My Random Job: Touring puppeteer

I have no idea how Das Puppenspeil came into my life.  I don’t even remember where I saw the ad, or who I had spoken to, to learn that they were casting puppeteers.

All I remember is that sometime during my third year of college, (at the age of 24…I took my time) my awesome dance instructor Alice and I put together a video for me to apply for a year long contract with a New York based puppet theatre: Das Puppenspiel.

The job was for one of two spots available in a four-person troupe.  We would learn 4-5 different shows and tour around the Eastern seaboard performing for schools, theaters and community centers.

The White Queen from Alice in Wonderland puppet head
The fickle White Queen head from Das Puppenspeil’s production of Alice and Wonderland

During this time, I ran out of money for college, so I went back east to hang out for awhile.  I lived at my folk’s in Detroit, I went to Boston for a few weeks to participate in an intensive Armenian culture program, and lived on Mackinac Island, making money by working at a gift shop.  Considering I had four different addresses during this time, and really wanted to be a full time professional puppeteer, I constantly updated Das on my whereabouts. (This was the time before cell phones and emails being commonplace.)

My tenacity paid off because I finally got called in for an audition, and eventually got the part.

The next year was spent on and off the road, with my new best friends: Melissa, Lazlo, and Carrie.  It definitely was an adventure, and made me realize that my heart was not in doing puppetry for children.

It was exhausting work.  We would load up the van, drive to a location, set up the show, (which usually took an hour or so) perform, tear down the show, and either drive to a motel, or another location to get a motel and start the process all over again in the morning.

The flower lady
Me as the Flower Lady in The Snow Queen

The best part was talking with the children after the show.  We always had question and answer periods, and the kids never disappointed.  The hardest part was managing the dynamic within the group, figuring out how to work together when we had so much closeness, and just the physically strain of driving, moving, and performing.

While working at Das, I received a bi-weekly paycheck, and a per-diem expense when we had to travel overnight.  Since Carrie and I shared an apartment, my expenses were minimal, and once the year was over I had enough funds to return to school.

Das Puppenspeil Carrie Lazlo Melissa Bethany
My puppet-mates: Carrie, Lazlo, and Melissa

Since I went to the best college ever, they allowed me to catalogue my experiences and get credit towards my degree, as if I had been on a paid internship.

My experience with Das definitely shed some light on what it took to be a full-time professional puppeteer. And it made me realize that I get bored if I do anything full time, even if it’s something that I love.  Kinda takes the joy out of it.  Since working with Das, I’ve gotten plenty of random gigs as a puppeteer and performer, but nothing that encompasses my every-waking moment.

Surprisingly, I feel much more fulfilled as an artist that way.


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