My journey creating and producing puppetry... trials, tribulations, inspiration and contemplation.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Stuffed and Unstrung

I will never forget, as a young Muppet fan, eagerly writing the Muppet Show Fan Club and asking them about the possibility of coming to see a taping of the Muppet Show. At the time, I had no clue that it was taped in the UK but, that was beside the point. I received a reply from some staffer at the fan club explaining to me that the Muppet Show was not taped like a regular show with an audience. I may have been young but, this, I understood because I was eager to see the process! I was chomping at the bit wanting to see how it was actually done! As a young puppeteer, I needed to see my creative peers in action. Alas, my dreams would be put on hold for a good 30 years.

Last Saturday, April 10, I had tickets with friends to see Stuffed and Unstrung at the Union Square Theater in Manhattan and finally got to see the process in all its glory. The giddy 10 year old inside was unleashed as I purchased a Stuffed and Unstrung t-shirt. I spied the tarp-covered mound of puppets on stage as the neon "Stuffed and Unstrung" sign flashed above.

When the actors took the stage and the familiar "Puppet Up" theme played out before us, I eagerly anticipated the merriment and [very] adult comedy that would keep us all in stitches for a nearly 2 hour show. How lucky I felt to see skits like the aliens visiting an erotic bakery or the news story of Justin Bieber after being attacked by Godzilla - or the Hot Dogs in their 12-step program breaking their addiction to Tiger Woods. These were all so hysterically portrayed but, because of the fact that this is improv, would be unique to the time I saw the show. Thinking of how many different skits were made up on the spot like that during the run of the show just made you appreciate what they are actually creating all the more.

It warmed the true fan's heart to see a couple of classic Henson skits worked in to the program. Brian creates a skit on the fly after intermission that makes your jaw drop when you realize what's happening. After having mastered that piece, he must have a blast creating it every night. Still, he drops a little improv into it to make it unique for every show. The audience participation skits are a lot of fun and each person invited up on stage looked like they were re-living a part of their childhood too. How can you not smile with these incredible puppets within arms reach?

I thought it was cute and kind-of telling when a staffer parked herself at the front of the stage during intermission to guard the puppets. You would have to actually have a pretty good reach or jump up on stage to get close enough to the puppets but, I guess they must know there's enough rabid fans out there with little self control.

If you can make it to Manhattan, Stuffed and Unstrung is running through Saturday, May 29 and, beginning April 29, all 9pm shows will be moved to 8pm for all those who cherish an earlier bed-time. Go see this fantastic show! You will be happy you did.


Ariella said...

Thanks for posting this! Stuffed and Unstrung is supposed to be an awesome show. Two of my colleagues have joined the cast -- James Godwin [who is doing a two-week run as of May 26th] and Melissa Creighton [who appeared in the show last night] and I have been dying to see it!

Ariella Goldstein

Kevin said...


I just wanted to let you know about an auction on ebay that's coming up involving autographed memorabilia from Stuffed and Unstrung.

DirectorsLabChicago, founded in 2005 by Chicago-based directors Elizabeth Margolius and Karin Shook, has grown into an international yearly event at the Chicago Cultural Center. Directors from around the world gather to exchange ideas and discuss what it means to be a director. The first event of the lab on June 14th, at the Chicago Cultural Center in the Cassidy Theater, open to the public, brings a frank and in-depth conversation with some of the city’s most prominent stage directors as they discuss the varied approaches to their work. But the excitement doesn’t end there! Also starting at 7pm CST that day, there will be a week-long auction on eBay (eBay ID: directorslabchicago), to assist their mission of bringing the highest level of quality to the Lab.

In the spirit of the event, the items up for auction will be pages of notes written during rehearsals of some of the most important productions by some the rising stars as well as some of the biggest names in American theater. This year we are so fortunate to feature notes from the 2010 Drama Desk Award nominated (Outstanding Director of a Play, Outstanding Revival of a Play) hit revival of The Boys in the Band, directed by Jack Cummings III. These notes are of particular interest since they are two separate pages, with one page being on the back of a page of the director’s copy of the script, and the other page of notes being on a sheet of the late Vanity Fair Special Correspondent Dominick Dunne’s personal work stationery.

The second page of notes comes from another 2010 Drama Desk Award nominated (Unique Theatrical Experience) show Stuffed and Unstrung, co-created and directed by Patrick Bristow and starring Brian Henson, son of the late legendary puppet pioneer Jim Henson. Billed as a multimedia mash-up of puppetry and improvisation, the notes for this show are unusual in the fact that since this is an improvised production, the entire cast has also autographed and contributed responses to the notes the director took during rehearsals.

It wouldn’t be a DirectorsLabChicago auction without an item from the latest Chicago-born Broadway transfer, Million Dollar Quartet! Chronicling one of the most auspicious moments in rock and roll history, director Eric Schaeffer has graciously contributed two pages of his notes from the Broadway production, including the title page from his personal copy of the script!

What can be said about Wicked that hasn’t been said? After 3 Tonys, a Grammy, a record breaking Broadway run, a 2010 Olivier Audience Award for Most Popular Show, it’s all been said. And deservedly so. Our final page of notes comes from London’s West End production of Wicked, directed by Joe Mantello. These notes are especially unusual since the director has admitted that he normally doesn’t take notes during rehearsals of his shows and after much searching this was the only piece of paper he could find, so this may very well be the only self-written example of directorial insight into the production of Wicked in existence!

If you’ve ever wondered what a director was thinking when they made a certain decision about a show you were seeing, NOW is your chance to own an historic piece of American Theater history. All proceeds benefit DirectorsLabChicago’s mission of being THE place to learn what it means to be a director in the theater!

Questions regarding the event should be directed to Kevin Hanna, via email, to