SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – As a child, John Tartaglia told his mother, “When I’m 18 years old I want to move to New York City and work for the Muppets.” At the age of only 16, Tartaglia made his dream come true and became a Muppets cast member. Tartaglia jokes, “It was like I went to the School of Sesame Street.” The Muppets was just the beginning for Tartaglia. After landing the role of Rod in the Broadway production of Avenue Q, Tartaglia wanted to ensure the magic of puppetry would continue.
Tartaglia began offering puppetry workshops to companies like Centre Stage Productions after Avenue Q became a huge hit. There became an overwhelming need for professional puppeteers who could help smaller companies put up their own versions of the show. Tartaglia now completes workshops whenever they fit into his schedule in order to give back to the community of young actors. Tartaglia was able to visit Oak Middle School in Shrewsbury on Saturday, May 31st to demonstrate puppetry, teach the basics of working with a puppet, and provide inspiration for the students preparing for their own show. The workshop was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the students to work directly with a Broadway star. Tartaglia enjoyed this workshop as well as all of his workshops because he gets to see, “such a wide variety of people come to understand how to express themselves through puppets.”
While working with the students, Tartaglia emphasized the difficulty of working with a puppet. He explained that the movements can be learned with dedication, time, and practice but for some people it just comes easier. He says he was one of the lucky ones who was able to pick up the movements more quickly, but character work took him more time to develop. The students learned that character work with a puppet can be more difficult than acting through a personal body because the portrayal has to come through an inanimate object. The students were also taught that they are now athletes who need to prepare for their roles by building up the endurance and muscle power to work with a puppet for a full-length show. Tartaglia told the students that part of the art of puppetry is, “fooling the audience into thinking its less physical than it is.” Tartaglia spent the day showing the kids everything from how to correctly wear the puppet to how to work together to make the puppets the focus of the performance.
Tartaglia describes how puppetry is, “one of the last pieces of magic we have.” A lot of the magic we see today is completed with a computer; however, puppetry keeps real people involved in the action. He emphasized throughout the entire workshop that puppetry is not just a puppet show for children’s entertainment. He truly wanted the students to understand that puppetry is an art form that can create an illusion like no other.
This workshop would not have been possible without the generous support of the Shrewsbury Cultural Council and Central One Federal Credit Union. Centre Stage Productions will be performing the school edition of Avenue Q on July 19th at 7:00pm and on July 20th at 2:00pm. Both performances will be held at Oak Middle School, 45 Oak Street, Shrewsbury. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Box Office (508.414.4488), visiting the website (www.cstageproductions.com), or purchasing them at the door.