A fuzzy, lively group of actors will be performing in SUNY New Paltz’s latest production.
“Fat Ram,” a traditional medieval play, is getting a makeover by adding muppet-style puppets acted out by the cast, and is playing in McKenna Theatre from Wednesday Nov. 30 to Sunday Dec. 4.
Incorporating puppets was the idea of director and SUNY New Paltz theatre professor Stephen Kitsakos. He wanted to turn this traditional production into a more contemporary version that audience members could understand.
“Nowadays we are constantly tiptoeing around to be politically correct,” said Kitsakos. “I thought if I incorporated the use of muppets – like they did in Avenue Q – it would give the contemporary audience permission to laugh because they would be laughing at the muppets and not at ‘actors’ playing these iconic religious figures.”
The production includes five puppets, one ram, and a 7-foot-tall camel, built by art majors Tine Regula and her assistant Kat Patterson.
“I’ve been wanting to get involved in puppets since freshman year,” said Regula. “I took some theater class and word got out that I was interested in puppetry.”
Regula began designs this summer and worked on the puppets immediately when the school year began. She designed the camel to be made out of steel.
“Over the summer I began to research because I never made anything mechanical before.,” said Regula. “I had to start thinking about it very early in order to understand it.”
“We had this crazy box cage design with metal everywhere, really intense, and then I had it critiqued by professors (and) we figured how to take a step back. The result is really different.”
This result was a mechanical camel filled with steel cables and copper tubing.
Kat Patterson, who worked mostly on the muppets, had her own challenge. She had to make them look like the cast members.
“We had pictures of the cast, and it was just a matter of picking a recognizable feature and putting that on the muppet,” recalls Patterson.
The material used to create these fuzzy characters added up to $1,500. This included Styrofoam, felt, and the metal.
Aside from creating the puppets, the cast had to learn how to act alongside them. To do so, Kitsakos went straight to Broadway for the answer.
“I had some help from Anika Larsen, a Broadway actress who played the leading lady in Avenue Q,” said Kitsakos. She consulted with me and also came up to New Paltz to do a workshop with the actors.”
“It’s a vessel for communication,” Regula explains. “A lot of people feel more comfortable speaking through an object rather then as themselves.”