1 The Muppet Mindset: September 2011

Sep 30, 2011

Another Interview with Sesame Street's Louis Henry Mitchell

Today we are so gracious and excited to welcome back good friend of the blog (and personal friend of Ryan Dosier), Louis Henry Mitchell. For those who don't know, Louis is a fantastic individual who works as the Associate Design Director for Sesame Street and Sesame Workshop. This is a complicated position that basically means Louis is in charge of most photo-shoots involving the Sesame Street Muppets, DVD cover designs, storyboarding for the show, and a lot more. Louis has been kind enough to share his experiences with us in three separate interviews in the past (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), the first of which debuted on The Muppet Mindset exactly two years ago on September 30, 2009. Louis has truly been a friend to us since the inception of the site and we're so thrilled that he keeps coming back!
Another Interview with Louis Henry Mitchell
Conducted by Ryan Dosier

RYAN:   We’re so excited today to welcome back a good friend and an awesome guy, Louis Henry Mitchell! Louis, welcome back to The Muppet Mindset. Make yourself at home. Let me know if I can get you anything. There’s a penguin butler around here somewhere...

LOUIS:   Hello, Ryan! A COOKIE will do, please, if you have one! I am really just grateful to be back here with you!

RYAN:   We’re all obviously very excited about Sesame Street Season 42 which premiered fairly recently. How involved were you in this season?

LOUIS:   September 26th to be official! I was extremely involved in doing storyboards for some really complex special effect shots and dance sequences. I spent more time on set than any other season, partially because I also design the DVD covers and sometimes there is not enough time to get me a screener (a DVD of the rough footage to review as design support).

RYAN:   What were some of your favorite things that you worked on in season 42?

LOUIS:   I once spoke about my feelings against "spoilers" and I am sticking to that. But I will say that there are some amazing special effects that we are doing now that bring Sesame Street to a whole new level.

RYAN:   What was the most exciting aspect of season 42? Is there anything special or close to your heart that makes an appearance?

LOUIS:   Even though it was not particularly tricky in the way it was achieved there is a segment featuring Elmo where his size changes--I won't say in which way--but it is really great, especially the way Baby Bear reacts! It is a classically hysterical moment!! Keep watching, folks!!

RYAN:   I'm sure you’ve been keeping busy doing lots of photo shoots for Sesame. What were some of your favorite recent photo shoots that you were a part of?

LOUIS:   Each and every one is pure joy! I am in preparation for my very favorite time of the year dealing with photo shoots: the yearly Photo Library Additions Shoot! I am in John Barrett's studio for an entire week for nearly 9 hours each day posing and directing the Sesame Street Photo Muppets. It's a big shoot because we must replenish the photo library regularly as the pictures are used. Some are used more than others and it becomes necessary to refresh often; many times I am called to do a special shoot. I did a series of Rock and Roll pictures of the Sesame Street Muppets using rock instruments; electric guitars, full drum sets, keyboards, and all in classic rock poses. Jimi Hendricks and Pete Townshend were particular inspirations for these shots! I had a blast!!

RYAN:   For our readers who might not know, you are very good friends with Kevin Clash. How's Kevin doing? Is all of this spotlight for the documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey going to Elmo’s head?

LOUIS:   Kevin is running all over the world, as he is accustomed to doing, but still appreciating it with his entire heart. We touch base on occasion while he is travelling and if he gets and idea for a photograph or something that may not even be Sesame related; he just gets my take on an idea or lets me know that there is something he would like me to work on with him. The wonderful documentary about him has shed light on him that I am just so thrilled about. Many people don't get to see what an extraordinary human being Kevin is away from Elmo. To see where he came from and all he had to endure to stay true to himself and beat such extraordinary odds is among the greatest of all stories in my opinion. Not only is this experience not going to Elmo's head, nor Kevin's, I actually saw the most tender parts of Kevin I had seen in our nearly 20 year friendship. He is truly humbled by the celebration and cherishes how so many people are interested in his life and are getting inspired by it--especially children!

RYAN:   You have a multitude of great Kevin Clash stories that I know you love sharing. Are there any on your mind now that you’re just dying to share with us?

