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Puppets with pep

Puppeteer Noel MacNeal, who performed Bear, the star of Disney’s “Bear in the Big Blue House,” will be coming to Denton to help lead a four-day puppetry workshop.DMN file photo
Puppeteer Noel MacNeal, who performed Bear, the star of Disney’s “Bear in the Big Blue House,” will be coming to Denton to help lead a four-day puppetry workshop.
DMN file photo

Workshop to teach craft to devotees

You could say that puppets are enjoying a theatrical revival.

Puppetry is an artform cherished by many cultures. But in America, puppets were long associated with children’s television and programming.

Then along came director Julie Taymor, who brought the African savanna to life for the 1997 stage adaptation of Disney’s The Lion King. Through the simple machinery of puppets, herds of antelope raced toward an enthralled audience. Giraffes and zebras ambled across the stage. Cheetahs stalked, and birds strutted.

During 2011, actor Stephen Plunkett (a Denton native) sat astride the horse puppet at the center of the five-time Tony Award-winning play War Horse. The same horse puppet was the star of a TED (of the famed Technology, Entertainment and Design conferences) talk by its creators.

And last season, Music Theatre of Denton sold out performances of Avenue Q, a musical that includes puppets in its cast in a story about very adult things in the players’ lives.

Professional puppeteers will travel to Denton at the end of the month to lead a four-day workshop at the University of North Texas that will teach beginners how to build and animate hand puppets and rod puppets.

Hand puppets are among the simplest of their kind. A puppeteer uses one hand to articulate the puppet’s mouth. Rod puppets require one hand to articulate the puppet’s head or mouth, and another to animate limbs — arms, legs, tail or even a neck.

The workshop, “Beyond the Sock,” will be led by puppet performers Noel MacNeal (Bear in Disney’s Bear in the Big Blue House and several Sesame Street characters) and Peter Linz (Walter in 2011’s The Muppets and an upcoming sequel).

They’ll share the reins with designer Pasha Romanowski, founder and owner of Project Puppet, which provides basic patterns as starting points for beginning puppet builders, and, which offers tutorials on advanced techniques for building puppets. Romanowski’s puppet creations have featured on television and website programs in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.S.

James Martin, a lecturer in the UNT Department of Radio, Television and Film, said the workshop is a chance for students to deal with production outside of news and sports. Martin is coordinating the workshop with UNT dance and theater faculty members Mario Tooch and Adam Chamberlain.

“I want the students to understand what goes on behind the scenes of the production, from the equipment, design and construction to the acting, and how all of that has to be focused on how the puppet is perceived, since the audience doesn’t actually see the performer,” Martin said.

The training the workshop participants will receive, he said, “is usually only available to those who have been cast in a major production.”

The opportunity is also extended to non-students, though the cost — $1,200 — might keep some from registering.

Participants in the four-day workshop will learn to design, build and operate a puppet. They’ll also get a chance to perform with their puppet before studio cameras.

— Lucinda Breeding


What: a four-day workshop that teaches students how to make and perform with puppets

When: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 29-June 1

Where: on the UNT campus

Details: Tuition is $350 for UNT students; $650 for alumni of the UNT departments of Dance and Theatre Arts or Radio, Television and Film; $1,200 for the general public. Only 32 spaces are available. To register, visit . For more information, e-mail James Martin at .