Understudies

When we arrived at Disneyworld for our week of training…some Disney puppeteer…was in charge of the Muppeteer training. This, I thought was a very odd choice indeed! I looked around and thought; “Where are Steve, Eric, Bill or Dave?“…comment by Gabriel Velez on July 30, 2017 to my post “High Noon”.

Gabe and I worked together in the early 80’s, “Muppets Take Manhattan”, if memory serves. It’s great to hear from someone who was at those understudy auditions back in 2006. You’re right that the four of us were not there.

An understudy is defined as a performer who learns the role of another in order to serve as a replacement if necessary. It is common practice in live theatre where it is imperative that ‘the show must go on’.

But, imagine that you’re binge watching one of your favorite NetFlix series, say, “House of Cards” as an example. After a couple of episodes when you’re really into it, show three opens with Robin Wright addressing camera as “Claire Underwood”. She delivers her lines and at the end says to her off camera husband, “How was that, Frank?”. They cut to ‘Frank‘ for his reply, but instead of being Kevin Spacey, it’s his understudy…or maybe even Currie Graham

The point is that the actors in your favorite film or television show don’t have understudies. That’s because just like in real life, it makes no sense to try and pass off an established individual as being another individual. The Muppets are individuals behind that fuzzy exterior, not a role, so substitutes never work.

To my knowledge, at no time did Jim hire or train a single puppeteer for the purpose of them being a second Kermit, or Miss Piggy, or Fozzie Bear, or any of the rest. As with Gabriel, he would bring in new performers to work with us when he could and would encourage them to develop their own characters, but new talent was never brought in for the purpose of finding/training understudies. If they had been, there would not have been such concern about the Muppets going forward after Jim died because an understudy would have stepped right in.

On the rare occasion during Muppet production when a replacement is necessary because an established performer was unavailable to perform their character, we use a “stand-in”. This was a big part of what I did when I first joined the Muppets. The stand-in manipulates the puppet, usually with some specific instructions from the established performer, and the voice would either be pre-recorded by the established performer ahead of time if possible making it a simple lip-sync job, or dubbed after the fact. In no case have we simply had someone else fully perform a character, voice and puppetry, along with character interpretation, with the intention of that performance being final.

Back in 2004 when Disney bought the characters, within moments of first meeting the key executive of what was then called “The Muppets Holding Company”, he enthusiastically announced his intention to have six to twelve puppeteers perform each character so that they could be all over the world at the same time…

I…WE were stunned. Characters with all the history and depth of each of the Muppets would be reduced to a list of traits that a dozen different puppeteers would be trained to execute, like little Muppet clones who never step out of line and never grow.

By the way, training understudies is an entirely different issue than training theme park puppeteers to manipulate the Muppets for the parks. Both are training, but for different purposes. For the record, the Muppet Performers have been to DisneyWorld numerous times to work with the theme park puppeteers in connection with two parades and most recently in September 2016 for the “The Muppets Present…Great Moments In American History”.

My goal has always been that a visitor to a Disney theme park isn‘t thinking of Kermit or Piggy as the ‘theme park versions’. The experience should leave them believing that they just viewed the actual one and only Kermit and Miss Piggy. In other words, the characters in those theme park shows need to appear as though they were being performed by Steve and Eric, etc.

So highly skilled puppeteers are replicating our movements which they learn at these training sessions and lip-syncing to pre-recorded tracks, meaning the character performance is set by the Muppet Performers and remains faithful to the Muppets, themselves instead of having three different interpretations of the characters during a day at the theme park as the shift changes. This is the best solution to integrate the business needs of a character presence in the parks while remaining faithful to the individuality of the Muppets since it would never be practical for the Muppet Performers to be available for daily theme park shows. But, I digress…

Again, Jim never had understudies and it remained that way until the characters were sold to Disney. The word ‘understudy’ only crept into the dialogue in response to a term I began using called ‘multicasting’. Multicasting refers to having multiple puppeteers perform a character simultaneously in the world, a direction the core performers were adamantly against because anytime any of the Muppets are divided into multiple versions they grow in different directions and it reduces their depth. I compared it to making a copy of an analog video tape for those of you old enough to remember VHS. With every subsequent copy the image becomes more difficult to recognize.

The four of us agreed we could not follow this course in good conscience so we did not advocate for or support the ‘understudy initiative’. We knew that the puppeteers who were being offered what seemingly sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime, were in fact going to end up being a part of an effort to mass market the Muppets at the expense of who they are. Big mistake, in my opinion.

None of the Muppet Performers, including me, has ever to my knowledge turned down any appearance of any size. I have consistently advocated that it is imperative in marketing a franchise of puppets in today‘s world for every Muppet character to always show up fully intact with no exceptions at every type of appearance. That means it must be the singular established performer for ribbon cuttings, feature films and everything in between. Nothing can take the place of the genuine article.

Thankfully, after fans speaking out and a change of executives, the multicasting idea was sidelined as they saw the merit of a singular performer, singular Muppet. So none of us trained understudies because it was a corporate concept that was foreign to the standard working practice of the Muppets and was, in my opinion, being implemented to service multicasting. If this is part of my unacceptable business conduct, then I guess Eric, Bill and Dave have marks beside their names as well.

Take a look at Nicholas Napoli’s post of the Understudy Training. This video was never shown to the four core performers at that time, and this is the first time I have become aware of its existence. It is too ‘produced’ to simply be someone’s home video. What is shown here brings into question the judgement of executives when they move forward with corporate initiatives that do not take into account what is best for the Muppets

96 thoughts on “Understudies

  1. This is what I’ve been talking about on other fan sites. I constantly get told that no matter how many Muppet fans unite Disney will not change on the decisions they have made. What you just posted Steve is proof that fans can in fact make a differance. We just have to unite and become a louder voice. We did it back in 2004 we can do it again in 2017!

  2. I remember how long it took for people to get used to Steve Whitmire as Kermit The Frog.

    It really frosts me when — and it’s happened a lot in news stories reporting on your situation — the Muppet Performers are referred to as “the voice of” whichever prominent character is being discussed. I heard reporters say things like, “Steve Whitmire has been the voice of Kermit for 24 years.”

    No. You *played* Kermit The Frog for 24 years. You originated the characters of Rizzo, Wembley, Bean Bunny, and others. You guys and gals in The Muppets have hardly ever gotten the respect you are deserved as actors under the foam, except onscreen where the credits rightly read, “The Muppet Performers.”

    And on that 60 Minutes profile with Morley Safer.

  3. I read somewhere that Jim Henson despised the title “Muppeteer” Just like us fans hate the title “voice actor”.

  4. I remember listening to you talk to Steve Swanson on the Muppet Cast about most of this stuff, but this is the first time I recall you addressing the 2006 workshop. Sometimes I forget about that not every Muppet fan out there has taken the time to listen to and read every interview you’ve done (a necessity when wanting to establish oneself as an incredibly knowledgeable fan). So it knocks me for a loop when people out there are so quick to accuse you of being selfish by not taking on an understudy.