LOUIS:   There really are so many, but I am going to ask for your indulgence on this one. Kevin's beautiful daughter has just been such a precious person to me. Kevin and I measure the time of our friendship by her birthday because we became friends the year she was born, which I mentioned in a previous Muppet Mindset interview. Well, she just entered college and really wanted me to make some binder covers for her school binders. I do this for Kevin when he is directing. I do a design based upon whatever he is directing and it helps him keep track of the binders as well as enjoy the art done just for him. Kevin's daughter saw them and went wild. So he called me telling me that she was going wild over them and asked if I would do some for her subject binders. Because Kevin has been like a brother to me over the years I was thrilled to do this for his daughter. I designed a character just for her and made seven or eight covers. There was, of course, no charge for this because I truly love him and his family. To get the chance to encourage her as she entered into college was a gift to me especially because she was SO EXCITED and GRATEFUL when she saw them. The part of this story that is my favorite is that for so many years she has called me Uncle Louis. To have Kevin Clash’s daughter call me Uncle Louis is indescribable! I am a HUGE Kevin Clash fan as well as being a close friend and, basically, family with him. So to be privileged to participate in his daughter's life as her "uncle" just is... no words.

One more quick story that I truly love may not seem like much to anyone else... well... except Muppet fans...

I watch Muppet videos all the time at work for inspiration and to constantly learn about the Muppets and review; to stay strong in the lineage and heritage so I can bring the work to everything I do for Sesame Workshop--especially the photo shoots; which are what I call "still performances." But I do not restrict myself to Sesame Street Muppets. They are all still one big family to me. I still love and study Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear... the entire Muppet family! Well, one day I was watching Dinosaurs and it was a scene where Baby Sinclair was dangling from stalactites at the top of a cave. I was amazed at this shot and kept rewinding it to study it and try to figure out how it was done. After about a half hour of studying this Kevin comes into my office just to say hello before some meetings he had at Sesame Workshop. He asked me what I was doing and I told him I was trying to figure out how they did that scene and then I asked him. He explained it to me in detail and then he sat down with me and we laughed and talked about the other episodes we watched. I asked many questions about things were done on that show and he answered them all.

When he left it really struck me... first of all to be blessed where he regularly stops in to my office just to say hello and see what I'm working on is a true gift. But to have such access to someone I am a huge fan of and get to ask any question I want like that... I was truly stricken with tremendous gratitude. While he was there I almost took it for granted because we are such great friends. Two guys just hanging out and enjoying a great TV show. But it wasn't just any TV show nor just any other guy watching it with me. Just spectacular!! I am truly blessed and duly grateful as the song goes!

RYAN:   We all know how much you love your job... I mean, how could you not? But I've always wondered... What is your favorite part of coming to work each day?

LOUIS:   You just said it. That I get to come into work here at Sesame Workshop each day! There are SO many aspects to this work and not one part EVER feels like work. I do apply myself with tremendous diligence and dedication but it NEVER, EVER feels like work and I am SO HAPPY to do the MANY things I get to do for Sesame Street!! Getting to share it with friends and fans is also part of what makes it mean so much to me so thank you again for this opportunity to talk about it again on Muppet Mindset!

RYAN:   What does Grover like to do on set in between takes? Does he enjoy Sudoku?

LOUIS:   It's funny that you mention Sudoku! You can walk around the set and find people either playing it between assignments or just find newspapers left open to half done Sudoku games. I mean, really, all over the set! Out of the camera’s view, of course! But this question is really about Grover!! He just likes being cute and furry while he waits for his next assignment.

You know, even when they are on their puppet stands I secretly say "hello" whenever I pass the Muppet Wrangler table on the set and any of them are propped up.

RYAN:   Well... I can't think of any more questions to stall any longer—because I know you're just itching to share. Louis, I believe you have an extremely exciting special announcement... something that you hinted at way back in our very first interview in September 2009. Take it away, my friend!

LOUIS:   Thank you, Ryan. I want to officially announce the launch of The Spiritstorm School! It is my art school with a real twist because it deals with the process BEFORE the artist approaches their creative discipline. I am truly excited because I started this way back just before I started working on Sesame Street and shortly before meeting Kevin Clash. So it started with the great career success I had before the Sesame Street Dream became a reality!

RYAN:   Since it is a school primarily for artists, how does The Spiritstorm School's curriculum differ from most traditional schools that offer art degrees?

LOUIS:   This curriculum comes right out of my life. It is not theories but outcomes of my challenges and struggles as well as breakthrough, breaks I got and some really extraordinary situations and circumstances that I use to tell my story; not as an example of how to achieve your dreams but an example of how much dedication your life deserves in the way you are called to approach whatever art form you are called to. Before one really immerses into the building of their career in the arts they must come to terms with who they are creatively and remove any obstacles that distract or destroy their creative process. The foundation curriculum where I share stories and put forth question and checklists is called Qreative Evolution. When you go to the website you will see the logo I designed to communicate the essence of the school. This school is not just for artists who draw or paint but for all creative disciplines from cooking to dancing to writing... truly all creative disciplines. Qreative Evolution deals with breaking barriers and building confidence as a creative person. And the "Q" is not a typo. It stands for "Question Everything!"

