Muppet Puppet Master Delivers Big Laughs In Solo Show
Not many people can say they had a hand in guiding The Muppets to success. Toronto born Frank Meschkuleit not only lent a hand, but depending on the size of the puppet suit he climbed into, there were times he lent his entire body.
The 57-year-old puppet master has enjoyed an incredible career that has included not only working on Jim Henson projects like the Sesame Street Follow That Bird film, but also multiple children’s shows and films from Fraggle Rock and Dragon to Bride of Chucky and Alien Vs Predator. Given the fact he was working as a motorcycle apprentice when he first met Henson, Meschkuleit says he’s surprised and thrilled about the way his unexpected career has turned out.
“I grew up in Kitchener-Waterloo back in a time when it was a two horse town,” said Meschkuleit, who rolls into St. Catharines for “An Evening of Adult Puppetry” February 16th at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. “The Muppets were doing a huge audition. They wanted to do a shot with the most puppeteers ever used. I did a really weird audition and they liked it.”
What Meschkuleit liked more was the sense of play he witnessed on set, and he quickly decided that being a puppeteer was a rather good choice for a career.
“When you can find yourself an occupation that involves play, a lot of your life is lived lighthearted,” he explained. “You’re not burdened with the weight of hating your job. Anytime I go to work, I just go wow. The worst day on set it better than the best day at the hardware store.”
Now approaching his fourth decade as an entertainer, Meschkuleit’s resume includes voice work along with thousands of appearances in film, children’s television and live stage productions, including the Toopy and Binoo Live! show playing the FirstOntarioPAC. However, it’s his solo shows -- My Big Fat German Puppet Show and The Left Hand of Frank – that have earned Meschukuleit his own dedicated following and a slew of awards, including top honours at Montreal’s Just for Laffs Fringe Festival. Billed as an evening of adult puppetry, the two shows combine adult humour and various forms of puppetry into an unforgettable and uniquely entertaining evening of “laughs, power tools, zombines, comedy, music and more laughs.”
Ideas for the shows were inspired by the often organic improv that happened on the film and television sets where Meschkuleit worked, as puppeteers took breaks from their roles as children’s entertainers and instead incorporated adult themes into routines designed to entertain the crews.
“I ended up creating a show that had the same feel and tone as what I was experiencing between takes on the television shows,” he said. “It was sometimes seedy, unsavory and comical, because puppetry is usually seen as a kid’s medium.”
While his show skirts with adult humour, it never approaches the excessive levels found in the R-rated puppet film, The Happy Time Murders, starring Melissa McCarthy. That 2018 black comedy – promoted as “No Sesame, All Street – rankled Muppet fans and film goers for its crude language and sexual content, which some saw as an insult to Jim Henson legacy.
“I don’t want to be a dick, but I couldn’t watch it,” said Meschkuleit. “It had none of the charm of the best Muppet movies. The hallmark of The Muppets movies to me was the fact that families could watch it together and both children and adults could get something out of it. It was layered. I don’t know who they wrote Happy Time for. That said, as a puppeteer, the work was top drawer technically. But it wasn’t enough to hold me for the entire film.”
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