A Day in the Life of a Professional Puppeteer

13 April - Square Eyes Film Foundation

Behind the Seams kicks off tomorrow with a Pop-Up Puppet Workshop at Te Papa hosted by The Moe Show performers Jeremy Dillon and Sarah Thomson.

This accomplished pair of Kiwi puppeteers look closely to Jim Henson for their inspiration and have been guided under the expert tuition of Muppet performer Peter Linz. We quizzed Jeremy on his path to becoming a performance artist, some career highlights and how to crack the industry...

Tell us about a day in the life of Jeremy and Sarah and the world of puppet performing?

There's no such thing as a typical day on The Moe Show. In the studio I perform Moe, Sarah performs Fern, and Simon McKinney performs Frank and Gilbert. It's a lot harder than people might think - it's basically acting using only your voice and arms, while holding a weight above your head for 10 hours a day. We work really hard on the scripts but we also have the freedom to improvise and come up with something better, so we make each other laugh a lot.

When we travel around New Zealand with Moe, Sarah performs Moe's right hand - which means Sarah has spent more time huddled in my armpit than anyone should ever have to. For Moe to look good on screen we usually have to be quite uncomfortable, but the sore arms and discomfort are all worth it when we create something magical. Kids really believe in Moe, and don't even seem to notice us there.

What's the first step to getting started in the puppet performing industry?

Get a puppet that has good eye-focus so it looks alive, and practice, practice, practice. Puppetry is often seen as just 'wiggling the dollies' but it takes as much practice, dedication and skill as playing a musical instrument.

Then, watch how the Muppet performers do it. Read books about Jim Henson. Watch behind-the-scenes videos on YouTube. Jim Henson created the art of television puppetry, and he was incredibly generous in the way he shared his secrets. The information is all out there - you just have to look for it.

What's the most memorable moment or achievement from your career so far?

From The Moe Show I think it would be performing Moe on White Island. There's something quite special about performing a puppet on an active volcano, while wearing a gas mask.

We've also had the amazing experiences of being taught by Muppets performer Peter Linz, and visiting the sets of Sesame Street and The Muppets.

If you could rub shoulders with ONE puppetry idol you've never met, who would that be and why?

We owe everything to Jim Henson, so of course he would be top of our list. He not only created an amazing art form, but continued to push it forward with every new project. In his short life he achieved more than most people could ever dream of, and he's one of the few people who can truly be called a genius. Jim Henson is the reason we do what we do.

And if I could be greedy and meet one other puppetry idol, it would be Jim's performing partner Frank Oz. For my money, they are the greatest comedy duo of all time. Not only were they consistently brilliant, but they did it with so many different characters.

Learn to make and perform your own puppet at a Pop-Up Puppet Workshop under the tuition of Jeremy Dillon and Sarah Thomson from The Moe Show at Te Papa on Saturday 14 and Saturday 21 April. Tickets available through Ticketmaster.

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