RYAN:   How will the school nurture the artist within every student? Since every student is a unique artist, how will their individuality come into play?

LOUIS:   The curriculum provides the structure and challenges. The student provides the substance and meaning. In a real way the student is the co-teacher of the course as well as co-author of the curriculum. No one can teach an artist how to become an artist but the artist can be nurtured and encouraged toward their creative fulfillment. And this is the foundation of the school! The defining statement of the school is, "The Intimate Practice of Creative Fulfillment Through Guided Self-Education."

RYAN:   I know how much of a dream the school was and still is for you, Louis. What is it like to finally see your dream come to life like this?

LOUIS:   I feel like I have another child having just been born! But now the real work begins!! I have to "raise" it and the way I will do this is to produce projects that demonstrate the principles presented in the curriculum. I am involved with many art forms and each one demonstrates a part of the whole of my creative life. It really is one life where all the art form come from and feed one another. The future curriculum is described in detail on the website but I will say that I will demonstrate the evolution of a children's healthy self-esteem program, the evolution of a graphic novel, a rock opera I wrote, and an animated feature film; again, all demonstrations of the approach to creating them. Not the production process but the CREATION process. These days you can learn production and every technical part of doing just about anything and it's getting easier. The idea is to create work that is worth producing and adding to the legacy of human creative genius. So many creative people have SO much to contribute to the legacy of human creativity and they feel limited because they are not as technically proficient as many others are. Some artists give themselves over to technology so much that they get lost in what I call "The Digital Wilderness" and lose all sense of why they entered the creative field. Also they become conformists to what others believe should be their creative approach and I have known artists who have given up and took on other careers to support themselves in creating art that means something to them.

The school is all about creative fulfillment and that doesn't automatically mean getting a job in a field of art. It means knowing that your creative vision deserves to be seen and is desperately needed. Even if one does not earn their living in the arts that does not mean they don't have a genuine and legitimate need to give vision on a given subject that means a lot to them. So many artists have supported their art pursuits and got their work out there when they were not professionals in their discovered creative area. That is a very important point; I truly believe no one decides what they are to become in life but they DISCOVER it. This is why some are quite fulfilled when they follow their hearts even though they may not be working as a professional in their creative discipline. I know of people who earn a lot of money but hate their work. In some cases they hate their very lives because they make that money doing what they hate or know that their hearts are guiding them toward something else. But pressure from others or bills and such things can distract and discourage many from their creative fulfillment. I, too, went through some of this pressure and learned how to stop it from getting in my way. And I want to share these principles right from my life through the Qreative Evolution curriculum.

RYAN:   And where can people go for more information on the school?

LOUIS:   www.spiritstormschool.com

RYAN:   Louis, thank you so much for yet another awesome interview with me. Your friendship means the world! Congratulations on seeing your dream realized. It's exciting enough for me... I can't imagine how thrilled you must be! 

LOUIS:   Ryan, I am really proud of you and all you are accomplishing. I am here for you and for anyone else involved with The Muppet Mindset who would benefit from my experience and the "work" I so LOVE to do. Thank you again for this great opportunity. Maybe we can do it again… just please have that COOKIE ready.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, ryguy102390@gmail.com

Sep 29, 2011

Understanding The Pig With The Froggy Tattoo

International fans of the Muppet World, it is I – The British Correspondent – with a further article from the underground society of artists (U.S.A.) in another quasi-deep study of the Muppets as art. Some may say that I am reading too much into it all (some may say I am not reading enough into it, but they are Gurus and also think that we are all brains in a petri-dish living in a virtual world). Those of us living in the U.S.A. (Not THE USA, perish the thought, Brits Unite!!!) pledge to the belief that unintentional art and readings of said art are as valid as intentional statements, based on the assumption that those creating the art are regurgitating the sum of everything they have seen, heard and understood throughout their lives consciously or unconsciously into their work projects (stop me now before a talk more about regurgitation...), therefore a sttudy of seemingly nonsence lyrics could be a viable stepping block towards future world peace (???).
The Tattoo of a Witty Frog
For those interested in viewing the Muppets as art and as a continuous art project that further develops with ever new content, projecting back across previous releases and forward towards the future of the Muppets, the latest addition to this fabric of Muppart is The Pig with the Froggy Tattoo.