    And I’m certainly glad you pointed out that it wasn’t just you that had a problem with the troublesome proceedings. You seem to be the person everyone is determined to throw under the bus, which really isn’t fair, so the more you open up, the more flawed the accusations against you become.

  5. My original post just didn’t show here, it was a bit lengthy and now I can’t remember exactly what I put, but there are a few other things to say. There is a huge difference indeed between voicing Kermit and speaking for him. No, not everyone or anyone can do that. The post I tried to put here spoke of Jims’ generation, like generations in a family, with new people being drawn to that family naturally, because of love, commitment dedication etc, not because of a job, fame or money. The fact you wouldn’t trust just any stranger to take care of your loved ones and pet-sit or babysit, because those individuals are too precious to trust to just anyone, and the fact that Disney care so little about the magic, (as someone else said) they’d have two Kermits in two places doing two ribbon cuttings at the same time and wouldn’t care whose illusions they’d shatter.

  6. Time to write your memoir. It doesn’t need to be a muckraking one; it’s time to start your next life chapter. A memoir of the Muppets could be brilliant and give you just the emotional and social shift you need to move from your past to your future. If you don’t know where to start, I’m happy to help out, I’ve written and coached dozens of memoirs. Let this chapter come to a gentle, loving close. The longer you hang on to the past, the more the people in your past will distance themselves from you (it’s twisted, I know, but it happens every time–see my book, Mobbed! What to Do When They Really Are Out to Get You–I learned the hard way). The more you accept this chapter is over, the more those people will embrace you when you turn to the next one. You have a powerful, delightful, magical story to tell. It’s time to tell it (even if some parts can’t be told for contractual reasons). It’s not easy being green, but you already know that…

  7. Not to be one of those crazy theorists on the internet, but I’ve personally wondered if the powers that be struck this blow to test how far they can push the fans without losing the franchise.

    As in, if the fans accept Steve’s firing, then we can take it to the next level and hit the fans with the concept of multiple performers, etc.

    That’s what concerns me about the fans who have been quick to make peace with this. It’s a slippery slope…

    1. This is just like with Disney not releasing seasons 4 and 5 of the Muppet Show. I saw something a few years ago about something called “The Surge Movement” It was a dedicated group of of people who wanted the Coke A Cola company to re release a drink called Surge that was discontinued back in the late 90’s. I thought that if they could do it with a soda, surly us Muppet fans could do it with Seasons 4 and 5. This simple idea was met with very heavy opposition. When I brought the idea to other Muppet fan sites like Tough Pigs, the idea was very quickly shut down. The reason for this is they have “accepted” That Disney will never release those seasons, and that fans have no pull when it comes to things like that. I have disagreed with this mentality from the very beginning, and feel that for Disney to give us what we want we have to tell them what we want.
      I strongly feel that for The Muppets to survive, and stay true to themselves is for fans to unite!

  8. Whatever the reason, Corporate Disney did not have a Clue about what to do with the Muppets, even with a huge reference storehouse of film/video on hand for needed answers. The problem seems to be Corporate thinking.

    We see the same problem today in politics, which is extremely tragic

  9. Hi Steve,

    Believe it or not, the first thing that popped into my head when I started reading this blog entry was the “Fraggle Rock” episode, “Playing ‘Til it Hurts,” and how that episode came to be. From what I have read, the week that episode was filmed, you guys were supposed to be filming an episode about Wembley (the source I read this from didn’t go into details about what episode it was), but you had injured your hand (or broke it, I don’t remember). So you guys came up with an alternate episode to shoot that week, hence, “Playing ‘Til it Hurts,” a Red-centric episode. Now, you could have pre-recorded Wembley’s lines, and gotten an alternate puppeteer for the Wembley-centric episode that was supposed to be filmed, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have been the same to us Fraggle fans. And I also feel it wouldn’t have been the same for a lot of fans to have ten to twelve different Kermits, Piggys, and Fozzies.

    Live long and paws-purr,
    Erin T. Aardvark

  10. You never turned down an appearance Steve? What about the 2009 America’s Got Talent episode? You refused to “set foot on the plane” then after you heard you were being replaced, you rushed to L.A. and went to the studio taping, begging to get in.

    1. Who are you ? Did you work with the Muppets, Disney, JHC or even AGT production ? I’m also a Fraggle fan, but not so bitter !

      1. I’m not bitter. I’m just telling the other side of the story that Steve isn’t telling. I will also miss Steve’s Kermit performance. I really will, but that doesn’t mean it was 100% in the right in this situation.

          1. Fraggle Fan listen to The MuppetCast show I posted. Steve was there when that America’s Got Talent thing was done.

          2. Fraggle Fan says:
            August 4, 2017 at 1:13 PM
            “How do you know what I’m saying is false? Were YOU there? I have nothing to gain from lying, Steve does.”

            Well Fraggle Fan i was not there. And you ? Where you to know what you are saying about AGT and Steve`s performance ? Simple question, requesting a simple answer. Should i try to search you at The Walt Disney Company ?

          3. I’m not sure why this is controversial. Steve did not perform Kermit on AGT (2009) or the 2009 MTV VMAs. He also didn’t perform Kermit at the ’09 D23. If you google it, you’ll see multiple sources over multiple years that back this up. Steve even called this Kermit an “imposter.”

          4. Not having performed is not controversial. But the reason presented by Fraggle Fan on his original comment for why Steve didn`t perform is, and in my opinion also offensive to Steve Whitmire.

          5. So this might be controversial… Steve says he was “there.” I’m not sure what he’s trying to imply with that, but he was most definitely NOT at the taping or rehearsals for any of the three appearances mentioned above. Was he in LA? Yes. Did he make it to the stage? No, he absolutely 100% did not. Once again, Mr. Whitmire is more then welcome to clear up the definition of “I was there” but I’m pretty sure he won’t. His decision to not speak about this is probably more of a legal issue than it is a matter of his pride or ego.

            Or a good mix of both.

        1. Well, Fraggle fan, but how did you know what you are saying ? Where you, or are a performer, or someone in any of the mentioned companies or, f. example just the telephone lady who answered the phone & now is gosping a private talk ? I don’t know how you or anybody else can state something about another person (Steve in this case) without having direct knowledge of how things where. Direct meaning = being part of as one of the person envolved with what you are stating. I guess you work for Disney. Go tell them that we “his people” also love his 🐸Kermit 100% and want him back to the Muppets.

          1. How do you know what I’m saying is false? Were YOU there? I have nothing to gain from lying, Steve does.

          2. Google Artie Esposito, he’s the performer who was Kermit for the 2009 AGT show. In fact, here’s a clip.

          3. Fraggle Fan, that is enough to see that you have no direct knowledge of what you said. Private or professional conversations between Steve and his employer should and could only be revealed and known by one of them. This video does not prove what you said about Steve and the Muppets acting on AGT. Let’s do this way, i will not ask you again, because you cannot answer, therefore i don`t believe what you said about Steve since you did not present any evidence. I am very sorry, and sincerely hope you are not a Disney employee.

