Student ticket price: $20, available only at the Mahaffey Theatre Box Office
Stuffed and Unstrung, the newest live production from The Henson Alternative, is bringing a unique new puppet show to the Mahaffey Theatre Stage on April 18th. Not only will you have the chance to watch Henson puppeteers ply their craft live onstage, but the audience will also have a hand in shaping the show.
“No two shows are the same,” says “Stuffed and Unstrung co-creator Patrick Bristow. Unlike other adult-themed puppet shows such as Avenue Q, Stuffed and Unstrung is almost completely unscripted. Most of the program is an improv comedy show, with the actors improvising skits based on prompts supplied by the audience. Most innovative among the show’s unique features, though, may be the deconstruction of the puppet show. The puppeteers perform onstage, so the audience can actually watch Henson-quality puppeteers perform, holding the puppets over their heads and doing the voices. “However” says Bristow, “there will also be static cameras in place, so by turning your head just a few degrees, you can watch just the puppets on the two big screens, just as it would appear on TV.
The idea for Stuffed and Unstrung came about quite organically, says Bristow, who was hired by The Jim Henson Company to teach improv comedy to the company puppeteers. Impressed with how well his students were doing, Bristow arranged a small show in the Henson Company lot. That initial audience of Henson employees loved the act so much that it was performed again in Aspen before going on to festivals and, eventually, becoming the show as it is performed today.
Brian Henson, son of Jim Henson and current head of The Jim Henson Company, was among those early viewers; he recognized an element of Jim Henson’s humor which has largely been neglected in his legacy – a sophisticated zaniness, evident in improvised comedy sessions he would perform when the cameras stopped rolling. “Stuffed and Unstrung follows that tradition,” says Bristow. “While we never set out to be intentionally offensive or vulgar, the audience is in control of the show.” What results can be Monty Python, with a little of Richard Pryor’s language. As a bonus, the show also features recreations of skits first performed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, which no one has seen in forty years, according to Bristow. The Company re-created the puppets and re-learned the bits to celebrate these lesser-known aspects of Henson’s creative sensibility.
While most things from childhood are appreciated for nostalgia’s sake as we grow older, many people love the Muppets just as much in their 30s as they did in elementary school. Part of this is because of the sophistication of the humour; as adults, we catch jokes we missed as children or gain life experiences that allow us to look at the unusual pairings and interpersonal dynamics on which so much of the Henson humor is based in a new light. “As we develop,” Bristow adds, “we can see ourselves in the puppets, no matter how absurd the pairing may be.”
Now we can not only see ourselves in the puppets, but help direct the show. Stuffed and Unstrung will be a one-night-only event at The Mahaffey Theatre in downtown St. Pete.
April 18th, 7:30 p.m.
Student ticket prices: $20. All others, $25-$48.
Mature audiences only.