August 10, 2006

Miss Piggy Would Blush – Muppet Creators Go Adult

By Paul Majendie

EDINBURGH -- The creators of The Muppets and Sesame Street are staging a puppet show that is strictly for adults only.

Miss Piggy would blush over the antics in "Jim Henson's Puppet Improv" which spearheads a renaissance of puppet shows for grown-ups at this year's Edinburgh Fringe arts festival.

Every afternoon at the Fringe, an anarchic troupe of puppeteers led by the late Jim Henson's son Brian do an improvisational show for kids.

Every evening the air turns blue as the show takes off into surreal flights of fancy dictated by the audience.

"It is lovely to do a show where you can go wherever your brain takes you," said Henson, after that night's audience asked the puppeteers to play half a dozen hot dog puppets auditioning to be Ricky Martin's backup singers.

But would Brian's father have approved?

"I think he would have loved it because of how outrageous I get. My Dad really believed in community and sweetness but the other side of him was incredibly naughty.

"He always said the only reason we did this was those moments where it is like laughing in church. It becomes so infectious you cannot stop laughing."

Henson, who has performed the improvisation show in Aspen and Hollywood, would like to develop it into a TV show. Two other projects he is working on are also just for adults.

"There is something really therapeutic for us about this adult improv," he said.

Henson applauded the success on stage in New York and London of "Avenue Q" and the hit movie "Team America: World Police" which satirizes President George W. Bush's "war on terror."

"Avenue Q was very, very clever. They are specifically parodying Sesame Street with an adult twist. Team America is a more unique choice as they decided to do it with marionettes."

Hyundai Puppet Theater, South Korea's answer to Henson, has also won acclaim at the Edinburgh Fringe with its production of "Puppet City," and there are more puppet shows listed for adults than children at the festival.

So does Henson, director of the Muppet Christmas Carol and Treasure Island movies, feel puppeteers around the world are trying to redress the balance so adults get a look in?

"Yes, absolutely," he said.

"The Americans are more action-oriented. They want to see the puppets beating each other up.

"British audiences are more intellectual. They like to see it sick and twisted, but in an intellectual way."