“Steve, can you respond to the accusations that you blackballed young aspiring puppeteers? Would be interesting (to) hear your take on that”….comment by Brady on August 3, 2017 at 8:19 PM
If you read my “Understudies” post, you know that my opinion is understudy auditions were tantamount to ‘multicasting’, or having simultaneous multiple performers for characters that I believe should be treated as individuals.
While the understudy (multicasting) initiative was being implemented over a decade ago, it soon became obvious that the four core performers must explain to the puppeteering community at large why we felt this was the end of everything the Muppets were built upon since we were not having a lot of luck convincing the executives at the time why this was important.
For me, this was the beginning of the realization that the intangibles of why Jim worked the way he had worked were important, and yet often difficult to explain in a corporate environment. Jim didn’t need a ‘guidebook’ because what he did and how he did it came naturally.
It was clear that was no longer the case, and my attempts at creating a scientific guidebook began. If you are interested please see my initial paper, Components of the Muppets (link above), which was written 13-years ago. While it could be more polished the concepts still seem to hold up today.
By now, I am sure you know that the key component of the Muppets is the relationships, chemistry, and trust, between the performers in the ensemble. Understand that Jim didn’t hire everybody who walked into the room. On the contrary, he was very selective as to whether or not a new puppeteer would enhance a particular group.
Some worked on Sesame Street, some worked on Muppet Show, some crossed-over, Fraggles were a different ensemble than Dark Crystal, etc. But the core ensemble within a particular group remained consistent with many others coming and going on projects as their careers and project budgets dictated.
“…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….”
“Because certain issues which have DAMAGED the careers of innocent puppeteers are never covered.”
I do not recollect ever having met Mr. Marconi, if I have please forgive my memory lapse. I am certain he has never held an executive position at The Muppets Holding Company or The Muppets Studio who is responsible for hiring decisions made for their company, just as Sesame Workshop and The Jim Henson Company are responsible for theirs.
Please remember that I have always been a contract player, project-to-project, and have never had an ongoing employment contract with Disney, Sesame Workshop, or with The Jim Henson Company dating all the way back to Jim, himself. As such, I have no ‘supervisory capacity’, meaning I have no say in who gets hired to work on any project, cast or crew – never did – so I cannot “blackball” anyone.
I would suggest to those interested in the facts to identify “ALL those puppeteers…in the understudy training” and note that many have prolific careers working for The Jim Henson Company in starring roles on current television programming, the ongoing Sesame Workshop projects, and several have even worked on Disney Muppet projects alongside me since 2006 in our bigger budget projects like the 2011 film “The Muppets”.
My speculation is that expectations created at the ‘understudy training’ may have lead to disappointment for participants who may not have been utilized as they felt they should be. I was not there so I do not know what was discussed about future involvement with The Muppets Studio’s projects.
I would just remind everyone that puppeteering jobs with the Muppets are limited when producers choose to uphold the one Muppet, one voice model. Budgets always dictate the number of performers hired for a project. I did not make those hiring decisions.
Like Jim, I have always been on constant alert to spot potential in young puppeteers (and older ones too). I have in fact brought many names to Debbie McClellan over the years and suggested that when we have larger projects with larger budgets that require more performers, she try to use these new people. This is the only way to find the next generation of performers