THE GEEKS SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH: IT’S TIME TO PLAY THE MUSIC – AN INTERVIEW WITH KAREN PRELL

While the predominant performers were still men, “The “Muppet Show” wasn’t wanting for female puppeteers by the time Prell joined. Kathryn Mullen and Louise Gold were very active in the troupe, though neither had a featured character to perform. This isn’t to give the impression that the Henson company did not employ women as a rule – Jim started the company alongside his to-be wife, Jane Nobel. Sometimes, this is how the balance works out, it seems.

“It was great having (Kathryn Mullen and Louise Gold) on there. They’re very supportive and very helpful. It was so good getting to know them. Except for them, I was so aware of what the men puppeteers had done, so I really wanted to get to know (the women) more, and see where they were coming from, what they thought of the whole thing,” Prell recalls. “I think they still would have liked to do a bit more on the show. They enjoyed what they were doing. Of course they still had Piggy and Janice being performed by Frank and Richard – and doing a fabulous job! They were perfect for the characters. But as far as being offered really good, rounded female characters for the female puppeteers to perform, that still hadn’t quite happened with Kathy and Louise. But they certainly had fun with what they were doing. And of course, they got to do a lot of the singing. And Louise, oh my gosh. She was just so wonderful doing the singing and musical comedy. Everybody loved having her around. What she brought to it.”

Of her memories, there was one bit that stands out in Prell’s mind. “I wouldn’t say it was spectacular performance-wise, but it was a feature thing, performing (the musical number) ‘Rockin’ Robin’ – I played the actual Rockin’ Robin puppet for that number – and that hadn’t originally been the plan. I don’t think they knew who was going to actually perform the puppet, but every week they would sit around the table and do the read-through and then they would stand-around the piano with the musical director and reahearse the songs. The workshop would sometimes come by with some puppets so the guest could get used to working alongside the characters. If they had any new puppets built for that week, the Workshop would sometimes bring these along for Jim to check out. So they brought the ‘Rockin’ Robin’ rod puppet by, and when I saw it, I really loved the design of it, and it was so sweet. So when they were doing their stuff, I was just picking it up and playing with it. It had a full body and legs, so when they rehearsed the song, I was making it dance around. Jim decided that he would let me perform it for the song. And of course, I was thrilled, but still very, very nervous. The legs on the puppet were a bit stiff, which was tricky, because it was supposed to do all this dancing. So Dave Goelz was really wonderful. Of course, he started with Muppets as a puppet-builder. So he actually worked on the legs of the puppet and gave it some nice flexible joints, to help it with the dancing. He was so into it, he wanted to help perform it! So he did all the silly, funny dance moves while I did the body and the head. So the puppet had its own little close-ups during the song. It was still tricky to get it to really look good with the dancing – it was just a puppet on a really long rod. Again, I was still learning, so I did a lot of generic wobbling back and forth while Dave did all the fancy footwork! (laughs) They did a few shots of it, but it was still nice and kind of a featured character.

“Another nice thing that happened during that sequence (which was featured on the rare “Of Muppets And Men” documentary) – they shot the sequence with an Ultra-matte around the tree and did it in layers. So there was one part, one of the layers was Jim up there doing Dr. Teeth, and I think I was helping do hands for Dr. Teeth or Janice up in the same layer. They’d been setting up, rehearsing that bit, then they had to adjust lights or something, so everyone took a break. So I was standing up there next to Jim, and we just hung out and chatted. I was asking him kinda Muppet-fan questions – ‘how do you make Kermit sit on the stool and not show the puppeteer underneath him’. He was explaining things to me, and we just had a nice quiet little chat while the rest of the crew was out preparing things. It was great! He was so busy doing the shooting non-stop, dealing with all the departments and performing the puppets as well. He loved being that busy, but I think he enjoyed having quiet times to just sit and chat without running around quite as much.”

“The “Muppet Show” ended its syndicated run in 1981, and so, too, did Prell’s apprenticeship. With the Deena Monster gone from “Sesame Street”, there wasn’t much left for her to do at the Henson Company. Or so she thought. Prell stayed on in New York and was doing some freelance graphics art work when she got another phone call from the Company. They had a new show in the works, a cable children’s show called “Fraggle Rock”. The call came as a surprise. “I guess Jim knew that I had stayed in New York, I hadn’t left to go back home, so he asked them to bring me in to audition for “Fraggle Rock”. Which was very good of him, because I still hadn’t quite done enough on “Sesame Street” or even “Muppet Show” to really show what I could do as a puppeteer. I guess people really weren’t sure about auditioning me, but Jim must have told them to give me a chance. Which was so nice of them to do.”

Get the rest of the story in part four of THE GEEKS SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH: IT’S TIME TO PLAY THE MUSIC – AN INTERVIEW WITH KAREN PRELL>>>

All photos courtesy of Karen Prell. Do not reproduce.




Posted on March 10, 2004 in Features by

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