

— To see Danielle Lunsford's Twitter feed, follow @CourierDanielle.