Think puppet and most people think Muppet -- Kermit the Frog, Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Elmo, Ernie or Bert. Fluffy, fun, soft and lovable, these "Sesame Street" characters have entertained children on television for years.
But during a new puppetry workshop at Eagle Rock's Center for the Arts, kids ages 9 and older can create their own mop-topped, Muppet-style puppets during an eight-week class taught by Emmy Award-winning puppeteer Michael Earl. All it takes is a little imagination and some foam, staples and paint to transform an idea into a kooky alter-ego.
"When you put a puppet on, something happens," says the lean and lanky Earl, who with his reddish hair and glasses bears a slight resemblance to "The Muppet Show" lab tech, Beaker. "When you put it on, it becomes this other live thing. It just entertains you."
A shy teddy bear, an oversized baby and a hot-pink creature with feathery green eyelashes are just a few of the handmade creations Earl uses to introduce his puppet proteges to the form. American, German, Russian, Italian and Asian puppet books are also used as primers, introducing students to the shapes, forms and facial expressions that are essential to puppet making.
Earl should know. The 44-year-old Venice resident has been making puppets since he was 10. During junior high, he made frequent visits to the fabric store, buying scraps to paste together his creations. In high school, he whiled away afternoons waiting for the puppets to make their appearance on "Mr. Rogers."
At age 19, his obsession paid off when master Muppeteer Jim Henson hired him to play the role of Mr. Snuffleupagus and create numerous other roles for "Sesame Street," including Forgetful Jones, Poco Loco and Oscar the Grouch's pet worm, Slimey.
In 1995, he won his first Emmy for his performance as Dr. Ticktock on the PBS program "Ticktock Minutes." He's currently working on the marionettes for Trey Parker's new film, "Team America."
Earl isn't satisfied just to work as a puppet maker. His ambition, he says, "is to preserve and perpetuate the spread of wonder in the world through the imaginative use of music and puppetry."
The workshop in Eagle Rock is just one step toward that goal. For the last several years, he has taught similar classes at various area schools. In 2002 he pioneered the "Puppet Power!" program through California Youth Theatre.
In the near future, he hopes to open an interdisciplinary nonprofit called L.A. Arts Intersection for those in the performing and visual arts to combine their visions using puppetry as a common theme.
When Earl picks up the newspaper, he says he regularly sees the music, dance and cabaret picks of the week. But, he laments, "You never see puppetry.
"My goal is to create enough puppetry through nonprofits, teaching and creating different groups that you can one day pick up the paper and it will say 'Puppetry Pick of the Week.' "
Michael Earl's School of Puppetry
Where: Center for the Arts, 2225 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock
When: Saturdays, 1-2:30 p.m.
Ends: March 19
Ages: 9 to adult
Price: $52 for six sessions; $47 for members
Contact: (323) 226-1617 or www.erccc.org