I visited the Hoboken Historical Museum earlier this week and got a preview of their Upper Gallery exhibit, “Strange Neighbors: The Art and Imagination of Puppet Heap.” I took some snaps and also did an article on the exhibit for The Jersey Journal. You can see it here on NJ.com.
I interviewed Paul Andrejco, the mastermind behind the Hoboken-based puppet design and fabrication studio, which has developed and designed characters for film, television, theater and the Web for companies like the Sesame Workshop, The Walt Disney Company, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.
Summer Dawn Hortillosa: How did you get started building puppets?
Paul Andrejco: I have been making puppets of one sort or another since I was very young – out of paper, felt, discarded nylons, that sort of thing–my mother was very creative and would help me – I’d steal scraps of fabric from her work room. ut I didn’t really start pursuing it seriously until I was in college. My mentors there were Marc Kohler, Kathleen Pletcher and Erminio Pinque. I was to major in illustration, but caught the puppet bug my freshman year and instantly knew that’s what I wanted to do professionally. James O. Barnhill, Professor Emeritus from Brown counseled me just before I graduated. He said there would be no set path for me and that I would need to forge my own. He was right. I mailed my portfolio to the Jim Henson Company, but since it had been only a year after his death, I was certain nothing was to come of it. After college I ran around the country for a bit trying to find my place. I was about to settle in Atlanta to take up an internship at the center for puppetry arts–looking for a day job and an apartment. I called my family to tell them I wasn’t coming back. They told me Tim Miller from the Jim Henson Company called and wanted to know if I was available for an interview. So I hopped on the next train to New York City, got the job, moved to Hoboken and never looked back.
SDH: What inspires you as you design and build?
PA: The things that inspire me most are human frailties – our dreams, our weaknesses, our fears, our misconceptions of ourselves. I’m really attracted to the endearing ugliness of people, both physically and spiritually – what we say and do, the way we move. I guess that’s what attracts me to folklore so much. There’s a lot of that reflected, directly and indirectly, in the jokes we tell each other, the songs we sing, the stories we tell.
SDH: What do you enjoy most about your job?
PA: I most enjoy having the opportunity to collaborate with some of the most talented people I have ever known. Some of them taught me when I was just starting out – I guess they still are teaching me. I have the most fun when we are evolving an idea. I love it when a project surprises and gets to a totally unexpected place – a better place.
SDH: What’s been your favorite project so far?
PA: My favorite project has been, of course, our most recent short film series Mother Hubbard Among Others. That film is actually a second take on the very first puppet film I made almost twenty years ago. Back then, I just had fun riffing on the Mother Goose Rhyme. With my wife, Shari Halpern’s, assistance (she is why the little dog is as charming as he is) I shot it in our basement, originally with a handicam, a desklamp and a VCR. This new version is a greatly expanded riff on the old. We had so much fun hammering out the different scenarios and inventing new stories for all the characters. It’s amazing to see this simple little story blossom in the hands of so many talented people.
SDH: Film-wise, what is your vision and what are your goals?
PA: My goal in every film is chiefly to entertain. To make sure it’s beautiful, playful and funny, and maybe a little touching. Certainly everything is a product of its time, but I try to tell stories that feel classic, timeless. There is something about the way puppets overcome their limitations just being what they are – only what they are – that is somehow reflective of being human, of overcoming our own limitations.
Even though the videos are recorded, I try to create the feeling of a live puppet show. I want to transform the screen into an impossible castlet, a magical puppet booth. I am chiefly inspired by early film makers like Georges Melies, both in his life and work. In most of his more popular work, Melies was creating a kind of 19th century novelty theater greatly enhanced by the then cutting edge technology of the motion picture. I hope to achieve a similar sort of thing, only with puppets envisioned though the kaleidoscopic lens of 21st century media technology.
SDH: Is there something you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t (yet)?
PA: I’d really like to create some kind of regular television series or film in this miniature style of puppetry. I want to make the kind of show I’d like to see on TV, something different every episode. I’d like to tune into an ever-evolving world. It would be a great challenge and lot of fun.
An opening reception for “Strange Neighbors: The Art and Imagination of Puppet Heap” will be held Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Hoboken Historical Museum, 1301 Hudson St., where the exhibit will run through April 29. There will also be an artist talk and short film screening on Sunday at 4 p.m. For more information about the exhibit, visit HobokenMuseum.org. For more information about Puppet Heap, visit PuppetHeap.com.