Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Interview With Mary Robinette Kowal, queen of puppets!

Welcome to the bliggedy-blog, Mary Robinette Kowal!

Mary is not only a stellar sci-fi author. She's also a professional puppeteer who has worked with Henson productions.

She currently works with Other Hand Productions on various and diverse puppet diversions.

Down to nuts and nougats...

JM-> How did you get your start as a puppetteer?

MRK->I was one of those kids who wanted to do everything. When I was in high school, a friend of mine belonged to a church with a puppet troupe. I thought that was the coolest thing ever and it came the closest to covering everything I wanted to do. When I went on to college, I was an art major with a minor in theater and speech -- again, this was as close as I could get to doing everything. Then, I was doing Little Shop of Horrors and a professional puppeteer came to see the show. Until I met her, it never occurred to me that someone would give you money for working puppets. I pretty much changed careers on the spot.

JMMcD->How do you recommend people get their start?

MRK->There are two basic routes. You can find someone to apprentice with, which is what I did. Or you can study it in college. The University of Connecticut, for instance, has a very good program. Both routes are valid, but either way, I think you have to spend some time "paying your dues" by interning with someone.

JMMcD-> Where do you get your puppets? Do you need to make your own, or do other people make them for you?

MRK->It depends on the show. Some shows I make the puppets and some I perform with other people's puppets.

JMMCD-> What is the day in the life of a professional puppetteer like?

MRK->That is a hard question because there's no such thing as a typical day for me. If I'm on tour, my life looks totally different from when I'm in town. And a day in town varies depending on if I'm designing, building or performing in a show. Really, a day can vary from getting up at 5 a.m. to set up in a school gymnasium, performing two shows, driving to another town and having the rest of the day off, to: Spending the entire day building things, then rehearsing, then going back to the shop to build and then realizing that I've forgotten to eat and then falling into bed. Sometimes I'll go months without any performance related activities, just building, drawing or writing.
My days vary wildly.

JMMCD-> Can you tell me about some of your favorite puppets - for yourself or someone else to weild - and what makes them different and special to you?

MRK->My favorite puppets are the ones that almost move themselves. What I want is a puppet that allows me to not have to think about the manipulation so I can focus on the performance. I say that, knowing full well that one of my favorite puppets is Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. The puppet can weigh between 80 to 125 pounds. It's a show that leaves me with horrible bruises, but the show itself is such a kick and there's a huge endorphin rush from surviving the performance that I'm quite addicted to it.

I love the fox puppet I made for Pinocchio, because he is a pure expression of the character and a joy to manipulate.

As I'm thinking about it, I suspect that my love for a puppet really comes down to the character it's built to portray.

Thanks for your time, Ms. Kowal! If you'd like to add anything or take anything away, please drop a note in the comments and I'll move it up to this spot in the post!

Puppetry is wicked awesome.

My favorite fantasy films from childhood were both from puppets. "The Dark Crystal" and "The Labyrinth" are breathtaking and gorgeous and available on DVD today. Compare them to the cold CGI of most fantasy features, and you'll see why puppetry kicks more ass.

Other notable puppet projects of the fantastic include "Fraggle Rock", "Jim Henson Presents", "Little Shop of Horrors", "Being John Malkovich"...

What are your favorite examples of speculative puppetry? Anything awesome I missed?


Mary Robinette Kowal said...

Thanks for inviting me to chat!

J m mcdermott said...

Thanks for showing up to chat!

I hope when I run into you at a Con you can whip out some awesome puppetry.

Mary Robinette Kowal said...

I can't really imagine bringing a puppet to a con, to be honest.

J m mcdermott said...

I think I speak for the entire convention circuit when I say...


That is all.

Mary Robinette Kowal said...

Ah... but bringing a puppet for me would mean bringing my dayjob to the con. I'm not as keen on that as you might wish.

Suzanne Vincent said...

Take her out for some chocolate cake and see what she comes up with when you put toothpicks and sugar packets in her hands. ;-)

Mary Robinette Kowal said...

Shhh! Suzanne, you're going to out me.