The Puppet School, Michael Earl, San Francisco and new Friends

I have had an incredible adventure.

I went to San Francisco and made a puppet. And then I worked with that puppet, (and others) to learn some wonderful manipulation techniques. And I had fun. And I learned loads! And I felt like a kid again – a kid who got to go to summer camp. Finally.

Last weekend I attended The Puppet School weekend intensive.

On Saturday we made a puppet. 8 hours of work, following a pattern and expert instruction and I had a puppet. She’s beautiful. You’ll meet her later. 8 hours of dreaming and scheming and gluing and stitching, (Henson stitching no less!), and the participants all had their own unique and fantastic creation. We all followed the same pattern with the same instructions, but our choices of colour and texture and eyes and hair made them so different and wonderful. I think there’s a special message in that. I’d have been happy to take any one of them home. Our instructor, multi-Emmy winner and former Mr. Snuffleupagus , Michael Earl, was there to guide us through each step. He has great suggestions, but quietly lets each individual choose the direction of their puppet. A great teacher. He was assisted by San Francisco native Andrew Montesano who would help when thread was snagged, or feathers were flying – whatever. At one point Andrew circled near me to ask how I was doing, and without thinking I replied: “I couldn’t be happier than I am right now.”

The next day was Film and Television Puppetry. Again, a full 8 hours of work with our new puppets, (and others there for us to try – thanks again Andrew!!!). Puppet choreography, improv, character, stillness, and of course, working with the fact that the camera flips your image and messes with your brain. Such challenging work – but SO much fun. I, quite honestly, have not felt challenged as a performer in some time. The work I’ve been given to do lately has been fairly straight-forward and hasn’t required me to really exercise¬†any mental, (or physical) muscles. This did all that and more. I felt mentally, physically and emotionally challenged. People say this all the time, but: life changing.

All the participants in the two days were wonderful people. There was Katie, who had made a puppet before and she agonized over her decisions and her work – but seriously, made the most wonderful yellow “Packer-backer” puppet. He was delightful. Her friend, Karen – who she’d pressured to attend, (but is now addicted), made an amazing dark purple, 3 eyed monster. Joan – who’d made many puppets before and brought them with her had a great time learning how to bring character to her creations. Dr. Julielynn Wong, who’d like to use puppets to promote healthy living choices in patients, was a super fast learner, (clearly worthy of the “Dr.” title in that respect), and my new friend Shari who made a wonderful French monster complete with beret and beads in his fur. As of this typing, she’s already started 2 more puppets – I’m behind! There were two other wonderful artists who made puppets with us on the first day, but sadly, could not attend the second day. A small group, but the perfect size for everyone to get a turn to try things and keep progressing. The amount we all improved during this day was phenomenal! (do-doo-do-do-do!) And that day, I again felt like I couldn’t be any happier. By the end of it, I didn’t want to say goodbye and in all seriousness, I told Michael and Andrew that I could be a student of this for 6 weeks straight! No breaks necessary. My heart was SO full.

On my last day in San Francisco, I got to be a tourist – I’ll go into detail with that on another post because that was also amazing, but at the end of the day, a Muppet friend, Seanna – who I met in Montreal at The Just for Laughs Festival, picked me up, drove me around the city to show me some views, took me to her favourite Mexican restaurant and then dropped me off at the airport. How kind and wonderful is that? It was the perfect way to end my visit to the city and my adventures, (at least in San Francisco), with puppets. You see, my flight had a stopover. One that I’d decided to extend. Because my layover city was Atlanta – the home of The Center for Puppetry Arts – a location that I was determined to visit!

More on that later. Stay tuned.


Author: Ceris Thomas

Ceris is a creative person. She teaches by day - and finds as much creativity in her job as she can and by night, (and during every spare minute she has), she creates through directing/choreographing and performing plays, drawing, writing, podcasting and now, sewing puppets. She likes to help others find and nurture their creativity and she loves finding out about other people's path to their own creative projects.

One Reply to “The Puppet School, Michael Earl, San Francisco and new Friends”

  1. Gotta clear one thing up… I mention that I got to feel like a kid again – a kid who got to go to summer camp – finally. My Mum took exception to this, cause she thought I’d forgotten all those great trips to summer camp in my youth… OF COURSE NOT! I just can’t find any good activities that allow Adults to participate, or are geared for adults, or will allow them in without a child. I meant I finally found a summer camp type activity that I as an adult, could partake and enjoy.

    Just so you all know, I did get to go to summer camp when I was a kid. It was great. Why do you think I keep trying to recreate it?

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