What do you get when you combine storytelling, artistic expression, building, and passion? You get CactusHead Puppets, one of our amazing tenants renting out of our coworking space located on the second floor of GCA. Last week, I had the immense pleasure of sitting down with Megan and John Regan, CactusHead co-owners and learning about their company and their vision. CactusHead Puppets was founded in 2010 and has toured throughout New England. CactusHead Puppets will be presenting Paper City Puppet Slam, an adult puppet slam presented as part of Gateway City Art’s Winter Festival on February 24 at 7pm.
C: I actually haven’t seen a puppet show since I was quite young, so I’m really looking forward to your show here during Winter Festival. Can you tell me a bit about yourselves and how CactusHead came to be?
M: Yeah, it’s a fun thing to see, especially if you haven’t seen one in a while! We like to have a mixed audience. John and I both went to the UCONN Puppet Arts program for our undergrad degree, where we met, and then we got married after that.
J: Yup, like you do.
M: Yeah, and CactusHead Puppets was the name we started performing under in 2010. This was after building puppets for other people, kind of as a freelance thing- and things like that, but just not really finding a home in doing that. So we started doing shows together and touring them, and it’s really been fulfilling… We get to make everything and we get to make all of the artistic decisions.
C: I’m sure that makes a huge difference.
J: Yeah. In 2010, we weren’t really sure what we were going to do, and we were like ‘Let’s just give ourselves a name, make a puppet show…”
M: Yeah, ‘and let’s just give it a try’
J: And yes. In the past three years we’ve really started to take off.
M: Which is great.
C: That’s exciting! I was reading on your website about how you came up with your name and your logo, can you tell me a little about that? I found that story very cool.
M: (laughs) Mhmm! That’s mostly John’s story, so he can tell that.
J: Yes, when I was like six or something… we got our first computer that had an art program on it, and I drew a cactus-man and I was like, ‘This is awesome’, then I learned how to copy and paste, so I made two more. Then I saved it, and I forgot about it. And then apparently my dad thought it was amazing because he printed it out and saved it forever and then when I was twenty-one, he made me a t-shirt with it on it. I was like “This is amazing”!
C: that is awesome.
J: and then we needed a name for a puppet company, one that is memorable and weird, and that comes up on Google immediately- I didn’t even think of that.
C: …one that is part of your roots.
M: Yes, it’s part of our roots.
C: So, is the CactusHead a character?
J: It is not actually!
M: We always think, we should make one, a puppet of a cactus… but yeah, our shows that we do for families are fairy tales or folk tales that we have adapted. And then we do puppet slams and adult performances too.
C: Is there a distinction between an adult puppet slam and a children’s puppet show other than the material?
J: If I may.
J: It’s similar to the difference between theatre and children’s theatre. It’s just that people assume puppetry to be for children in America. Where as like in Europe, there is a much larger puppetry scene for adults. It’s really just like theatre.
M: Yes, and there are of course full length puppet shows for adults, but a slam is specifically short pieces. A slam piece is anywhere from 5 to 12 minutes, sometimes people do short sections of larger shows they are working on. But this is a great time to see shorter vignettes that groups have been working on.
J: This gives people a chance to do the really cool interesting stuff that they want to do that isn’t necessarily financially viable. Ya know, I absolutely love our family shows that we do, but it is also really great to be able to try out something weird- that isn’t necessarily going to land. It’s a chance to play and experiment.
C: …and keep pushing growth?
M: Yeah, you get to try it out in front of an audience. Of course it is important to put on a good show, but it is also a somewhat low stakes thing versus a fully developed full length thing…
J: …and it is also a great chance for people who haven’t had a lot of experience with puppetry to do it. I think we recently had two people who it was their very first puppet show ever, one was a friend of ours who is an English teacher and who has done a few more since then!
C: Nice, so you guys were the starting spark for them.
J: Yeah it’s pretty neat.
C: So, when you do these slams is there always a theme that everyone is working with or is the stress more on showing new work?
M: It’s kind of a mix of both. Last year we did a show that was kind of a response to the election and the political climate at the time.
J: Yeah, we weren’t like on the nose with it, but we asked people to bring things that showed how they felt about what was going on… where as the first time and this time, the focus is more like ‘whatever’s awesome’.
M: Yes, just bring us whatever’s awesome.