          4. So why do you think Steve didn’t perform for AGT in 2009? What do you think the reason is? because Steve won’t say…

          5. Well Fraggle Fan, if i don`t know why Steve didn`t perform, i cannot make suppositions or just wonder obviously. If you don´t have direct knowledge of the situation, you shouldn`t say what you don´t know and are unauthorized to do. Only the involved parts can talk about it if they want and if there`s no legal restrictions. When i say legal it applies to all (including you) that talk about something without having direct knowledge and express consent of all the people involved.

  11. “We knew that the puppeteers who were being offered what seemingly sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime, were in fact going to end up being a part of an effort to mass market the Muppets at the expense of who they are. Big mistake, in my opinion.”

    We now also know that ALL those puppeteers who took what they simply saw as “an opportunity of a lifetime” in the understudy training, were “blackballed” by Steve Whitmire. Those who know which puppeteers were involved in the workshops know that they were absent from muppet productions from 2006 through now- some are back and involved in the hollywood bowl show, now that Steve is no longer involved.

    And again, why did Artie perform Kermit twice during that period? Is there some reason this is never clarified? I do know that was the last time Artie worked with The Muppets…

    1. Let’s clear something up. Artie performed as Kermit three times not two times. Steve is more than welcome to clear this up, but I believe he can’t because of legal reasons.

  12. I just finished a blog post wherein I contemplate the issue of change versus growth, and examine my evolving philosophy about what is “real”–in a broad, general sense, but also specifically about what makes Kermit “real.”

    I wrote it over the course of two days, so it may not be very coherent, but it seems at least somewhat relevant to the discussion.

  13. Steve, let me first thank you for all the years of laughter and happiness you brought us!

    I fully agree with you that multicasting would have been a bad idea. Luckily Disney abandoned it a long time ago!
    I’m wondering though: you mentioned before that you didn’t want to train an understudy. But how about training an understudy with the sole objective of enabling Kermit to go on when you, for whatever reason, would suddenly be unable to continue performing him? Then a new performer would have to step in unprepared. I can imagine that you of all people know from experience what a daunting task that is! After all, you found yourself in that position after Jim’s unexpected passing.
    You explained how important it is for Kermit to be performed by someone who has worked with Jim. So I would have expected that, because of this importance, training an understudy would have been a way for you to impart Jim’s vision for the characters on a future successor. After all, we wouldn’t want to lose Kermit when there are no performers left who personally worked with Jim! And that goes for the other Muppets as well. I think I speak for a lot of fans when I tell you how sad it was to see friends like Rowlf, Janice, Scooter, and Dr. Teeth relegated to silent background cameos for years. Thanks to the recasts we have seen in recent years, it finally felt like having the whole gang ‘Together Again’!
    So it would be really interesting if you could address this aspect of understudying in a future post. After all, it seems to have worked out quite well for Frank’s, Jerry’s, and Caroll’s characters!

    Many thanks again and all the best!

    1. Carol was training him to help out when he physically couldn’t and to eventually take over, but that is not the same as being someone who is hired as an understudy to be a second Kermit, Gonzo etc, just so the second Kermit, Gonzo etc can go to appearances while Kermit 1 etc is elsewhere performing. I’m pretty sure carol knew when Matt was going to do big bird for him or might even be there with him. Which it sounds like, Steve,Dave and the rest wasn’t going to have knowledge of when these understudies performed them, because it was just so Disney could send more Kermits and Gonzos etc out to appearances.

      1. “Which it sounds like, Steve,Dave and the rest wasn’t going to have knowledge of when these understudies performed them, because it was just so Disney could send more Kermits and Gonzos etc out to appearances.”

        Jeremy, having multiple Kermits and Gonzos was Disney’s plan in 2006, but, as Steve mentioned himself, that plan has been off the table for some years now. What is Steve’s point of view on training one understudy, so that this person can take over when the time comes?

        1. I can’t speak for him, but he might be willing to if he found the right person. My personal opinion is that it shouldn’t be Matt, because he does so many other characters, that they will be left out in the cold after he takes over Kermit.

      1. Actually, just to quote one of my last blog posts:

        ‘I hate to think such things of my fellow fans, but it is rather hypocritical to deny someone a platform on which to speak when you yourself are trying to shut them down from your own. Everyone is welcome to write and speak their minds, as long as they don’t deliberately obstruct the voices of the people around them.’

      2. Because certain issues which have DAMAGED the careers of innocent puppeteers are never covered.

        Steve says:
        “We knew that the puppeteers who were being offered what seemingly sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime, were in fact going to end up being a part of an effort to mass market the Muppets at the expense of who they are. Big mistake, in my opinion.”

        We now also know that ALL those puppeteers who took what they simply saw as “an opportunity of a lifetime” in the understudy training, were “blackballed” by Steve Whitmire. Those who know which puppeteers were involved in the workshops know that they were absent from muppet productions from 2006 through now- some are back and involved in the hollywood bowl show, now that Steve is no longer involved.

        And again, why did Artie perform Kermit twice during that period? Is there some reason this is never clarified? I do know that was the last time Artie worked with The Muppets…

        1. Have you carefully read everything that Steve has said. First off ot was not just him who made the call not to allow for understudis. It was all four preformers who did that.
          Second off throughout everything that Steve and other prefomers have said that one of the core values of the Muppets is continuity. To have several different preformers preform Kermit would be wrong, and would end up hurting him in the end. Steve and the other prefomers have made it clear that they did not want understudies. However I’ve never seen any proof that any young puppeteer has ever been “black balled”

        2. As a puppeteer I would never want to do my version of Kermit without steve’s blessing. I would never want to fill in, but work with him and maybe take over if he wished me to when he could no longer do it. Death or health issues like Jerry Nelson.

        3. Oh I see. The mass-produced kermits. Opportunity of a lifetime for quite a few people. A week of training, and a long career on cruises ahead. It was foiled once before, but now the opportunity opens again, everybody can become a muppet. I see the point of you posting on this site, sir.

          1. Andrew, what do you mean with “now the opportunity opens again”? Is there any indication that Disney is moving back to this idea of multiple Kermits? I don’t think so…

          2. Quoting Joseph’s post above, “Those who know which puppeteers were involved in the workshops know that they were absent from muppet productions from 2006 through now- some are back and involved in the hollywood bowl show, now that Steve is no longer involved.”

            We have to wait and see which way Disney takes Muppets. I hope multiple Kermits won’t happen too. But, for whatever reason, the “now that Steve is no longer involved” part sounds like “aspiring comedians happy with Monty Python cast layoffs”.

    1. Wow that is a pretty bold demand comming from somone who is afraid to show his own name.
      Who gives you the right to come on Steve, not Stevey blog and say this. I have the up most faith that Steve knows exactly what he is doing. He is trying to get the fans to understand what is really goi g on with The Muppets, and how bad it is getting. When it comes down to it this blog is about protecting the integrity of the Muppets and less about Steve!