As much as the previously released trailers may be of equal artistic merit and are certainly not exempt from the study of Muppart, this article focuses on TPWTFT because this piece particularly labels itself as worthy of deeper examination by presenting itself as connected to (with) the artistic statements of the Muppets previously released OK Go Muppet Theme Tune music video feat. The Muppets. The link implied through this cross-marketing and the display of the Green Album image in the new trailer is an interesting one considering that while new noteworthy content from OGMTTMV feat. TM was primarily visual, for TPWTFT the focus appears to be on the audible content (With OK Go, there were new visuals to a new-old song, whereas with this trailer there is new audio to a new-old visuals [It’s another trailer with quick flash images of the Muppets. We get it.]) In this way and more directly through pointing out the parody lyric changes and the writer, the trailer seems to state: The Background Noise is Important. Take Note.

We did take notes.
Our notes, and the notes of Muppet fans whose finely tuned ears and minds worked on interpreting the song into workable lyrics, suggest that the lines appear to be: Whoa, whoa/So many fixes/So many ills/I see you vanishing/Over the hills/Followed by a cast iron/Comedy of skills/I saw a froggy tattoo that just broke Miss Piggy’s will.

This trailer dropped closer to the movie than previous trailers and its timing cannot be a coincidence.
The previous trailers blew fans away with the unexpected appearance of old favourites, bright colours and obviously high production values. But having had time to digest these amazing visual treats, fans were beginning to question whether the return of The Muppets would re-establish DEPTH as well as COLOUR. The movie was not intended to be shown in 3D, but fans need to know that it will contain three-dimensional characters, rather than cardboard cut-out stereotypes.

To fans who may have been disillusioned by semi-recent Muppet projects and appearances in which such pigeon-holing of the Muppets as one-note characters appeared to be happening the lyrics state: “Whoa there. Stop. Take a breath. Now listen...”

So many fixes. So many ills.

Since Jim Henson’s death, the Muppets have appeared to struggle to fit a particular demographic, sometimes striking too adult, sometimes striking too childish, sometimes not striking at all, and often attempts to ‘fix’ previous movies lack of something (heart, humour, intellect) led to the next movies overcompensating (see KSY to VMC or MWOO to LTS).
I see you vanishing, over the hills.

It would be hard to deny that the Muppets have spent a long time in hibernation (which is only useful to Fozzie as he can borrow his Uncle’s car during this time). In many ways they literally vanished, reappearing for occasional talk-show interviews regarding re-releases, on the arm of Lady Gaga as an accessory or on Christmas Albums, but never rebuilding their very public, very influential, very accessible establishment as a part of the entertainment community.
Followed by a cast iron comedy of skills.

A comedy of skills is a translation of the Italian phrase commedia dell'arte, a particular style of performance art, Italian masked theatre in which actors played characters as a direct stereotype, represented by a mask. The handsome soldier. The milliner. The damsel in distress. The fool. The wise but easy influenced king. Could there be a better description of the way that the Muppets have been played in recent years than as a commedia dell'arte?

Certainly, there have been moments of depth, but on the whole we are shown the Angry Diva, the Witty 
Frog, the Insecure Bear and the Tortured Artist Weirdo Whatever. (Strangely during this time, added depth has been built into minor characters such as Beaker [Internet Star!] and Animal [Bunny? Mama!?] while the main cast have been slotted into demographics.)
Now, while it’s true that Jim Henson’s original pitch-reel suggested that the Muppet troupe had a ‘type’ for every ‘type’ (bearded hipsters for the bearded hipster audience) we know from watching The Muppet Show and the movies that these characters became so much more than their character-bios in the Muppet Bible.
I saw a froggy tattoo that just broke Miss Piggy’s will.

Tattoos are always less than the image on which they are based. A tattoo of a pet, a name or a snake slithering over a bare shoulder does not have the original value of the pet, the name or the drawing of the snake upon which the tattoo image is based. Certainly the tattoo has a similitude of the original, but is not the real thing.

In the same way, The Muppets perceived without their depth are seen by many as a similitude of their real selves without being themselves. Witty Frog has been critiqued by fans as not being Kermit** (best not to stretch this discussion to include alternate-Kermit from America’s Got Talent).

