From “Sesame Street” to “Avenue Q,” the tristate area is the puppet-making capital of the U.S. — and Puppet Heap, based in Hoboken, is helping the region maintain its grasp.
Established by Paul Andrejco six years ago, the firm has since graduated from his apartment — where he was building puppets and storing them in a literal heap in the middle of his living space — to a full-service puppet factory comprising three companies.
Puppet Heap Workshop is a puppet-making-for-hire shop whose clients have included ventriloquist Terry Fator, Diet Coke and the Walt Disney Company. Puppet Heap Picture Company is the production house, which shoots films and commercials. And Puppet Heap Playthings makes the new toy line.
amNewYork spoke with Puppet Heap founder Andrejco.
How does someone get into the puppet business?
You just do it. There’s no formula to that. If you’re a kid and you’re interested in building airplanes, make some paper airplanes and find out what it takes to make the thing go. So, if you’re interested in puppetry … make a puppet. And then, opportunities will be there because you’re focused. … And then, look out for opportunities.
How will puppets stay relevant in a CGI age?
Well, they’re super-relevant because it’s the antidote to our CGI age. I enjoy watching the latest Pixar movie as much as anyone else does, [but] there’s never that feeling of spontaneity and error that we so much enjoy. … And I think we need that.
Did you have a favorite puppet growing up?
I grew up with the Muppets. I was born in 1969 — I am the perfect age for Jim Henson and George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. So in this country, if you’re interested in puppets and you’re around my age, you owe your interest probably to Jim Henson, for the most part, unless your parents were traveling gypsies or something like that.
Have there been new advances in puppet technology?
There are developments in using [electronics] and remote controls ... to animate a face and things like that. It doesn’t appreciably change the fact that puppetry is a human being controlling a thing that moves. So I’m not pulling a string, or I’m not moving a rod, or I’m not touching it with my hands — I’m jiggling a joystick to control a servo. I’m still looking for the same feedback from this thing packed with batteries or wires that I would be looking for from an empty bag with a wooden head.
Were classic puppets made much differently than modern ones?
Not hugely. There are some [changes] in the details. Basically, the Muppets are made more or less the same way they’ve always been made. There’s a little more skill and experience behind them — we have generations of people making them now, so things can get a little slicker.
Puppets for the people
Starting in August, Puppet Heap puppets will be available for purchase in stories or at puppetheap.com for a suggested retail price of $19.99 each.
• In the first series, there will be six puppets based on nursery rhymes with an emphasis on Old Mother Hubbard, though it also includes an alien cabby.
• There have been talks to do some licensed puppets.
• The glove puppets range from 8 to 17 inches tall.