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Keeping a hand in cute puppets' care

Making sure the pint-sized `Johnny and the Sprites' cast is clean, well coiffed and in good operating condition can be one tall order.

March 25, 2007|Susan King

Lara MacLean

Puppet wrangler

Current credit: The Disney Channel's "Johnny and the Sprites," a series for preschoolers featuring puppets, starring and executive produced by Tony Award-nominated John Tartaglia of Broadway's "Avenue Q."

Previous credits: "Sesame Street"

Awards: Two-time Emmy winner for puppet styling for "Sesame Street."

Job description: "My job is to make sure that we have all the puppets that we need for the day and that all of their little props are ready, along with their arm rods -- most of the puppets on our show have arm rods so they can hold a shell or a rock or a pumpkin. It is my job to make sure that the pumpkin is secured into the hand in a way that you can't see [the arm rod] on the screen but is going to be secure so the puppeteers have enough movement."

Grooming: "I have to make sure that the puppets look good. If they are extra fuzzy that day I have to trim off their fuzz and make sure their hands are clean because they tend to get a little bit dirty and dusty.

"Lily [the puppet] has a wig, and it is not a wig you can get in a regular store. There were many, many hours put into that wig, so I have to take extra special care of it. It is made out of a synthetic hair, but we put braids in it and extra sparkly things like sequins and shells. It is difficult to take care of her hair. Sometimes she'll dance around and the hair will get into her face. They'll have to stop and then I'll have to come in and make sure her hair goes back into place -- maybe even put a pin in or a blue thread so it's not going to happen again and not ruin another take."

Keeping 'em clean: "I use a detergent wipe to clean them. When I have a dark day when they are not shooting, I can take a day -- their hands get especially dirty -- and I actually take their arms off and hand wash them with really gentle detergent and let them dry. They need, like, a day to dry."

Cast members: "There are four main puppets, and there is another guy called Seymour, who is a purple mole. There are some Fuzzies that are basically different-colored fur balls with eyeballs, mouths and antennae, and they are all around the set too. I also assistant puppeteer, and sometimes I can be a Fuzzy or I can assist with one of the puppet's right hands. They also have moving eyelids and antennae, and I will help with that too."

Personal appearances: "Recently we have been on 'The View' and the [local] Fox morning show. It is my job to transport the puppets. I have a big black box, and they all fit in there. When we get to the site, I try to fluff them up a bit because they get a little smushed in the box. I basically do what I do on-set, but usually we don't have props."

Background: "I was a kid growing up with 'Sesame Street' and 'The Muppet Show.'

"I went to Sarah Lawrence College for theater and film, and while I was there, I overheard someone talking about an internship at the public relations department at Henson, and I said, 'Tell me everything you know.' We both ended up getting internships. While I was there I made sure to get another internship in the Muppet workshop. I worked that summer in the workshop, and from there, instead of going abroad like a lot of people do their junior year, I went to Connecticut -- they have a program there at the University of Connecticut for puppetry arts. I took as many puppet classes as I could."

Resides in: New York City

Union or guild: None for puppet wrangling; American Federation of Television and Radio and Screen Actors Guild for puppeteering.

Age: 35



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