Despite differing fan opinions on the validity of recent Muppet products, it is clear that this tattoo of a Kermit was enough to lyrically break Miss Piggy’s will.
Knowing Miss Piggy, when her will is broken, she reacts in a way that brings about results, be it leaping from the rafters and making a luau of Doc Hopper’s villainous henchmen, smashing through a latticed window on a bike or skating across rivers, rocks and trees to assail herself upon a handbag robber, Miss Piggy ultimately takes action when her cast iron will is broken.

Such, we hope, will be the action of the new movie, shattering previous reflections of the Muppets and rediscovering a team of entertainers that do not depend on being a commedia dell'arte, fixes or ills, but on a reality that continues to establish itself brightly, wildly and DEEPLY in the centre of the Entertainment world.

**This article does not necessarily represent the views of its author, who is a huge fan of Post Jim Productions and considers Kermit to be Kermit regardless and everyday grows more excited about the possibilities of this movie!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, ryguy102390@gmail.com

Sep 28, 2011

Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: Two-Headed Monster

Today's Weekly Muppet Wednesday article was written by John Papovitch.


Performed by...

Peter Friedman and Richard Hunt (ca. 1978)
Richard Hunt and Jerry Nelson (ca. 1980–1991)
David Rudman and Jerry Nelson (1992–2000)
David Rudman and Joey Mazzarino (2001–present)

First known appearance...

Sesame Street, Season 9: Episode 1121 (1978)

Most recent appearance...
Sesame Street Season 42 (2011)

Best known role...
Cooperating/arguing monster with two heads

The Two-Headed Monster is exactly that: a purple monster with two heads. One of the more unique monster creations of Sesame Street, the two characters showcase Jerry Nelson and Richard Hunt's impressive chemistry with each other. Often, the format of their sketches involves one of the heads having some sort of prop that the other wants, the two briefly quarrel about it until they realize they can both share it. Of these sketches, perhaps the most famous are the ones where the two heads sound out the syllables of words and eventually put them together, like "telephone" or "run."

Part of what makes them unique is that they are among the few main Sesame Muppets that don't really talk. Jerry Nelson and Richard Hunt primarily spend their time in-character talking in baby-like gibberish to each other, with an even more limited vocabulary than, say, Animal. Despite their inability to talk, they have become favorites of many Sesame Street fans. While their inserts were mostly limited to being at their brick wall, they got to interact with the likes of Kermit the Frog and Cookie Monster. Plus, they even ran their own Two-Headed Monster School where the two heads had Elmo and Telly as students. They have even gotten to meet celebrities like Cab Calloway (who sang "Hi-De-Ho Man" with the two), Robin Williams, Jane Curtin, the band R.E.M., and Aaron and Nick Carter.

Outside of the show, the Two-Headed Monster made background appearances in The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan with the other Sesame Street characters, as well as being extras in Sesame Street's big screen movie Follow That Bird while they were absent from The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland (I guess Bernie just couldn't work out a deal). On television, the two joined in the song "We're Going to China" in the special Big Bird in China and even showed up in China when the Monkey King briefly turns into them during a musical number. They also appeared in the 1987 special A Muppet Family Christmas, where we got to see them playing Santa Claus in the Sesame Street Christmas Pageant of "Twas the Night Before Christmas," which led to an amusing conversation between Bert and Ernie regarding whether to refer to the Two-Headed Monster as "them" or "him."

After Richard Hunt's death in 1992, the Two-Headed Monster began to be downplayed despite new performer David Rudman taking up Hunt's half of the character. Perhaps their biggest role in the post-1992 period was playing the Hunters in the 2001 direct-to-video "Elmo's Musical Adventures: Peter and the Wolf." In 2003, with the retooling of "Journey to Ernie," the two appeared in every segment, wherein Big Bird would ask them if they've seen Ernie, to which the two heads would prove to be unhelpful, pointing in both directions.

Despite being mainstays of the Street, there has been very little merchandise of these two characters. They have appeared in books but other than that the sole piece of merchandise they've received is a 1998 PVC figure made by Tyco that's rather hard to find. In 2005, Palisades Toys announced the Two-Headed Monster would be one of the four figures in Series 1 of their highly-anticipated Sesame Street line. However, the bankruptcy of Palisades Toys prevented the line from being released.

The Two-Headed Monster, despite never achieving the popularity Elmo or Big Bird, are, for whatever reason, likable and are perhaps Sesame Street's most entertaining way to show cooperation. After all, as Herry Monster once sang to them "Two Heads Are Better Than One."

