I know that when one of our terrific customer service representatives calls me or steps into my office and says, “Could you take this call?” that it’s going to be one of those “tough questions.” So yesterday I wasn’t all that surprised to have the voice at the other end of the phone ask about the UCLA Arts Camps/Workshop Acting with Puppets and Animated Characters. The parent at the other end of the phone peppered me with questions like, “What is it?” “Why should my son consider this?” “Is this really acting?” All good questions. And a great topic for a blog!

Let’s start with what it is and what it isn’t. It is not a craft workshop! It is not about making puppets, albeit that’s a very creative process. It is about learning to animate them. In other words, bringing them to life through creating a character and causing a suspension of disbelief. Perhaps some of the best examples of creating a suspension of disbelief are the Sesame Street characters. The actors who brought Jim Henson’s puppets to life truly created believable “people” and situations. Who hasn’t met a child who hangs on every word uttered by Elmo, Grover or the Cookie Monster?

Designers by nature push the envelope. Julie Taymor is the greatest and most enchanting example of that “push.” The photo at the top is from a production of Die Zauberfl√∂te at The Met, designed by Ms. Taymor, the same Ms. Taymor who is responsible for The Lion King and a number of Hollywood films. But she is not the only director/designer who is calling on puppetry to tell their stories. Remember the Tony Award winning musical Avenue Q? It took home the 2004 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Original Score. Puppets are the central characters. This isn’t a passing fad. It has become an established trend and as such it is an important technique for an actor to learn.

Great Britain has been training its actors in this field of acting with puppets for some time. When you add the opportunity we have in this country to work in animated films, learning the technique of creating truthful and believable characters in the realm of puppetry and animation makes this a great workshop. It’s certainly going to be fun!