Paul Andrejco is the founder of Puppet Heap, the group that created I Knew an Old Lady and Old Mother Hubbard. Paul designs puppets and directs productions, and today, he's the subject of our creator interview!
batteryPOP: Did you make or put on performances with puppets when you were growing up?
Paul: Yes! My mother used to sew a lot—making clothes, stuffed toys, things like that—and I would make puppets from scraps she had lying around as well as paper and junk I would find on the street or in the garage. I used to arrange the furniture around the house and drape sheets and blankets into puppet theaters and put on shows for my family. I was the kind of kid who constantly liked to dress up in costumes, wear disguises, and assume alternate personas. I also liked to hide for hours right under people's noses—it was kind of thrill. Of course, I had no idea these otherwise strange habits would become the foundation of a lifelong career.
bPOP: Was there any puppet or puppeteer that inspired you to go into puppetry?
Paul: Well, as a child growing up in America in the 70’s and 80’s, the most ubiquitous example of puppetry was the work of Jim Henson—Sesame Street, The Muppets, The Dark Crystal—all that stuff. And I loved all those fantasy movies that were rife with cool puppet characters like Yoda or the dragon from Dragonslayer. I was also profoundly influenced but Mr Rogers and his Neighborhood of Make-believe. But the puppeteer who inspired me to seriously pursue puppetry as a career was Erminio Pinque and his company Big Nazo. He taught a class on the design and performance of large-scale, foam rubber puppets, which I took in college and was immediately hooked. I had the opportunity to work with him a little bit, too, which was a fantastic experience for me.
bPOP: What inspired the style of the puppets used in I Knew an Old Lady/Old Mother Hubbard?
Paul: That puppetry is style is primarily inspired by European glove puppets like Punch and Judy, Guignol, and Kasparek. But there are all sorts of other influences, as well, such as the Budaixi of Taiwan, puppet animation from the Czech Republic, medieval art, Mr Rogers, and just all of the things I love.
bPOP: Do you prefer making human or animal puppets?
Paul: All the characters I make are reflections of human beings, even if they are animals.
bPOP: What story would you like to tell next?
Paul: I have so many stories I would like to tell. I want to tell them all next! But, circumstances and my own life experience are what determines which one is told next, so time will tell. Stay tuned!
bPOP: How many people does it take to make an episode of Old Mother Hubbard, and what kinds of jobs do they do?
Paul: Around 35 people worked on Mother Hubbard. They were puppet builders, illustrators, graphic designers, costumers, scenic artists, performers, musicians, editors, sound engineers, producers, lawyers and accountants—some people wore many hats.
bPOP: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to create and perform with puppets?
Paul: Just do it! Puppetry is best learned by actually doing it—trying things and putting objects together and seeing what stories come out.
bPOP: How is working with puppets different than working with human actors?
Paul: Puppets can be much more simple and specific than human actors. They are much more limited in terms of what they can do and what they represent, so they become just a subset of aspects of a more complex human being. In that way they can be more poetic. You can also keep them in a box, which usually isn’t done with human actors.
bPOP: What is an unexpected challenge that comes from puppeteering?
Paul: Actually, you wouldn’t think keeping things simple would be such a big challenge, but it is! With puppets, it’s important the story and action are as, clear, direct, concise, and as simple as possible. We often want to do or say so much at one time time that the whole show becomes kind of muddy and difficult to understand. The hardest work is keeping it simple.
bPOP: What's the craziest thing that's happened during a Puppet Heap production?
Paul: Nothing crazy has ever happened during a Puppet Heap production. Just a bunch of normal people running around wiggling dollies, making barf bags barf, and yelling at each other in goofy voices. Pretty much the average day for us, actually.