      1. I’m talking about the 2009 AGT appearance. It’s was not Steve. Also in 2009, Steve did NOT perform Kermit at the MTV Video Music Awards or the 2009 D23 convention, Artie Esposito did. Those “bad business practices” that Disney and Henson spoke about.

        1. Kermit shouldn’t have even been in that MTV video music awards. That was the stupidest thing I ever saw and was totally unkermit like.

          1. How about Disney makes better decisions on where to use the muppets and not just throw them out in anything to make a few easy bucks?

          2. Ok so, Steve was difficult and turned the gig down so they gave it to someone else. If you aren’t willing to take the gig, they’ll give it to someone else and that’s exactly what happened. Steve doesn’t get to make the decisions for the Muppets, the owners do. Like it or not, that’s how business works.

          3. They do not replace actors so quickly. The problem is they do not see the puppeteers as actors just something to throw away.

    2. Stop reading Anonymous and stop writing in a blog you don´t care, don´t be a troll, but us fans, who believe in Steve, are delighted to read his blog. If you dont like this blog I dont understand what are you doing here besides trolling…

  14. I completely agree with you on the idea that inconsistency is destructive to the growth of a character.

    However, I do think there is some situations where an understudy is in fact needed. For instance, Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. Caroll isn’t able to physically perform Big Bird anymore due to some health setbacks, so for live appearances and promotional material Matt Vogel will step in. With Big Bird still being a major player it only makes sense with the situation being that 1. Caroll still wants to play Big Bird and doesn’t want to give it up and 2. Caroll is 83 and realistically can’t play him in everything. So here an understudy makes perfect sense instead of overworking and insisting Caroll play him when he can’t or forcing Caroll to retire and have Matt take over. On the show itself Oscar and Big bird are still voiced by Caroll and he’s still able to do some live appearances with Oscar.

    I suppose it depends on the individual performers wishes but I’m just pointing out how in this particular situation it seems to make sense. You aren’t overworking Caroll or replacing him.

    I know is I’d rather have Caroll Spinney play his characters even if it’s just on Sesame Street rather than have his understudy take over 100% of the work just for the sake of character consistency.

  15. Steve,

    First I must say this is a brilliant post, and I’m thankful to have the opportunity to read the interaction between you and Gabriel Velez This presents to us a whole picture of what actually happened. Nothing need be added to what you both said, about ‘Understudies.’

    I will add, however, that I watched the Secret Muppet Training video, and was appalled how all the characters were given the exact same movements to carry forward to a performance, with no variations. Boring indeed. No personality was present in our favorites, such as Kermit, Fozzy Bear, Gonzo and Miss Piggy. It was stiff. Near the end of the video when Miss Piggy sang so far out of tune, I cringed. The voices in general were poor imitations. Having studied the movements of the original Muppets in earnest, and having enjoyed the multiple nuances of their incredible characters, I couldn’t believe how awful the training video was.

    I apologize if I offend any beginning puppeteer, for this is something they should have never been asked to do.

    Thank you Steve, and of course, Gabriel, and Nicholas for your important additions to this post.

    Keep The Muppets True To Character

    In Appreciation – Anne Terri

    1. Hi Anne Terri,
      I felt I had the need to reply to your statement of our “awful” video.

      Here are some facts nobody knows about our Monday-Friday week at Disney when we did that understudy video in 2006.

      Disney people gave us Playhouse Disney puppets to practice with Monday, Tuesday & maybe part of Wednesday if I recall correctly.

      I think after lunch on Wednesday we finally had a chance to get our hands on the Muppets to practice. Thursday we recorded the audio track. …Then some Muppet practice.

      Friday into a studio to have our performances recorded as you witnessed on the video.

      There was only ONE TAKE (no rehearsal) done of Artie as Kermit and me as Fozzie. Brett O’Quinn as Gonzo. And Tony Whitten as Piggy.

      Another ONE TAKE done (no rehearsal) with Drew Massey as Kermit with Victor Yerrid or David Stephens as Fozzie. Brett O’Quinn as Gonzo and Micheal Lisa as Piggy if I recall correctly.
      (That performance was not on the video.)

      I personally was not happy with Fozzie’s posture or movement in the video. Not my call. It’s that way because that’s how the Disney puppeteer training us wanted it.

      In defense of Tony Whitten, his Piggy voice has been good during the week, except when we recorded. It did sound off that day. Such is life.

      Personally considering it was our FIRST TIME (one shot) together being recorded, I think it was an amazingly good first effort!

      Just imagine if we had had the Muppets to rehearse with for a month, 2 months, or 3 months… and not in reality two 1/2 days. It would have been an awesome understudy team to the main performers. Primarily if we had the main performers cooperation.

      Afterwards we all had a final dinner and flew home.

      Thanks for understanding.

      1. this is a very interesting story! However I do have a few questions.

        During this “event” did you have any meetings, or time with the current puppeteers of the characters you worked with?

        What did you base on your performance? Did you receive notes from the current puppeteers? or is what you all did based on past things you have seen the characters in?

        What is the difference in your opinion between an understudy and a substitute?

        1. Hi Dwayne,
          As Steve mentioned, none of the core puppeteers were there. But yes, we had meetings. Jane & Heather Henson were instrumental in leading a meeting on the history of the Muppets & each character we were trying for. Plus lots of DVD black & white footage showing us different stages of Muppet history to educate us. To help us grow into becoming the characters we were auditioning for. Plus questions and answers with Jane & Heather about how Jim did things and character questions, etc…

          Disney & Henson provided notebooks on character history, personality, traits, humor, etc. of each character. ( http://heyitsgabe.com/images/Muppet_training_notebook.jpg )

          There was one interesting piece of history Muppet fans should know in the notebooks. They were written by former Muppet writer Jim Lewis and according to Jim Henson’s wishes in this video https://youtu.be/y9hoGTszGBQ They decided that Gonzo should forever be considered an “unknown”. That we (and the fan base) should forget that Gonzo was revealed to be an alien in the ‘Muppets from Space’ movie. We were instructed that Gonzo was just playing a part in a movie, but he will forever be truly an unknown. It was all part of learning about Gonzo.

          So yes, we had meetings.
          -We also had improvisational training.
          -And proper script interpretation.

          Both from different invited non-Muppet guest.

          Mind you all this took away from our time of practicing with the Muppets even more.

          All of our performances were based on many factors; Muppet history meetings, additional input from Jane & Heather as they sat in and watched us throughout the week, input from Disney’s puppet teacher, input from Martin Baker. Then going back to the hotel and memorize rehearsal scripts. Plus adding our own insight as to what we were learning that week to be true to the character.

          There was a lot going on and much learning to do and we did the best with the very short time we had with the characters that I am proud of.

          I have not come across the term substitute for what we did. But understudy (in my opinion) is someone who is ready to step in at a moments notice when the star performer can’t.

