Yesterday, I took a very informative and hands-on workshop in NYC for television puppetry. The teacher, Michael Earl, is a former Muppet performer as well as a puppeteer on projects such as the "Men In Black" films and "Team American World Police". Michael is such a pro and watching him bring to life his simple, classroom puppets was like watching a Sesame Street dress rehearsal. It was a different story when us students got in front of the camera but, having the technique to practice is great.
The class was a full day from 10am to 5pm with a half-hour lunch. With a limit of 8 students, we all got ample camera and puppet time. The class was broken down into various exercises that started simply with the bare hand in order to understand the movement and get use to the opposite orientation of the movement on a monitor. Specific poses and techniques were emphasized that could then be built upon through practice. Songs were used to help with various techniques and Michael was a patient, professional guide throughout.
Strictly from a 'fan' perspective, Michael provided anecdotes and lessons from his years with the Muppets and learning from his mentors such as Frank Oz and Jim Henson. It was thrilling to hear his stories from his 'Muppet' days and I could have happily listened to those for half the day.
If you think you know puppetry, wait until you start performing to a monitor. Our class ranged from seasoned Broadway performers to a person just starting in puppetry and everyone in between yet, I feel we were all pretty new to this style of puppetry performance. It certainly created great energy from everyone and it was interesting to learn something from each unique energy that people brought.
If you get the opportunity to take one of Michael's workshops, I can't recommend him enough. Even in a one day class, so much is covered that it is certainly money well spent. You'll want to take notes so bring a notebook and Michael welcomes puppeteers to bring their own puppets to use later in the class. The monster puppets he uses for class are perfect for the exercises and are easier to use when the whole class is doing the same exercise.
Michael has up-coming one-day workshops slated for NYC, San Francisco, Chicago and Atlanta. I highly recommend anyone interested to sign up now. Michael said the workshop in NYC for March 2010 already had 6 students on the waiting list. That leaves only 2 slots left so, puppeteers - jump on it!