CMU School of Drama

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ministry of Evil: Designing a Demonic Sock Puppet

AMERICAN THEATRE: In Robert Askins’s Hand to God (the new season’s most-produced play), Satan appears to possess the sock puppet of a troubled teenage boy, wreaking hilarious havoc on a Texas church’s puppet ministry. Askins took inspiration from his own experiences with his youthful church’s puppet ministry. So did Mike Horner, artistic director of Paul Mesner Puppets, when he was hired by Unicorn Theatre in Kansas City, Mo., to design puppets for their production of Hand to God, Sept. 7-Oct. 2. Below, Horner shares how he came up with the look for the demonic Tyrone.


Michelle Li said...

This is hilarious! Reminds me of when I went to go see Avenue Q a couple of years ago and was amazed at the puppetry involved. I think that the great thing about Avenue Q was being able to see the actors behind those puppets and seeing them unfold the story in both puppet time and real time. I know that there's only a single puppet in this play hut it's great to see that same mechanism being utilized in this piece. I wish the article went more into the plot and meat of the show-- I've never seen it, but knowing that it involves a demonic puppet makes me pretty excited. I also love how puppetry is starting to take the theater stage now and people are seeing the wonderful potential of puppets. They can become so human and life like just like those in War Horse, The Lion King, The Woodsmen, and so on. I hope to see more of it!

Katherine Sharpless said...

I loved reading about Horner's creative process; it is so crafty, humorous, and thoughtful. I met with a scenic designer in Minnesota who once told me that puppetry was her artistic escape from spending her days on the computer planning and drafting. This article shed some light on how liberating puppetry can be and I hope I have the chance to work with it some day. I loved seeing the wooden beads for claws and the feathers coming out of Tyrone's hands. Anyway, it is great to read about these "old fashioned" puppets still being made. I wouldn't want the incredible work from Cirque and Broadway to overshadow the handmade work being done across the country. In fact I think this article could have done more to explain the process of designing and making the Hand to God puppet, and maybe more small and local theaters can follow their example and diversify their seasons.

Alexa James-Cardenas ( said...

I have to say that I haven’t seen the play, but I’ve seen a bunch of advertisements for it, and after reading the article, I really want to go see it soon. As a person who has attended a Christian church for a good portion of her life, I find that I really love plays/musicals like these that take a twist upon the experience on going to church. I feel like I will get a kick out of this show. As for the design of the puppet of Tyrone, aka the devil, I really love the sense of madness being slowly revealed through the different stages of design. It just makes me wonder how it reflects the climaxes of the boy who is holding the puppet, and if the puppet is influencing the kid in some way. Since I haven’t yet seen the play, I’m going to try to hold off any speculations, for the reason I don’t want to disappointed my own perceived notions. However, Horner does a great job conveying a sense of creepiness and insanity through his design.

Jamie Phanekham said...

I seriously can't wait to see City Theatre's version of this show! I love the thought process that went into the puppet. It seems so simple, but often the simple things to do are harder. The fact that his parents had a Christian ministry is such an interesting coincidence addition to his design process. Basing it off of his own minister father's puppet is hilarious. The noseless Tyrone is much more innocent looking than the original Broadway Tyrone, making his descent that much more far. The demonic Tyrone is also more drastic in this version, and the teeth seem to fit more.
I love the way this show presents religion and youth group. Growing up in the south, going to a lot of youth group nights its a funny play on the cloyingly hokey nature. I can't wait to see how City Theater does it, whether it will be similar to this Tyrone and the Broadway one or totally different all together. The puppets in most productions seem to look generally the same.

Cassidy Pearsall said...

Wow, I LITERALLY saw Hand to God tonight with Jamie at the City Theatre! We had a really good time! I purposefully did not research the show because I was excited about being surprised, and I'm glad I didn't. When the initial children's music came up, I almost freaked out when Tyrone showed up, because the moment was SO creepy! Even in his friendly iteration, I knew something terrible was going to happen, something terrible always happens with puppets. This Tyrone was orange, and he also progressed similarly to this articles design, but something I noticed was they gave him like, stubble. As he went crazier his facial hair crew out, and it was very interesting to see that.

I thought the script was funny, but I had no idea it was the most produced play this year! I remember the year my high school did Almost, Maine, it was the most produced play that year. I hate it when a bunch of theaters in one area all do the same damn play over and over, I hope this play does not end up like that.

Claire Krueger said...

I never knew that churches tried to implement puppets into bible study. I used to be a catholic though so I guess puppets were probably “inappropriate” for the house of god. I am not familiar with the script but I really want to see the show anyways. The development of Tyrone interests me greatly, it kind of reminds me of the Black Knight Snail whose shell is built with the iron in the water from hydrothermal vents. I takes from its environment in the same fashion Tyrone takes from his environment as the things he finds are taken from his immediate surrounding.

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