Ask a Puppeteer
Ben Thompson was one of three puppeteers charged with bringing Dr. Seuss’s moustachioed critter to life on stage here at The Old Vic. Operating the legs of Finn Caldwell’s incredibly life-like puppet, Ben is a puppeteering veteran having worked on the original 2015 production as well as our current run.
To celebrate day four of our 200-day countdown Ben took to The Old Vic’s social media channels to answer your questions on pupeteering.
Q: Who were your puppet/puppeteering heroes growing up?
A: Jim Henson is of course one of them and I was a big fan of the Thunderbirds and I had my own Sooty puppet when I was a kid.
Q: What is the most comfortable/proper position you can/should hold when puppeteering the feet? And where do you look?
A: Comfort isn’t always possible! I make myself as small as possible with one knee up and the other on the floor (lots of stretching). I focus on the feet and also his bottom! I need to be aware of what the rest of him/the other puppeteers are doing so that we’re all in sync.
Q: Are the Lorax’s feet smelly?
A: They have the faint smell of fresh butterfly milk…as for the rest of him I couldn’t possibly comment!
Q: Because there are three of you moving so close together, how precisely choreographed is your movement onstage?
A: There are some sequences which we’ve choreographed what each of us/the Lorax is doing, but most of the time we are responding to each other.
Q: How did you become a puppeteer? Did you train, did you experiment, did you fall into it? How did you get there?
A: I trained at Guildhall School of Music & Drama and worked as an actor for a number of years before auditioning for Blind Summit Theatre who are a company that mixes puppetry, mime, music, text and theatre in their work. I’d not done any puppetry beforethis, but I guess they saw something in me. I essentially learnt on the job with them and continued to work with them on various projects. This led to working with other companies and meeting other people in the industry. And so the last 10 years have been mainly puppet-filled.
Q: What’s it like working with such a celebrity? Is the Lorax a diva in real life?
A: He’s actually a real luvvie. He’s worked with all the greats going back to Olivier when the National Theatre was here at The Old Vic. For such a major theatrical star he is very modest and friendly…as long as he gets his truffula fruit juice in the morning and a good pedicure.
Q: Lorax, Mouse, Bird or Horse. Which one was your most challenging?
A: I reckon Horse, just for sheer stamina and weight, but then each puppet has its own challenges. There’s always a new muscle ache that you’d never had before. Being on the Lorax’s feet means I’m constantly squatting so standing up once we’re offstage is always a delight.
Q: Do you ever trip over each other?
A: Um…yes. Generally we keep out of each other’s way, but because we need to try and make ourselves as small as possible behind the puppet that can lead to feet and legs getting in the way. I tend to trip over myself rather than the other two!