MIND THE DEATH STAR
While out n’ about in Pioneer Square this past April, a poster caught Bean’s eye. The Experience Music Project | Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, EMP | SFM, would be presenting a most delightful exhibition come summer: Jim Henson’s Fantastic World to be housed in the SFM portion of the building due to Henson’s contributions on such sci-fi works as Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. But, did I mention The Muppets? Oh, yes, MUUUPPEEEEETS!
Immediately checked out the website listed on the poster upon arriving home, but somehow allowed a delay in time to occur before actually mailing off the volunteer application. Soon after, an email arrived from the volunteer coordinator stating that, though, all positions had been filled, I was at the top of the list of replacements. Soon after that, another email arrived with an offer to meet up to discuss my joining their volunteer team. (Insert “Wocka, wocka, wocka!” here.)
Upon exiting the large ‘n’ locked double doors from the inner workings of the building, I’m careful to mind the Death Star as I turn right at The Omega Man’s replica of Charlton Heston. A short meandor more, and I spy Kermie housed in a large glass encasement, this particular model created in 1972, used in many a performance, and sporting an impressive five, five fingers. Evolved, he is! There are multiple colorful n’ furry walls floor-to-ceiling all about the place for visitors to write on with hands n’ fingers swirled about in all the furriness. Spied one particular visitor writing on one such wall in an altogether different fashion, “Oh Billy,” from Midnight Express sprang to mind. I enter my domain nestled smack in the center of multiple rooms all branching off in the telling of various facets of Henson’s life, filled with the nifty traveling memorabilia issued by the Jim Henson Company and the Smithsonian, the conceivers of the exhibition, among others. And what exactly is my domain?
An interactive portion of the exhibit in which visitors are presented the opportunity to man their very own Muppety puppet (to earn true “Muppet” designation, puppets must be created by the Jim Henson Company) as a member of the band Mudgarden Experience in a night club, The Rainbow Connection, jamming to any one of a select set of songs. The title of Mudgarden Experience is based on the local Seattle musical history (honey, Sound, The Jimi Hendrix) and features four puppets created by local puppeteer, Annette Mateo, with actual “Muppet” fleece material (!) and blessed by the Henson people in the images of the following musicians:
Carrie Akre (Goodness, yay!)
“Animal Moon” (a melding of Animal from The Electric Mayhem and The Who’s Keith Moon)
The exhibition’s been to multiple states thus far, though, the EMP alone has designed and produced this highly wonderful accompaniment to the entire experience. Sadly, Miss Piggy is no where to be found, as she was the creation of Frank Oz, and destined for a future exhibition all her own. Besides, she doesn’t travel well, I hear. Telling that to die-hard Piggy fans is another story! I’ve encountered more than a handful of indignant and dismayed folks in want of their Miss!
Highlights lie in gazing out over the crowd located on the Seattle Street stoop (homage to Sesame!) awaiting their turn after the brief introductory spiel. Locating those gathered at the crowd’s edges with the barely contained glee all over them squelched by just a tad too much timidity has become a little game of mine. They nearly always turn me down when I first approach them with such words as “And how ’bout you?” Within minutes they’re back, and I wave or nod at them in recognition. They leave again, only to return a short while later and I’m more than thrilled to get them all set up. “Set up” includes lining the puppeteers up at the stage, calling out “On your knees, please, puppet hand straight up in the air!”, pointing out the monitor in front of them where they can see what their puppet performance looks like to the audience, and lastly, my favorite part, announcing their performance as I start the music. Adults become children, and children stay children and the world remain’s sweet a while longer.
Other highlights include being enveloped in an oh-so-unique building designed to look like a smashed guitar, having the Guitar Gallery (the history and development of said instrument) at my disposal, and perusing the “IF VI WAS IX: Roots and Branches”, a towering sculpturesque wonder comprised of more than 500 musical instruments. I’m fond of selecting my wants from the mass, having accumulated the white-washed bass fiddle near the tip top, an accordion midway down, still on the lookout for a nice banjo, and have yet to locate an acoustic guitar to my loving.
ASIDE: Each time, that accordion brings to mind my uncle. In perusing a relative’s photo albums, happened across a photo of him playing one, and as it turns out, many years ago, he performed with a band. I’ve repeatedly asked for a performance to no avail, I think he thinks I’m mocking him or something, though, I mock not! Come October I’d like to hunt him down and make him play, as it’ll be his birthday. That may sound like a backwards birthday present, but I think he’d really appreciate it after the fact, and you’d think so, too, if you saw the look on his face in that photo.
Lastly, the traveling exhibition located upstairs contains posters created over many decades from Hatch Show Print, one of America’s oldest operating print shops! Gorgeous prints advertising all kinds- vaudeville shows, state fairs, the Grand Ole Opry, Presley, musicians galore … oh yeah, and Cash. John and June. Pitter, le pat! The exhibit’s rounded out with the display of many a block of wood and metal type- the templates from which the posters were composed and then printed from, the stuff to make a designer a little lightheaded and prone to a dead faint. Luckily, the carpeting was soft …
This endeavor’s been a step towards “work for Sesame Street,” an item on my “goals” list, as Henson created many of the show’s original characters. Found out some time ago that the Sesame Street empire is really rather a small company (sadly, with a significant number of layoffs early this year in fact) and as I’m not meant to be a hardcore solely dedicated puppeteer (a main requirement), the likelihood of employment is slim to none. Still, I’d gladly act as an honorary gopher for a time in order to catch a glimpse of all the inner workings, or better yet, serve up a little artsy paintsy designerly contribution. If I could just meet Maria and tell her how pretty my dad always said she was and high-five Kevin Clash/tell Elmo a joke, that’d be the Oscar in my Grouch. Still, till then, I count it a step closer.
Cookie Monster doesn’t eat real cookies! The butter and chocolate would damage his Muppet fur. Instead, the propmasters give him fat-free oatmeal cookies or rice cakes decorated to look like cookies. Jip!
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