Interview with Judd Palmer

Feb 14, 2008

How was The Old Trout Puppet Workshop formed?
Strangely enough, we all met at a summer camp, back in the glory days of youth, where we forged a ragged and hairy brotherhood. When Y2K loomed, and it looked like the world was going to end, we felt it would be a good idea to gather together for mutual protection; one of us has a ranch in the family, and it seemed like a good location for our gang to form our headquarters – no shortage of food, or guns, in case of roving mutant motorcycle banditos – and a mutual prediliction for puppetry gave us a way of making revenue. We set up shop in an old storage shed, lived in a coal-heated shack, fed the pigs and collected the eggs and hefted bails of hay for our rent. Our first show premiered to a bunkhouse full of cowboys and Hutterites. The Hutterites liked it more than the cowboys.
Can you briefly describe the process of creating a show?
Our shows are written as a group. This can be difficult, but each of us has our own fighting rooster, which we use to settle differences of opinion. Our roosters are deeply loved, and when one is injured in the ring it can be very moving. The process of training a new rooster can be time consuming, so a show will sometimes take years to complete.
Where did the idea for Famous Puppet Death Scenes come from?
We noticed that the part of the show where the puppet dies is always the best moment. Sometimes it’s the funniest, sometimes the saddest, sometimes the most provocative or surprising or absurd, sometimes all those things rolled into one. So we figured we might as well get rid of all the fussy plot business between the good bits and see what happened.
How is Famous Puppet Death Scenes different from previous work?
In previous shows we have gotten way too mired in fussy plot business between the good bits.
 When and why did members of The Old Trouts get involved in puppet theatre and why do you continue?
I don’t know about the other guys, but this question keeps me up at night. Mainly, I guess, it’s the oodles and oodles of money.
In addition to creating puppet theatre, the collective has branched off into a variety of media (film, television, books). Was this your intention from the beginning or a result of the success?
We’ll do anything if it keeps us alive. But more than that, we think of ourselves more as an art gang than a theatre company. These days, it’s a good idea to be open to new ideas, and flexible enough to see where inspiration might take you. We’ve got a band – the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir – and that’s not all. We’re also planning a video game and an prêt-a-porter fashion line.
Over the years, the collective has developed a very large following. Why do you think people are drawn to puppet theatre?
That’s truly hard to say. Puppets are totally implausible, which is why they are wonderful; the audience must actively decide, against all good judgement, to care about a block of wood. It reminds us, perhaps, of how implausible we are ourselves, and how our own lives are made beautiful or banal by an act of imagination as well.
Who/what are the biggest creative influences for the collective?
We like to think that puppetry is sculpture combined with theatre, in a way, and so a puppet-makers inspirations can be as wide-ranging as both artforms combined. Not just Jim Henson, but August Rodin or Jean Tinguely; not just Punch and Judy but Samuel Beckett or Fritz Lang or Sergio Leon or what-have-you. We believe in eclectic curiosity and far-flung enthusiasms.
What’s next for The Old Trout Puppet Workshop?
We’re moving to Mexico for three months, to a town called Guanajuato (famous for, amongst other things, its mummies), where we will build our next show. Our next show has no title quite yet, but it’s about Don Juan, the Greatest Lover in the World.
And one last question…
What is your favourite Famous Puppet Death Scene and why?
All deaths are equal; each life is infinitely precious to the one that loses it, and each light that is extinguished is a light sufficient to fill a universe. Our tears fall as freely for each.