Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What's it Like to Be a Commuting Puppeteer?

One of my favorite things about being a puppeteer, aside from being able to walk into Michaels and legally purchase tax-deductible ear hair, is the commute. Although I work in Boston, I actually live in Maine, a large green moose-intensive state whose State Song, according to the Internet, is the "State of Maine Song." Don't try to tell ME this is a coincidence.

Anyway, this presents a transportation challenge, because Boston is located in the United States, whereas Maine is located in the Deep North, a conglomerate of moose-intensive countries consisting of Greenland, Canada, Denmark and whichever one has the Moomins. Fortunately, you can get to Boston by Amtrak. As a bonus, this means you don't have to drive. You get to bypass those parts of the Boston beltway populated by vehicles weaving and swarming around each other like crazed hostile spermatozoa at 156 mph. The world's ultimate example of the crazed spermatozoa driving style is on permanent display at Paris' Arc de Triomphe; the "Renault Crazed Hostile Spermatozoon" is the actual name of a car in France.

But back to our original topic, which is: puppetry. Puppetry dates back at least to the ninth century B.C., when the Indian epic poem Mahabharata made mention of the earliest puppets.* Several thousand years later, puppetry has reached its natural apex: my commute to Boston. Even though it is an apex, it can get pretty darned boring. Fortunately, you can pass the time by engaging in fun commute activities, such as:

- Listening to your fellow passengers' inane conversation about the size of the tray tables.
- Falling into a deep slumber.
- Waking up, an hour later, to find the conversation still revolves around tray tables.
- Collecting free moist towelettes from the Amtrak Café Car on each individual commute until finally you have amassed enough to start a MOIST TOWELETTE EMPIRE and TAKE OVER THE WORLD MWAHAHAHAHA.

Then, before you know it, you're in Boston! So you pick up your enormous suitcase, causing 96% of your fellow passengers to remark that (a) the bag is a big bag, (b) you are a small girl, or (c) both. (The urge to make these remarks is apparently so strong, they would still make them if you were LeBron James.) You heave your bag into Boston, where you proceed to hoist it from T to bus, until that glorious moment when you arrive at your venue, open your bag to set up, and find you have brought the wrong set of puppets. Still, the show must go on, and fortunately it goes smoothly, except for the 6,396 interruptions due to tears, fears, tantrums and incontinence. And that's just from the parents.

No, in all seriousness, performing for kids is wonderful, because when they interact with the puppets, they do it so wholeheartedly, so enthusiastically, that you can't help but believe that you're making a difference in the world; that you, personally, are a proud torchbearer in a majestic tradition, descended from the very earliest epic Indian Ernies and Berts.

Following the show, you do a puppet-making workshop, in which you cheerfully and clearly explain how to make a paper bag into a simple silly puppet, say a monster with googly eyes. Only the kids aren't listening because they're busy building an intricate lobster with fully functional pinchers; a full-body Eskimo woman complete with perfectly detailed, miniature Inuit garb; etc. Clearly YOUR artistic guidelines are falling on deaf ears.

At the end of the day it's time for you to return, with the satisfaction of a professional day well spent, to beautiful wild Maine, where, upon arrival at the train station, you are promptly mauled to death by a moose. No, only kidding. The moose only stops to comment on how big your bag is, because the urge to make this remark is so strong it transcends species. You smile politely and go on, but not before handing the moose your business card, which is just the sort of shameless, blatant self-promotion favored by your tawdrier, cheaper puppeteers.

For the fact is, even though you love commuting into Boston (and you especially love moist towelettes), you're not about to turn down a gig in the Deep North, even one from a moose. Because all avenues must be kept open. Or at least driven down in a Renault Crazed Hostile Spermatozoon.

*Ernie and Bert.