Best of all about the monster, he's (they are?) easily the Sesame character that seems to seamlessly retain their integrity whenever a different performer takes on one of the heads. When you compare Richard Hunt and Jerry Nelson performing them to David Rudman and Joey Mazzarino, you can usually tell very little difference between the two performances. Maybe that's just because it's all gibberish, but for anyone, they are iconic Sesame characters and never seem to get old despite being mostly underrated by the mainstream.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, ryguy102390@gmail.com

Sep 27, 2011

Jim Henson's 75th Birthday: The Effect on the World

Chase Beecher - This past Saturday was the celebration of what would have been Jim Henson's 75th birthday. Lots of folks got in on the celebration. As I am sure you have seen, Google turned their "Google Doodle" into digital puppets. The Rainbow Connection bridge was dedicated in Leland, Mississippi. Jim's films were shown all over the country celebrating his work. "Jim Henson" became a trending topic on Twitter (so did Mean Girls 2, but I bet it was unrelated), and tributes came from all around. We have compiled what we could--there is a lot of love for Jim, and we can see his legacy is living on. We have tributes coming from Twitter, Facebook  and from personal request. (Thanks to Jerry Nelson and Gene and Bill Barretta!) Here's to you, Jim! Happy Birthday!

Bill Prady (co-creator of The Big Bang Theory):   I began writing while working for Henson, so his impact on my life is profound. Lesson: write what truly amuses you--not others. I began my writing career at the Muppets. There's not a day that goes by when I don't miss Jim. Happy birthday, boss.

Neal Patrick Harris (via Twitter):   Jim Henson would have been 75 today. I wish he were still around. I miss him.

Chris Hardwick, The Nerdist (via Twitter):   Happy 75th Bday JIM HENSON!! Your indelible mark on our souls will live on forever.

Kelly Tindall:   Is it too negative to say that I'd sacrifice every person from every reality show to a volcano for one more hour of Jim Henson T.V.?

Elizabeth Leary:   Funny how someone you never met can have such an impact on you. No idea where I'd be/what I'd be doing without Jim Henson.

Jacqueline Yatko
:   He made believe there will always be a child in each of us no matter what age we are.

Stephen Christy
(Editor-in-Chief of Archaia Comics):   Working on Jim Henson's Tale of Sand has been almost a spiritual experience. We are definitely trying to channel Jim's creativity.

Lauri Sarah:  Jim Henson made me feel safe when I was scared and smile when I felt like crying, and forever friends.

Lucas Ross:   He got into my head at an early age and has a thumbprint on all I do now. I even named my oldest son "Henson." for real. I tried for Kermit, but didn't fly.

Jonathan Melville:   I've realized from Jim that I need to be more creative, mediocre isn't an option. Not sure I've succeeded, but I'm trying!

Dave Hulteen, Jr (Muppet Fan Artist):   Today would have been Jim Henson's 75th birthday, the most influential person to me who has inspired my art.

James V. Carrol (Muppet Fan Artist):  At five years old, my parents took me to see the theatrical debut of The Muppet Movie and it greatly impacted my life. I remember everything about that day. The illusion was so real that I actually believed the Swedish Chef broke the projector in the middle of the movie. Most people mistake becoming rich and famous as the goal of the film, but it’s about sharing your journey with other likeminded individuals who may be very different in every other aspect of their lives. That kind of positivity, no matter what the challenge, is how I always think of Jim Henson and is only a fraction of what his work continues to mean in my life.

Noel MacNeal (Muppet Performer):   This says it all. (And not only don't you ever see Kermit's feet, it's FUNNIER not seeing his feet!)

Ryan Dosier:   I was born after Jim Henson was gone. The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson aired a month after I was born. I love the fact that Muppet stuff continued and has continued all thanks to the legacy Jim Henson left us. We miss you, Jim. Thank you for leaving us your legacy so that we can carry it on in your memory. You inspire me every day, Jim Henson. I hope to do your legacy proud.

Jerry Nelson (Muppet Performer):   The first time I saw Jim Henson was 1956 at WOR. The NBC affiliate in the basement of the the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC. I had just returned from military service and was working as a Page delivering mail and Tele-taped news updates to the newsroom and various departments of the station. He and Jane were rehearsing for that evening's show of Sam and Friends. Little did I know then that nine years later my life would be so intricately tied to the Muppets for so much of my career.  A blessing that gave me the opportunity, though I did not know it at the time, to put into practice what I had trained for all of my life; to dance, sing, and play in the company of so many talented people. I thank my lucky stars Jim saw that potential in me when I finally met him in New York City.

And now we present an extremely special, personal thank you and look at how Jim Henson has affected the lives of the Barretta brothers: Bill and Gene.