          My personal opinion is that understudies should not be called in if a ‘star’ is involved in a contract negotiation dispute. That’s just not fair to all parties.

          But anyway, this is Steve’s blog. It should be about him and his history.

          Thank you for asking.

        2. Actually, if you don’t mind, i’m going to expand on those questions…

          One thing i’ve been saying as of late is that while i’ve been supporting Steve, that’s not the same thing as being #TeamSteve or #TeamDisney as i believe no one side is 100% right nor wrong and that the problems are largely due to miscommunication/shutting down communication and Disney’s being too anxious to close and lock the door on Steve without trying harder to seek mediation/a better resolution that benefitted everyone. Likewise i feel any decent solution to all this will only happen via communication. I sense that part of the reason some are bearing ill will towards Steve is because they feel he was in some way responsible for shutting them out of an opportunity (whether that’s actually true or not – it could be just a simple case of Puppeteer is told they have an opportunity to work as an understudy that later doesn’t go anywhere and they hear from the grapevine that “Steve Whitmire has been fighting hard to instill the importance of ‘One Muppet, One Voice’ on the Muppets’ new owners” and then unfairly put this together in their own head as “Steve is responsible for my not going forward”)

          What i would like to ask is how was the whole training session presented to you in terms of what the purpose was – i.e. what was the verbiage they used to justify it? What were you told it may lead to? What follow up did you receive regarding opportunities or being told anything regarding not going forward?

          Perhaps as someone who was both “there”, and ALSO among a select group that had previously worked with/been mentored by Jim, AND someone who is NOT being antagonistic but rather supportive of Steve, i think you could lend lots of unique essential perspective.

          1. Hi D.W.,
            I posted some of this in my response to Dwayne Fletcher, but my post never appeared here. Maybe it will mysteriously show up eventually.

            I’m drawing a bit of a blank of how the original workshop was presented to us.
            Justification? That was never even brought up.

            What would it lead to?
            I recall Martin Baker giving a speech saying; “No one is going to lose their job.” No one did. He mentioned working perhaps at Mall openings and appearances at Disney world. Then later on I started to hear the term understudy thrown around. By who, I don’t recall.

            What follow up did I receive?

            Perhaps the question should read; “What follow up did WE receive?”
            ZERO.

            When the puppeteers arrived back home… all contact stopped for us.

            (With the exception being John Kennedy who is a regular on Sesame Street.)

            But this wasn’t Disney Management’s plan… Even as we were leaving Disney world that last night, their management told us just before we left that they wanted all of us to stay in close touch, to be “an extended family”. For perhaps assignments they had in mind for us.

            I myself, when I got home back then created a website called; ‘The Brotherhood of Penguins.’ To share pictures and memories of our week with fellow Muppeteers & Disney staff. We had all taken turns messing with Muppet penguins and found them quite fun. Even Heather, Debbie, Martin Baker and Disney management enjoyed playing with the penguins. Anyway, I took down the site ages ago.

            I know the guy who was running the Muppets back then Chris Curtin was dropped by Disney during that time frame. But his leaving had nothing to do with us being ignored after us Muppeteers left our week at Disney world.

            I started to wonder back then; “Have I been blacklisted?” Then I started getting email from the Los Angeles based Muppeteers that participated in the training suspecting the very same thing. (I’m New York based.) I had no answer for them. I had no clue.

            Local Los Angeles Muppet auditions that they weren’t even invited to.

            But we all felt something was afoot, as Sherlock would say. But me personally, I had no proof.

            Many Muppet projects came and went during those years 2006-2016 and I would say 98% of us Muppeteers that participated in the understudy/training workshop were not called in again. (That’s my best estimate.)

            I have no idea what the circumstances behind the scenes were. But something wasn’t right. I do not accuse anyone, because I do not know the facts of why this uncalled for treatment occurred to this talented team of nine that was picked from 1,000 that auditioned nationwide.

            We were a team of people that showed nothing but love, respect and admiration for the characters and all the people involved. Past, present and future. I know I still do.

            Interestingly, I got a call this past September 2016 to appear on Sesame Street after being absent so many years. I got lots of hugs and handshakes when I showed up for my day of puppetry.
            Here’s Matt & I at the Sesame Workshop offices.
            www.http://heyitsgabe.com/images/Gabe_and_Matt-1.jpg

            I spent several hours next to Eric Jacobson and Peter Linz that day in September having really nice conversations. Talking Star Wars, scripts and Sesame history. We all got along just fine.

            And just this week, I got an email from Disney management after so many years. How sweet!
            So who knows what the future holds.
            I hope we all find Muppet work, and yes, even Steve.
            All is forgiven on all parts from everyone I hope.

            Let’s make a big circle and sing ‘Kumbaya’ : -)

            On a personal note, I hoping the new Disney streaming channel in 2019 will create a new Muppet show. But I’m just guessing.

            Thank you for asking.

          2. I should amend two things;

            Some of us from the understudy/training who had also participated in a Sesame Street workshop class were invited by Kevin Clash & Marty Robinson months later to be in Elmo’s Christmas Countdown in 2007.

            Then years later Artie got called in to be Kermit a few times as everyone knows.

          3. In reply to Dwayne…

            I’ll retype some of what I wrote yesterday as my original reply never appeared to you.

            As Steve has mentioned previously, none of the core Muppeteers were present at this workshop.
            None of us were new puppeteers, since most had already worked with the Muppets in some regard.

            Yes we had meetings!
            Monday- the first day in a big conference room Jane & Heather Henson educated us on the history of the Muppets. On a TV, Jane & Heather played DVDs to show us old black & white Muppet video clips while explaining their history to us.

            We listened to her with the most open ears to gain her wisdom on what the Muppets have been past and present.

            We had questions and answer sessions with her too.
            We discussed the traits of the characters we were all going to train for.
            Jane was with us most of the week. She was so happy.

            Disney management even played a game with us. They asked all the puppeteers to; “tell us two truths and one lie”. We all then had to vote by a show of raised arms which were the lies. I guess it was sort of a welcoming ice breaker for all to feel more relaxed.

            We were sent notebooks to study and learn on the characters. A complete breakdown on what they are all about. Here’s a pic of the notebook I was sent:
            http://heyitsgabe.com/images/Muppet_training_notebook.jpg

            I think the notebook was partially written by former Henson writer Jim Lewis. Here’s something die-hard Muppet fans should know; in the notebook it says to respect Jim Henson’s wishes based on this video ( https://youtu.be/y9hoGTszGBQ?t=19m17s ) that Gonzo should forever be considered an unknown. We are to believe that in ‘Muppets from Space’; Gonzo was only playing a role of being an alien. When in reality to be true to Jim’s wishes, Gonzo will always and forever be an unknown. Such was the depth (and more) of what they wanted us to learn of the character(s).

