Ron and Mary Kay did everything to get the shows done (other than the puppet building).  Think about the process involved in this:

These items are usually one-time projects:

  • Design and build puppets.
    • Generally done one time unless the puppet involved is heavily used, then more than one may have to be made.  For instance, there are 2 Alberts and 2 Zeldas.
  • Build stage.
    • Again, generally a one time thing unless wear and tear or technical needs necessitate additional stages.  Both the marionette and hand puppet stages had 2 versions of each one built over the years.

First version of the hand puppet stage
December, 1970

  • Gather recording gear and set up studio in the den.
    • One time process other than occasional recording equipment upgrades as needed.

These items were done for every new show:

  • Write script and lyrics.
  • Write music.
  • Record script and music.
  • Practice show.
  • Present show.

Pop built the stage, wrote the music, acted as the sound recording engineer, editor and puppeteer.  Mom was the other puppeteer, wrote the scripts and often the song lyrics, and she usually helped me sew the outfits the puppets sometimes wore.  Both of them would spend hours in front of a mic recording the show and music.  Pop would spend more hours editing the audio and adding sound effects.  This was all way before computers that make this stuff a lot easier!  And then they’d practice the show (usually for their kids) and then go out there and put the show on live.  As I recall in addition to all the work on the music TV shows, they created one new “regular school show” and one new “Christmas school show” every year.

Live Show, December 1971

The recordings were all done on 7″ reel to reel tape using a Sony® recorder.  Pop played 6-string guitar, 4-string guitar, mandolin, bass, keyboard and banjo.  Mom mostly sang but played something called a “Clavietta” which had a small keyboard and sounded sort of like a harmonica on the recordings.

Music always featured Ron and/or Mary Kay on the vocals.  The vocals were always done in the “voice” of the puppet who was singing.  Ron and Mary Kay did other “regular” (non-puppet) music as well.

The following bit of information concerns a topic that apparently causes quite a controversy between puppeteers now.  And that’s the use of a “reversed” or “mirrored” monitor when working puppets for TV.  A regular monitor will display movement from left to right opposite of the way you are moving.  This is quite hard to do when using a puppet unless you train yourself to work that way.

My dad “reversed” the display on a monitor for use in TV studio work.  This way the monitor looks the same as the image in a regular mirror and is much easier to use when puppeteering on TV.

The controversy on this comes from the fact that the Muppets (and many other productions, apparently) now use regular monitors only, so the “pro” approach is to learn how to do everything bass-ackwards.  They do this mainly because (as far as I can tell) “the Muppets do it that way.”  I have a feeling that some people who learned using a regular monitor wound up in charge of the Muppet productions and set the regular monitor as the de-facto standard so that they would not have to relearn using a mirrored monitor.  I don’t know, that’s just speculation but I’ve done it both ways and I can assure you the mirrored monitor is much easier to use.  I’ve not seen or read any compelling reasons for doing TV work with regular monitors other than to try and get a job running Muppets, so I can see forcing yourself to learn the regular monitor method if that was your goal.

But why make running someone else’s characters your life’s goal anyway?  Why not develop your own cadre of characters instead?  If you “hit” with your own stuff you can use any kind of monitor you want to.

At any rate, my parents were professional puppeteers, they did do lots of TV work and they always used a reversed monitor.  The funny thing is that as I recall (and it’s been 30+ years so I may not remember correctly) I think my dad got the idea of using a reversed monitor from hearing Muppet creator Jim Henson talk about it!

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