Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Puppets For the Win!!

My gainful employment consists of performing a Bunraku-style puppet show for 4th graders at a different elementary school each day.

My job is a strange mixture of performance, improv, and public speaking. Most of the time it is a lot of fun, especially during the Q and A session in which the kids get to ask the puppets questions, or offer solutions to them, directly. You never know what a kid is going to say and you have to find funny, entertaining, affirming ways to acknowledge them while also directing the conversation where you want it to go.

To the kids...I am a rock star. To adults, it's slightly embarrassing to list my occupation as Puppeteer. However, the laughter I can elicit from a bunch of fourth-graders is a boost to my self-esteem even though I have a very low-paying, low-prestige kind of job.

While driving through downtown Tampa on my way to a show, I saw this guy walk through the busy traffic in front of me:

I had spotted a fellow puppeteer! In public! Unashamed!

He walked across the intersection and was gone before I could really get a good listen to what he was saying. He held his puppet in front of him, speaking with it, and had a huge sign strapped to his back that seemed to reference God. All I could read from my vantage point was PoorPennyCarson.com. So, intrigued by a street preacher with both a puppet and a website, when I got home later that day, I tried to look up the website. It didn't exist, but I found tons of hits and a few youtube videos about Poor Penny Carson.(that link has a brief video in which Carson explains himself)

From everything I could gather, Poor Penny Carson and his puppet, Sweetpea Johnson, have been doing this for years...preaching about God and the end of the world, throughout Georgia and Florida for the last few years.

Even the "end of the world" is appealing when you talk about it through a puppet, right? ;-)

On the serious side, I wondered how Penny Carson has managed to survive all these years doing this and how he provides for himself and if he has any relatives who wonder where he's at and what he's doing and how he's doing.

It's alternatively funny, sad, and worrisome to think about a guy spending his whole life doing this.

On a happier note...Puppets + Queen = Awesome!


DH said...

I'm torn between an "aww, cute" reaction to the Muppets performance and a revulsion to a complete slaughter of a Queen classic. ;o)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I hadn't known this. Given your next post, perhaps I should hesitate, but if you have contact with storyteller's groups in the Daytona to Orlando area, two of them are girls...

Wait a minute. They're 58 years old now. But such is memory. I went to college with them, and though we fancied calling ourselves "men" and "women" at the time, it was a polite lie. I was a boy and they were girls.

...anyway, Terry "Mouse" Deer and Stephanie Bennighof seem to be involved in the craft even now. Mouse is a children's librarian (A whole lot of my female friends in college, including my wife, went on to become librarians), and Steph is a teacher at St. Barnabas Episcopal (she used to be at Atlantic High). For those who are nostalgic, it is painful to learn that people you remember don't remember you, but I think they likely would. I visited them often in 1973 and frankly, I should have dated either of them in favor of who I actually did date. They graduated with Glenn Close, and would likely provide you with reminiscences you wouldn't find elsewhere (All three were costume shop girls, so they would have seen a lot of her).

Not a close connection, but your paths could well cross.

As to puppets, there is something nonthreatening about them that allows them to say aloud what humans cannot. It can be powerful.

DH - one has to reach a certain level of eminence to become enough of a cultural icon that everyone feels free to use your stuff. So be comforted.