On Jim Henson’s 75th birthday, we’re reflecting on what his life meant to us with a personal thank you.  Our experiences are both solo and shared as brothers.

GENE:   Jim made a tremendous impact on me early on. When I was 10, my cousin Gary and I discovered Bert and Ernie on TV--suddenly the world of puppetry came alive for us. I had to be very careful not to tell my junior high classmates I was watching Sesame Street. Eventually, we introduced my younger brother Billy to it and look where that led!

GENE & BILL:   For many years after that, we, along with Gary, made frequent trips to the foam and fabric shop where we bought supplies to make our own "Muppets." There was an occasional puppet show at the Katzenbach School for the Deaf, thanks to one of their teachers, our Aunt Kathy. The shows were important to us, but making the puppets and fantasizing about what it might be like to one day work with Jim Henson was what it was all about.

BILL:   Since I was four years younger than my brother and cousin, I got to be a part of the puppet shows by assisting them.  I got to do things like, pull the string that released the confetti at the right moment. Helping them bring smiles to the deaf children’s faces was something I’ll never forget. And now, with what I’ve come to learn about Jim (through the people that were close to him), I think back on those early puppet shows and feel he would have really appreciated what we were doing. Especially how we placed the big speakers facing down onto the floor so that the deaf children could feel the vibrations of the music we played.

GENE:   My first official encounter with Jim Henson was at age fourteen.  I was not shy about sending him a fan letter to ask how he made his Muppets.  It must have been his calm and generous demeanor that made me think it was ok to approach him. Not long after, guess what arrived in the mail? Not only a personal letter from Jim, but also a set of instructions on how to make Muppets! Would you expect anything else? That letter survived many decades in a ragged portfolio and is now hanging in my studio.

GENE & BILL:   We were in his company three times after that. Once briefly when he showed up at Sesame Place, where we were working as summer employees alongside his son, Brian. A few years later we spent more time with Jim in his NY apartment during a visit with Brian. And our final honor was attending his memorial service in 1990.

BILL:   I remember so vividly the day he came to Sesame Place. I happened to be working next to a brand new automated character attraction of "Oscar The Grouch" that they were testing. From where I was stationed, I looked up for a moment and just happened to see Jim walking into the park. He could have easily gone through some private VIP entrance, but instead, he entered the park just like everyone else. I immediately abandoned my post, ran up to him and said something corny like "Mr. Henson! Welcome to Sesame Place!" He said, in a low tone "Thanks. Do you know where the Oscar attraction is?" ...Did I? I basically spent the next half hour just staring at him as he observed Oscar and it’s effects on the park guests. The fact that he preferred to be with the people and not with some VIP escort made a huge impact on me... such great humility.

GENE:   I know that he made an impact on me because I think about him often–especially when I am working on one of my children’s books.  My manner with children was strongly influenced by watching Jim speak with them. I emphasize the word "with." He put children at ease when they were in his presence. He initiated a dialogue based on mutual respect. He made them feel as though he had nowhere more important to be during those moments. I strive to follow his lead.

BILL:   And I guess I am following his lead as well. I’m always honored and amazed that I get to perform a few of Jim’s characters. As a kid, and growing up, his characters seemed to jump out at me more than any others. The types of voices he created along with the pure and crazy, playful personas that went along with them, is something that feels close to me as a performer.

GENE:   I can also thank Jim for helping me approach adulthood as an artist. Very early on, I recognized that he was a mature, responsible adult and parent who could also nurture a child-like innocence within. That was vital for his creative mind. I now know how important that is for my work (and life) as well. The trick though, is to not allow for the inner child to override maturity.

BILL:   I actually prefer that my inner child take over. He’s so much smarter and more fearless than me.   Still searching for the balance I guess.   

GENE & BILL:   Finally, now that we both have a child, we hope to follow his lead as a parent. Look at his legacy. Jim and Jane raised five remarkable children. Speak with any of them and its clear that they experienced an inspired childhood filled with valuable life lessons. So, thank you, Jim. The best way to really thank you is to remain creative. And we will.

Chase Beecher:   How could I pay tribute to Jim Henson? Well, there are not too many human beings that have affected my life the way that he has. Rumor has it, I had a Kermit doll in the womb with me, and that is when it all started. I have thought about this, and had Jim not been here, I know that I would probably want to be a school teacher or a doctor or something sane like that, rather than being a performer, trying to make millions of people happy. My sense of humor and wonder would radically be different. But more than that, I think the world would be radically different. The world is a lot lighter and happier and a lot greener for him having been here. I think the greatest and lasting tribute is not only the great men and women carrying on his legacy, but the great folks that I have met that share in my crazy love for the Muppets. We ourselves are a little like the Muppets: a fundamentally different group of individuals who have come together and cosmically understand one another on a deeper level.