            Back to the topic…
            Then on other days, we had 2 afternoon sessions on developing our improvisational skills with invited quest, Karen Maruyama. Here’s a clip of her: https://youtu.be/2BdvotgzvY8
            She ran us through lots of improvisational shtick that we did directly with each other and finally with the Muppets. One evening she took us to a Disney comedy club so we could observe improvisational comedy and learn from it.

            On another day, we also had an afternoon meeting of learning script interpretation with another guest, Christopher Oyen. Teaching us how to find the juicy parts of a script. How to bring out the best of it.

            And Disney’s puppeteer watching over us as well throughout the week.

            Mind you all this education/knowledge during the week took away time from us practicing with puppets.

            What did I base my performance on?
            I can’t speak for others, but my performance was based on love of Muppets and being true to Frank Oz’s creation. Add to that all we absorbed in our educational week of being taught.

            The term substitute, never crossed my mind, nor perhaps anyone else at Disneyworld.

            My definition of understudy is a trained performer ready to fill in for the star at a moment’s notice.

            However, if a star is in the mist of difficult contract negotiations, an understudy should not be used for that purpose. That’s just my personal opinion. But producers will do whatever they want to do.

            So in conclusion, everyone should realize a lot of thought and training went into all of this. It wasn’t just a bunch of guys jiggling dolls. Serious efforts were made by all parties involved and I was proud to be part of it.

            Anyway, this is Steve’s blog. Not mine.
            Everyone continue to enjoy Steve’s comments.

            Time for me to go back into my Fraggle hole.

            Thanks everyone!

        3. Hi Dwayne,
          I’ll retype some of what I wrote yesterday as my original reply never appeared to you.

          As Steve has mentioned previously, none of the core Muppeteers were present at this workshop.
          None of us were new puppeteers, since most had already worked with the Muppets in some regard.

          Yes we had meetings!
          Monday- the first day in a big conference room Jane & Heather Henson educated us on the history of the Muppets. On a TV, Jane & Heather played DVDs to show us old black & white Muppet video clips while explaining their history to us.

          We listened to her with the most open ears to gain her wisdom on what the Muppets have been past and present.

          We had questions and answer sessions with her too.
          We discussed the traits of the characters we were all going to train for.
          Jane was with us most of the week. She was so happy.

          Disney management even played a game with us. They asked all the puppeteers to; “tell us two truths and one lie”. We all then had to vote by a show of raised arms which were the lies. I guess it was sort of a welcoming ice breaker for all to feel more relaxed.

          We were sent notebooks to study and learn on the characters. A complete breakdown on what they are all about. Here’s a pic of the notebook I was sent:
          http://heyitsgabe.com/images/Muppet_training_notebook.jpg

          I think the notebook was partially written by former Henson writer Jim Lewis. Here’s something die-hard Muppet fans should know; in the notebook it says to respect Jim Henson’s wishes based on this video ( https://youtu.be/y9hoGTszGBQ?t=19m17s ) that Gonzo should forever be considered an unknown. We are to believe that in ‘Muppets from Space’; Gonzo was only playing a role of being an alien. When in reality to be true to Jim’s wishes, Gonzo will always and forever be an unknown. Such was the depth (and more) of what they wanted us to learn of the character(s).

          Back to the topic…
          Then on other days, we had 2 afternoon sessions on developing our improvisational skills with invited quest, Karen Maruyama. Here’s a clip of her: https://youtu.be/2BdvotgzvY8
          She ran us through lots of improvisational shtick that we did directly with each other and finally with the Muppets. One evening she took us to a Disney comedy club so we could observe improvisational comedy and learn from it.

          On another day, we also had an afternoon meeting of learning script interpretation with another guest, Christopher Oyen. Teaching us how to find the juicy parts of a script. How to bring out the best of it.

          And Disney’s puppeteer watching over us as well throughout the week.

          Mind you all this education/knowledge during the week took away time from us practicing with puppets.

          What did I base my performance on?
          I can’t speak for others, but my performance was based on love of Muppets and being true to Frank Oz’s creation. Add to that all we absorbed in our educational week of being taught.

          The term substitute, never crossed my mind, nor perhaps anyone else at Disneyworld.

          My definition of understudy is a trained performer ready to fill in for the star at a moment’s notice.

          However, if a star is in the mist of difficult contract negotiations, an understudy should not be used for that purpose. That’s just my personal opinion. But producers will do whatever they want to do.

          So in conclusion, everyone should realize a lot of thought and training went into all of this. It wasn’t just a bunch of guys jiggling dolls. Serious efforts were made by all parties involved and I was proud to be part of it.

          Anyway, this is Steve’s blog. Not mine.
          Everyone continue to enjoy Steve’s comments.

          Time for me to go back into my Fraggle hole.

          Thanks everyone!

        4. Hi Dwayne,
          I’ll retype some of what I wrote yesterday as my original reply never appeared to you.

          As Steve has mentioned previously, none of the core Muppeteers were present at this workshop.
          None of us were new puppeteers, since most had already worked with the Muppets in some regard.

          Yes we had meetings!
          Monday- the first day in a big conference room Jane & Heather Henson educated us on the history of the Muppets. On a TV, Jane & Heather played DVDs to show us old black & white Muppet video clips while explaining their history to us.

          We listened to her with the most open ears to gain her wisdom on what the Muppets have been past and present.

          We had questions and answer sessions with her too.
          We discussed the traits of the characters we were all going to train for.
          Jane was with us most of the week. She was so happy.

          Disney management even played a game with us. They asked all the puppeteers to; “tell us two truths and one lie”. We all then had to vote by a show of raised arms which were the lies. I guess it was sort of a welcoming ice breaker for all to feel more relaxed.

          We were sent notebooks to study and learn on the characters. A complete breakdown on what they are all about. Here’s a pic of the notebook I was sent:
          http://heyitsgabe.com/images/Muppet_training_notebook.jpg

          I think the notebook was partially written by former Henson writer Jim Lewis. Here’s something die-hard Muppet fans should know; in the notebook it says to respect Jim Henson’s wishes that Gonzo should forever be considered an unknown. We are to believe that in ‘Muppets from Space’; Gonzo was only playing a role of being an alien. When in reality to be true to Jim’s wishes, Gonzo will always and forever be an unknown. Such was the depth (and more) of what they wanted us to learn of the character(s).

          Back to the topic…
          Then on other days, we had 2 afternoon sessions on developing our improvisational skills with invited guest, Karen Maruyama.
          She ran us through lots of improvisational shtick that we did directly with each other and finally with the Muppets. One evening she took us to a Disney comedy club so we could observe improvisational comedy and learn from it.

          On another day, we also had an afternoon meeting of learning script interpretation with another guest, Christopher Oyen. Teaching us how to find the juicy parts of a script. How to bring out the best of it.

          And Disney’s puppeteer watching over us as well throughout the week.

          Mind you all this education/knowledge during the week took away time from us practicing with puppets.

          What did I base my performance on?
          I can’t speak for others, but my performance was based on love of Muppets and being true to Frank Oz’s creation. Add to that all we absorbed in our educational week of being taught.

