Aubrey Clinedinst '13 spent a week this summer building puppets beside Martin P. Robinson, the operator and voice of Sesame Street's Snuffleupagus and Telly Monster, at the 2013 National Puppetry Conference in Waterford, Conn. During the summer of 2012, the theatre major worked as an intern for Jim Henson's Creature Shop in Long Island, N.Y. She assistant directed a performance of her puppet cabaret, Life is a Puppet Show, Old Chum, for alumnae/i during Alumnae/i Weekend.
How were you introduced to puppets?
I've loved the Muppets ever since I was a little kid. I had a bunch of my older sister's hand-me-down tapes lying around. They were my primary form of entertainment; I wasn't as big a cartoon watcher as I was a Muppet watcher.
Why are you drawn to puppets as a medium for storytelling?
Puppets can do what humans can't. When you're doing a story about Red Riding Hood, you can dress up a human as a wolf and people will suspend their disbelief and say, 'Yeah, it's a wolf,' but when you're using puppets, you can make a wolf.
Puppets add a level of realism to fantasy. There is something uncanny about watching a puppet do ordinary human actions, like walking or breathing, that make you realize these human actions are amazing. Puppets hyper-intensify stories. They show how intricate humanity is, because it is reflected back at the viewer through a puppet instead of a human being.
Your puppet cabaret included a section on Little Red Riding Hood that was very dark. Why did you decide to tell the tale in that manner?
My senior thesis is that puppets are not just wacky, goofy things meant for children's theater. Fairy tales suffer under these same misconceptions. They have been watered down and made into silly things for kids. When I was 14, I read the original Little Red Riding Hood, and nothing ends happily. Its messages were much stronger, and I had a visceral reaction to it.
I wanted to do something more adult. I was inspired by a Japanese style of puppetry called bunraku. It generally deals with romantic, stylized, heavy stories that end in love-suicides. It is a style of puppetry that loaned itself well to my story because of how uncanny the puppets tend to look.
From where do you draw inspiration?
Music is one of my biggest influences. I'll hear a song and suddenly have a puppet show developed in my head. I turned Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young" into a play that was produced in Goucher's Playworks 2011. In it, Virginia, the person Billy Joel is trying to seduce, responds to the song.
I have been dying to do the rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia by The Who. I'd like to use a puppet for many of the scenes with Tommy, and perhaps do the same with Jimmy in Quadrophenia.
Do you have a favorite Muppet movie?
This is not a tough question: The Muppet Christmas Carol. That is my all-time favorite, bar none Muppet movie.