Well, now that I have been all schmaltzy, I am going to go throw some Boomerang Fish. Just for the Halibut.

Do you wanna throw fish with Chase? Find him on Twitter @chasebeecher or at facebook.com/chasebeecher

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, ryguy102390@gmail.com

Sep 25, 2011

58 Days Until "The Muppets"

Ryan Dosier - This week I'm taking over countdown duty from our friend Lucas Ervin, who is busy doing something with somebody or other. He'll return next week! But I'm really excited that Lucas let me take this week because it features some of my favorite Muppets... the Muppet Monsters! These gorgeously designed, often hilarious, always fun creatures have been with the Muppets since the beginning, since Mushmellon way back on Sam and Friends. And now, the Monsters are back--and in a big way. Sweetums, Thog, the Mutations, Big Mean Carl, Frackles, Behemoth, Luncheon Counter Monster, and, of course, Uncle Deadly, are all back for The Muppets this November. The following are some of the best Muppet Monster sketches and songs from The Muppet Show.

58.   Sir Avery of Macho
When comedian Avery Schreiber was the show's guest star, Miss Piggy had a lot of fun trying to convince Kermit that she was in love with Avery, not the frog. However, one of the episode's biggest highlights was this sketch featuring Avery as a gladiator as he fought back "the Monster of the Moors" (Sweetums) in a battle of insults--all while Kermit reported live for Muppet News. You can probably guess who won the fight.

57.   I Feel The Earth Move
In the fifth season of The Muppet Show, Loretta Swit stopped by for a few songs and dances. But undoubtedly the most well-remembered number for this episode is Loretta's song with Thog, where the giant beast demolishes an entire city, while Loretta appropriately sings "I Feel the Earth Move." The green screen technology used by Jim Henson and The Muppet Show team really shines through in this number. Watch as Thog picks up Loretta in his hands--absolutely incredible! Especially when you remember that this was only 1980.

56.   Comedy Tonight
The opening number of the Joel Grey episode of The Muppet Show took a dark and eerie turn juxtaposed against the classic song "Comedy Tonight." The number featured tons of Muppet Monsters and some of Jim Henson's strangest looking creatures as they haunted a town while singing their song and performing what they saw as "comedy" and what the audience saw as weird... yet funny at the same time. Amazing how often The Muppet Show walked that line.

55.   You’ve Got A Friend
This number was probably the most egregious and heart-breaking cut that had to be made to The Muppet Show Season 1 when it was released on DVD. The closing number from the Vincent Price episode is not only the best part of the episode, but also one of the greatest, spookiest closing numbers in the entire run of the show. Price's delivery of the song and the background accompaniment by the Muppet Monsters is spectacular... plus, there's a health dose of Uncle Deadly, which makes everything better.

54.   Once A Year Day
This fun number breaks up some of the creepy tension caused by Alice Cooper and his seducing of Miss Piggy in the episode of the show in which he guest starred. The Muppet Monsters run rampant backstage singing this fun little song led by Boppity, the blue Frackle. Loads of special effects fill this number, including the ghosts, the moving candle on Kermit's desk, and more. Brilliant puppetry throughout the entire number makes this a fantastic Muppet Monster showcase.

53.   Hey There Good Times
Leslie Uggams joins a band of full-bodied Muppet Monsters as they bounce through the song on an extremely bright and cheery and uncharacteristic set. Something I just love about The Muppet Show is how they can take such a bouncy, fun tune like this and have a band of Muppet Monsters perform it with Leslie Uggams, chanting "Bye, bye bad times!" and the rest of the chorus throughout. It's just so funny and smart. This number on its own isn't very memorable, but it is an incredibly brilliant idea executed wonderfully.

52.   Millions Of Us Who’re Ugly
In my mind, when it comes to Muppet Monster numbers you just can't beat this song. This anthem of under-appreciated, hideous creatures who still find themselves wonderful even though the rest of the world finds them ugly is inspiring. It may be a very silly song but the message of loving yourself for who you are is (almost) on part with "Bein' Green." Plus, it's a brilliant showcase for most of the man Muppeteers' singing abilities. I just love Jim Henson and Richard Hunt in this number.

58 Days Until The Muppets!!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, ryguy102390@gmail.com

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