          The term substitute, never crossed my mind, nor perhaps anyone else at Disneyworld.

          My definition of understudy is a trained performer ready to fill in for the star at a moment’s notice.

          However, if a star is in the mist of difficult contract negotiations, an understudy should not be used for that purpose. That’s just my personal opinion. But producers will do whatever they want to do.

          So in conclusion, everyone should realize a lot of thought and training went into all of this. It wasn’t just a bunch of guys jiggling dolls. Serious efforts were made by all parties involved and I was proud to be part of it.

          Anyway, this is Steve’s blog. Not mine.
          Everyone continue to enjoy Steve’s comments.

          Time for me to go back into my Fraggle hole.

          Thanks everyone!

      2. Greetings Gabriel Velez, (Fozzie)

        I’m so privileged to receive such a detailed account of your fast paced, under-rehearsed performance of the Muppets while in training. I think this will help all of us to understand the the week you experienced. I am also surprised they played switch the Muppets in such a short training session. How confusing to the Muppeteer..

        I repeat I apologize if I offended any beginning puppeteer, for this is something you should have never been asked to do. Some of you are not beginners are you? It would be nice to hear what characters you are doing now and in which shows.

        I am a choreographer, and followed the movements as I would one of my dancers. I had the sense it was the trainer not the trainees who called the shots. This is where the choreography was never established nor would it ever be. You all needed time, and it was not fair what happened.

        Bless you and please stay with us here, It would be awful to loose talented puppeteers, due to a lot of misunderstandings.

        Love Anne Terri

      3. Thank you for sharing your story and your experience from the “Understudies”.
        As a fan it`s allways nice knowing all about the long Muppets time line.
        Your comment and experience shows us unfortunatly something Steve Whimire also said previously, how fragile and incertain puppetry art work is.
        Disney decided previously not hiring you, but aproached you recently.
        Having the previous “Understudies” contact with Disney, and having this new chance of working with the Muppets and/or Sesame Street, did Disney allow you to speak about it publicly without any legal limitations or NDA`s ?
        I`m asking this because fans are aware that intertainment industry is so restrictive about disclousure of certains events and facts by all envolved in them, including Steve Whitmire, and it came as a surprise to me that at this point you are allowed to reveal all of this (previous and new experience with Disney) to Steve`s fans.
        It`s great knowing that you showed and still do, love, respect and admiration for the characters and all the people involved.
        And i agree entirely with you, let´s hope there`s work for everybody with the Muppets, and as far as i`m concerned, that Kermit don`t looses his identity and could always be brought to life by Steve Whitmire.

        1. Hi Julia,
          Nope, no NDA came our way.
          I guess it wasn’t necessary for training.
          Never have signed one either for Sesame Street nor for Henson.

          Thanks for asking.

  16. Love love love your posts Steve, I only wish you can return to the muppets. I have a question , in Muppets tonight episode with Andie Macdowell, was Frank Oz or Kevin Clash performing Piggy? Frank performed her in all the episodes she was in right? or he dubbed voices on certain episodes? Besides, why was Bean Bunny retired?? I love Bean!! best wishes from Spain!!!

  17. It wasn’t even just “local fare” like theme parks or cruise ships that Disney was looking to use substitutes for at the time…remember this?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMXNCW-jnyA

    Perhaps you can talk a bit about when you and the other veterans learned other people would be doing the characters after episode 8 and/or how the news was presented to you?

  18. In regard to the Furchester hotel, I’m not sure where it’s filmed, or if it’s overdubbed by people in another country, but some of the character performances are a lot more professional than others, both in voice and in regards to movement. If I’m right doesn’t Matt voice the count on that or is it somebody else? It sounds like him. Nowhere near as rich a voice as the count we were brought up with.

    1. Oh and if it’s at media city, then are they the same puppeteers as the furchester hotel live at alton towers? I was most surprised at Disney allowing any of its characters at any other theme park than their own.

  19. I imagine Steve knows all the answers to The Furchester Hotel questions. I do believe the original performers go with their puppet characters when performing out of the studio. Right now, Andrew Spooner, is on vacation who performs Uncle Furgus and other characters. Steve, doesn’t Sesame Street international co-productions own this production, as Sesame Workshop?

    1. If Disney don’t have anything to do with it as a cbeebies / sesame workshop co-production couldn’t he at least work on that until Disney come to their senses? I only ask as it’s on Disney junior so I’m not sure if it’s a separate production. Maybe the Quinnmeister himself will know 😉 I’m almost certain Louise (Furnella) did the Muppet tours in London herself (of Frognal Gardens etc). I don’t know if it’s them at live shows either all or part of the time when it’s in the North-West region.

    2. Oh that’s assuming the Henson kids don’t intervene there too. 😕 I have no idea these days who controls what in each country, it’s like a divorced family, who has custody?

  20. I’ve been thinking about this post all day. The more I consider the thought of there being more than one Kermit, or Fozzie or Piggy at a time, the more horrified I become.

    My Frog, how awful!

    I tried putting myself in your shoes for a moment. By 2004, you’d been performing Kermit for 14 years, trying to push onward with preserving what Jim started, and rightly so. To have someone like that executive you mentioned announce such a ludicrous and insulting initiative with such enthusiasm that he was a millisecond away from breaking out the champagne was an insult to everyone, from you and the performers, to the most dedicated of fans. I can’t imagine the volt of horror that shot down your spine during that particular meeting.

    I’ve also been wondering about your take on the whole ‘Steve shouldn’t be blogging. He’s just hurting what’s left of reputation’ nonsense that your naysayers have been spitting out everywhere. It’s rather sad that they want to deny you of a platform on which to have your say. You could have just played it safe and simply talked about trivial stuff, which would have been well received, but sticking to your virtues is far more noble, good sir!

    By doing so, you accumulated a bundle of willing students. Perhaps you could become the same type of mentor to us that Jim was to you. If you learned from the best, that could only mean you could teach the best, right?

    1. At the moment I rather learn about Jim Henson through Steve Whitmire on this blog than through The Muppets.

  21. Mr. Whitmire,

    I’m so concerned for Mr. Barreta, Mr. Goelz, and Mr. Jacobson. I don’t think it’s wrong for you all to voice your reluctance for something as ridiculous as alternates for The Muppets. Jerry Juhl’s writing always suggested reflections of the puppeteers in their own respective characters. It makes me wish he was still here. But then again, I wish that for every member of The Muppet troupe.

    Still, I get that theme parks are way different than a TV special or movie, so I hope that if I ever get to see the Muppets America show in Magic Kingdom, that I’ll feel at least a little close to you, Mr. Henson, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Barreta, and Mr. Goelz.

    I love you all!

