Calgary Herald (interview)

On March 12th, 2011,  The Calgary Herald published an interview that described my work as “light years away from the child-oriented Muppets universe that Jim Henson introduced.” 

I was in Calgary for the International Animated Objects Festival, where I performed Fudgie’s Death, presented an artist-talk, Object/Fetishand introduced a Handmade Puppet Dreams screening.

From the Calgary Herald article, Henson Keeps Puppet Dreams Alive by Heath McCoy:

Heather Henson is reluctant to say that she’s helping carry on the legacy of her late father, Jim Henson – creator of The Muppets, and, certainly, the most famous and innovative puppeteer in history.

She struggles with the suggestion in a phone interview from her Orlando home, perhaps because – when put to her in those terms – such a notion implies a frightening amount of responsibility.

She’s also leery of being artistically pigeonholed in any way. But the fact is, Henson has done much to champion the art form that her father revolutionized throughout his life.

With her company Ibex Puppetry, the youngest of Jim Henson’s five children produces the Orlando Puppet Festival. She’s also created the Puppet Slam Network, an online resource where edgy, underground puppet artists can connect and find adult venues to perform in.

Then there’s the touring series of short puppet films that she curates, Handmade Puppet Dreams, which will be screened Sunday at the Plaza Theatre as part of the International Festival of Animated Objects.

“I guess Handmade Puppet Dreams is sort of the next generation of what my father was doing when he supported other artists.” Heather allows, uneasily. “But it’s more about just letting everyone know how fabulous puppetry is. …It’s a celebration of the art and it’s about showing everyone that there’s this wide gamut that can be (encompassed by) puppetry on film. Look at what’s possible”

Henson will not be coming to Calgary for the event.

Instead, Handmade Puppet Dreams will be presented by her colorful assistant, Los Angeles puppeteer and drag artist Marsian De Lellis, who has been referred to as “the Lady Gaga of Puppetry.”

“Yes, I do think (Heather is) keeping her dad’s legacy alive,” De Lellis explains, “but I also think she’s her own person…. She’s an artist in her own right…. She’s supporting a lot of different styles of puppetry. It’s not just that Muppet-style.”

There’s no doubt about that. In the puppet film shorts to be shown at the Plaza, there’s a collection of material which De Lellis describes as being “far outside of the box.”

Among the work featured, there are marionettes fashioned from wooden blocks (described by De Lellis as “toy theatre”) and a music video in which puppets are composted before a digital background. In one short, bottle stoppers are somehow animated, creating a barroom scene. Another video features an elaborate underwater puppet show.

“She’s doing her own thing, but again, that’s probably a part of her father’s legacy too,” says De Lellis. “He always had a passion for new puppeteers and for people who were moving forward with puppetry and taking the medium into new angles.”

To be sure, De Lellis himself would fit that bill.

In addition to hosting Handmade Puppet Dreams, he’ll be performing tonight, along with other festival puppeteers, at the Dolly Wiggler Cabaret in Inglewood’s Latern CHurch. His performance, Fudgie’s Death,  is described as a “neo-noir tale” which will feature De Lellis in drag along with his own puppets, which he animates from tabletop pop-up books.

De Lellis will also be giving a lecture on Sunday night at Calgary gay bar Club Sapien. The focus of the talk? Sex dolls, fetish toys and their potential role in the world of puppetry.

Certainly that’s several light years away from the child-oriented Muppets universe that Jim Henson introduced.

Even so, De Lellis stresses that he’s also co-hosted a Muppets Movie singalong in the past as a “family-friendly drag queen.” On the Animated Objects Festival website, Handmade [Puppet] Dreams is listed as an all-ages event.

It’s one that Heather Henson is particularly proud of.

“These films we’ve sent are the cream of our crop,” she says. “I’ve been doing this film series for six years and we’ve collected 50 or more films in this time. We’re sending you my favourites”