As an Atlanta singer and actress, Julie Dansby is pretty much confined to being cast as, well, female human beings. But as the head puppeteer at the Center for Puppetry Arts, she can play shoemaking elves, singing animals, talking body parts or green onions that happen to be earnest medical doctors.
Currently playing Eeyore, Kanga and Owl at The House on Pooh Corner, Dansby has performed at the center since 1998, and became head puppeteer in 2004.
You may not guess that puppetry is physically demanding, but Dansby says it's a serious cardio workout.
"Just holding up your arms for three minutes is hard," Dansby says. "Fortunately, writers like Jon Ludwig take into account the demands on the puppeteers, so even though you might perform for the whole show, you'll alternate different kinds of puppetry, so you won't overwork the same sets of muscles."
Puppeteers like Dansby are arguably Atlanta's hardest-working performers. She performs hundreds of shows a year and, with her castmates, spends about 192 hours in rehearsal for each 45-minute children's play, which is more time than actors prepare for conventional stage plays.
When it comes to puppetry, timing is everything. "Anything can go wrong with a puppet -- and even more can go wrong with a marionette, because they have all the strings."
Dansby recalls a memorable mishap while wearing a huge body puppet as the T. Rex in Dinosaurs. "It was over 8 feet tall with a long, counter-weighted tail, with my arms trapped inside the neck and against the torso. I stumbled and fell down on stage and rolled around in a desperate attempt to leverage myself into an upright position: Picture the kid in A Christmas Story who falls in his overstuffed snowsuit. Needless to say, the T. Rex was a lot less terrifying that day."
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