    Lucy

  22. When the Empire Strikes Back movie (in the Star Wars series) came out and Yoda had the same voice as Grover… I thought Yoda was a sham and the whole “magic” of the character was blown before he started. I felt he robbed Grover. LOL.
    I don’t think you are protecting Kermit’s reputation or the integrity of Jim Henson’s character after reading more of your blog posts.
    Anyhow… I do apologize for where I was rude to you and your fans on previous posts. I understand now that this is a therapy blog for you.
    The best thing that ever happened to you was getting fired. You’ll see.
    Peace and best wishes Mr. Whitmire.

  23. Katherine, i don´t agree with what you said about Steve not protecting Kermit`s reputation and Jim Henson`s integrity, i am very sorry. But anyone can have an opinion and i respect that.
    Jim Henson himself said Steve Whitmire as a sense of making a character a living thing. That`s a huge proof of trust and consideration for Steve`s work with the Muppets. And for real fans of the Muppets that`s perfection, since if he can make Kermit “a living creature”, we will like that funny green frog like someone of our family, or a friend. That`s huge, making a puppet look like a living thing and making fans and non fans believing he is alive.
    Preserving Jim Henson`s legacy and integrity of the Muppets is what Steve wants and fans too.
    About Star Wars, and because i am a fan too, the first three movies are my favorites including the one you refer. When Disney bought the Star Wars franchise i thought well let`s see what`s coming. And sincerely they didn´t do a good job. I missed the old characters & the “old” actors, like many, many fans around the world. Fans made their voices heard with Disney and they finally understand and change things for the movies we are about to see next i think. Unfortunately Carrie Fisher left us unexpectedly. I wish you all the very best in your life.

  24. From Jim Henson: The Biography, in regard to the original Disney deal:

    “Jim wanted to be involved in the selection and hiring of puppeteers. As Jim was constantly reminding anyone who would listen, characters didn’t come easily; many took years to develop. […] Performers were crucial; he didn’t want Disney treating puppeteers, or their puppets, interchangeably. […] Jim wanted a guarantee his performers would be taken care of–and, perhaps more important, that their craft be respected. Without them, Disney was simply getting a toy box full of puppets.” (page 445, my emphasis)

    1. Having multiple Kermits available on TV and through different locations ruins the magic, the exciting part is one day hoping to meet The Muppets. If they start appearing everywhere and are not consistent in performance it ruins the magic. I mean no disrespect to the performers of From The Balcony, they seem like talented puppeteers but as a fan, about ten years ago when I first watched it I immediately knew that wasn’t Statler & Waldorf. I tried watching but couldn’t, the puppets were on screen but I knew those weren’t the Muppets, I eventually gave up when Dr Teeth appeared, I had to stop watching. I know The Walt Disney Company wants to make money but why at the expense of your lifelong dedicated fans? I would have preferred if two new Muppets had been hosting, that I would have watched and would have kept being a fan and it would proab;y received about the same amount of views. Those who care enough to stop watching would care enough to watch if it were new characters, those who don’t care to stop watching would care less what characters were hosting.

  25. The only time an “understudy” makes sense is when the performer is going to change hands (no pun intended). Matt Vogel taking over Big Bird and Jerry Nelson’s characters comes to mind. A new performer is being groomed to replace the old one. And “understudy” may not even be the correct word there.
    Somewhere I remember reading that your name had already been picked to eventually take over Kermit and Ernie before Jim died. You would have been in the same category as Matt as an “understudy” to those roles.

  26. This is a reply to Dwayne.
    I’ll retype some of what I wrote yesterday as my original reply never appeared to you.

    As Steve has mentioned previously, none of the core Muppeteers were present at this workshop.
    None of us were new puppeteers, since most had already worked with the Muppets in some regard.

    Yes we had meetings!
    Monday- the first day in a big conference room Jane & Heather Henson educated us on the history of the Muppets. On a TV, Jane & Heather played DVDs to show us old black & white Muppet video clips while explaining their history to us.

    We listened to her with the most open ears to gain her wisdom on what the Muppets have been past and present.

    We had questions and answer sessions with her too.
    We discussed the traits of the characters we were all going to train for.
    Jane was with us most of the week. She was so happy.

    Disney management even played a game with us. They asked all the puppeteers to; “tell us two truths and one lie”. We all then had to vote by a show of raised arms which were the lies. I guess it was sort of a welcoming ice breaker for all to feel more relaxed.

    We were sent notebooks to study and learn on the characters. A complete breakdown on what they are all about. Here’s a pic of the notebook I was sent:
    http://heyitsgabe.com/images/Muppet_training_notebook.jpg

    I think the notebook was partially written by former Henson writer Jim Lewis. Here’s something die-hard Muppet fans should know; in the notebook it says to respect Jim Henson’s wishes based on this video ( https://youtu.be/y9hoGTszGBQ?t=19m17s ) that Gonzo should forever be considered an unknown. We are to believe that in ‘Muppets from Space’; Gonzo was only playing a role of being an alien. When in reality to be true to Jim’s wishes, Gonzo will always and forever be an unknown. Such was the depth (and more) of what they wanted us to learn of the character(s).

    Back to the topic…
    Then on other days, we had 2 afternoon sessions on developing our improvisational skills with invited quest, Karen Maruyama. Here’s a clip of her: https://youtu.be/2BdvotgzvY8
    She ran us through lots of improvisational shtick that we did directly with each other and finally with the Muppets. One evening she took us to a Disney comedy club so we could observe improvisational comedy and learn from it.

    On another day, we also had an afternoon meeting of learning script interpretation with another guest, Christopher Oyen. Teaching us how to find the juicy parts of a script. How to bring out the best of it.

    And Disney’s puppeteer watching over us as well throughout the week.

    Mind you all this education/knowledge during the week took away time from us practicing with puppets.

    What did I base my performance on?
    I can’t speak for others, but my performance was based on love of Muppets and being true to Frank Oz’s creation. Add to that all we absorbed in our educational week of being taught.

    The term substitute, never crossed my mind, nor perhaps anyone else at Disneyworld.

    My definition of understudy is a trained performer ready to fill in for the star at a moment’s notice.

    However, if a star is in the mist of difficult contract negotiations, an understudy should not be used for that purpose. That’s just my personal opinion. But producers will do whatever they want to do.

    So in conclusion, everyone should realize a lot of thought and training went into all of this. It wasn’t just a bunch of guys jiggling dolls. Serious efforts were made by all parties involved and I was proud to be part of it.

    Anyway, this is Steve’s blog. Not mine. Last post.
    Everyone continue to enjoy Steve’s comments.

    Time for me to go back into my Fraggle hole.

    Thanks everyone!

  27. Sorry for the repeated post folks. 4 times I tried to post yesterday and nothing.
    …And today they all show up. Odd service.
    I see some of you have experience this too.

  28. Is it safe to say that there is (or was) a list of performers that weren’t allowed on set with Steve?

    Gabriel’s first person account posted here and the response to Steve’s Aug 7 post–that actually named all the performers and did the research that proves they weren’t allowed back–seem to indicate that there was a list.

    Can we all agree something isn’t right?

    What happens if one or more of them is in the Hollywood Bowl production?

    Who would be to blame?

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