C: Yeah! And that is really the spirit of this Winter Festival this year. How can we appeal and speak to a community as a whole and find things that everyone might enjoy doing.
C: So, tell me a little bit more about your time at UCONN.
J: Yeah! I think they just recently celebrated their 50th anniversary. They are like 53 years old now. It’s really, really, cool- it is really the only program like it, at least in America. People come from all over the world for it... I mean, most puppeteers just start doing stuff, we both had internships before- Megan when she was a kid, and we both interned in Brookline. UCONN is a great place to cram in that whole experience in terms of different styles and connecting with all sorts of people.
M: You build a lot of connections. Especially on the East Coast. We know a lot of the alumni or are friends with a lot of the alumni, it is really a great way to connect with the puppet community. You really gain a lot of knowledge in a short time.
C: Do you ever go back and perform at UCONN?
M: We are actually going back this spring to perform at !he Ballard, a museum and institute of puppetry that is there on campus. They also have a puppet slam there that we have performed in among other alumni and puppeteers.
J: That was last year and we really hadn’t been back much since, so that was really cool.
C: What got you into puppetry?
M: Well, I know in high school I was really searching for what I wanted to do. I liked theatre and I liked art and it was a way to combine the two. I interned with a puppet company in Kansas City where I grew up when I was still in high school, and I remember experiencing that and seeing what a wide range of things were involved and being like, “okay, yeah, that’s what I want to do”. There are so many avenues within puppetry that you can pursue. It took a while after deciding what I wanted to do to then decide what that was going to look like.
J: I mean for me, I didn’t really have any experience with puppetry until UCONN. I knew The Muppets and I loved The Muppets, and I always wanted to be a puppeteer, but like, how do you become a puppeteer? Like Megan, I liked creating art but I also liked performing. I wanted to make monsters that I could bring to life and do things with.
J: Actually, I had no idea what I wanted to do, I didn’t know what I was going to go to school for. My senior year I was supposed to go visit a school in Rhode Island… and we didn’t want to drive the 8 hours from where we were, so we remembered we had heard something about a puppet program in Connecticut. So, we went down and I got to explore downstairs this weird little place full of eyeballs and puppets- and then there was a puppet slam that night. There just happened to be a slam while we were there.
C: The universe was like…
J: Yes, like, Oh. Oh my god. And then, that was when I was like, ‘I want to be a puppeteer, I don’t know how or what this will end up being, but I am going to do it somehow’.
C: That’s so great. I know you just got off of the beginning of your tour. What is next for CactusHead?
J: It wasn’t exactly a tour, but we spent three weeks in one spot at The Puppet Showplace in Brookline. We ran 8 shows a weekend.
M: The Puppet Showplace has a great incubator program where they support puppet groups as they develop new works. We worked with them with their artistic director and their staff to develop this new show. Then we did 3 weeks of shows their, and then it’s all ready to tour! Up next we are working on our Monster Circus Show.
C: Ooh, I like the sound of that.
M:Yeah, it is a small staged show that is really fun.
J: It’s also something we hope we can do and perform individually. Right now all of our shows are two person, and we would really like to be able to have one of us go . That’s really our next step.
M: Yes, and then we do a lot of touring over the summer. Libraries, museums, and theatres really bring up their children’s programs at that time.
C: Do you ever offer internships or camps?
M: We mostly travel places to perform, but we might offer a camp in the future! This summer John is teaching a week at the Jewish Community Center and we do travel places to do workshops.
J: We have talked about doing classes here at GCA, I really want to do a puppet slam workshop, that has been successful elsewhere and I think it would be great here.
C: That would be really great. I was excited for next weekend before, but I’m even more excited now. Thank you guys for sitting down with me today! Is there anything else you wanted to say?
J: Puppets are great! There is something special about being able to control and produce every aspect of the show. We make the characters, we make the lighting- we get to shape every part and tell the story in a very unique way.
Winter Festival is a four-day community focused event with competitions, music, art exhibits, food, and more! CactusHead Puppets will be performing as part of the Paper City Puppet Slam on Saturday, February 24 at 7pm. Tickets are $10 or $15 for the slam and the following live music.
For more information on John and Megan visit their website: http://www.cactusheadpuppets.com/about/
Facebook Event Page for Winter Festival:
Facebook Event Page for Paper City Puppet Slam with CactusHead Puppets: