A warm welcome for Michael Rogers, who will be studying Puppetry at UCONN for the next 2-3 years. It’s great getting a point of view from someone who drove from the West to the East coast for their passion and desire to build an education in UCONN’s Puppet Arts program.
1 – Where did you get your start in Puppetry? Was there a moment where you knew puppets would consume your life?
I started playing/working with puppets when I was very young, probably around age 4 or 5. My grandmother was an art instructor at my hometown’s college, and she made a lot of her own marionettes. So I grew up playing with those all the time; sometimes I would be controlling them and telling stories, and sometimes I would be standing alongside them in the story while she moved their strings and made them come alive. I think my favorites were the marionettes designed as the characters from “The Wizard of Oz” (it was my absolute favorite movie when I was a child). When I was 8, she gave me a hand and rod puppet I named McGurk. I still have him to this day (though he needs quite a bit of repair), and he came with me on my adventure across the country when I drove from California to Connecticut to attend UConn’s Puppet Arts program this fall.
My “Aha!” moment of puppetry came in 2011, when I was in a production of Avenue Q with a local theatre company in my hometown. Since I was the only actor with ANY previous puppetry experience, the director put me in charge of teaching the other actors how to perform with puppets. The four month process of teaching and rehearsing and performing this amazing show is really what made me decide to attend UConn. It was an incredible style of acting I had never experienced before, making an inanimate thing come to life as a character with real emotions and feelings. And even though I was in plain sight of the audience, I was told on numerous occasions that I “seemed to disappear from behind the puppet altogether”.
2 – Do you have a favorite moment in your career, or a project that you feel defines your body of work?
Back in 2007, and I had the opportunity to work with a style of puppet I had never previously used in a stage setting before. And this was a different kind of puppet I had never encountered: I was covered head to toe in foam and chicken wire, to bring life to the green and yellow monster pod of Audrey II in The Little Shop of Horrors. This puppet was especially difficult, since I was not providing the Audrey II’s voice. So I had to rely on another actor to convey emotions in a vocal setting, while I processed it, reacted, felt, and expressed those same emotions through my entire body. All on top of the audience never actually seeing my self. It was an amazing experience in my acting career, and I have since played the Audrey II Puppeteer in another production of the show in 2011, as well as being the Director of Puppetry for a third production in 2013.
3 – Where do you draw character inspiration from? Do you have a set way of creating or do you allow spontaneity to take over?
I don’t really have experience designing or constructing puppets yet; that will happen over the course of the next 3 years at UConn. However, I do quite a bit of sketching and drawing of random things and characters. So I can say I usually just design a creature or thing around its characteristics. My design work has shifted somewhat over the last 10 or so as to being very representational or allusionary (that’s not really a word, but I hope you can understand what I mean) in terms of patterns and colors and such to indicated ideas and characteristics. I worked at a costume reatil/rental shop for 10 years, so I picked up a lot of methods and ideas from that.
4 – Name one tip you would give an aspiring puppet builder / performer?
Just have fun. I think that’s the main goal with puppetry. It can be daunting, and difficult, and scary, but ultimately any form of art is about expressing yourself. And as long as you do that with no regrets and no apologies , you’ll always be right and good and true with yourself, and that’s the most important part.