The Playhouse Lights the Lights

November 3, 2013 |

Matt Cotten of Puppets Amongus
photo by Jade Beall

“There’s something about puppetry that is universally fascinating,” said Matt Cotten, the man behind the magic of Puppets Amongus. “It’s sort of a strange novelty.”

Cotten, a puppeteer with 18 years of experience is the sole proprietor and Artistic Director of Puppets Amongus. Puppets Amongus was established three years ago and now has a home, The Playhouse, which opened last year.

The Playhouse offers people a chance to see Cotten’s puppets in the act. And this fall, there’s a lot to look forward to.

Cotten is the voice, the artist and the writer for all of the shows featured at The Playhouse, 657 W. St. Mary’s Rd. He uses shadow puppets, glove puppets and even giant parade style puppets to bring stories to life for a wide variety of audiences.

“To be able to project a character onto this object and bring it to life and sort of have it carry out improvisation or narrative is tremendously interesting on so many levels,” he said.

Cotten explained that is was when he was studying painting as a graduate student at the University of Arizona in 1995 when he grew interested in exploring the world of puppetry.

“I wanted a direct interaction with my audience, instead of seeing my work hanging in a gallery,” he said. “The audience was very, very responsive to puppetry in a way that you don’t really witness in a gallery as a painter.”

There are many levels of creativity needed to piece together a puppet show – script, set, character, music – all of which lend themselves to add to the novelty and authenticity of a puppet show.

“That all sounds kind of crazy, but there are so many psychological layers to the practice of puppetry,” Cotten explained.

Cotten said he has around 100 glove puppets and close to 250 shadow puppets.

He even has larger-than-life Beatles puppets and John Lennon, as fate would have it, is about to get a makeover to become Harry Potter. Think about it, John Lennon with a scar on his forehead and his trademark glasses could totally pull off the Harry Potter look.

He says the only form of puppetry he doesn’t utilize are marionettes. “Strings drive me nuts,” he said.

“Some puppets I’ve had for more than 10 years so it may sound odd, but they have their own core personality, which is kind of an extension of me. But they will play different roles in different ways,” Cotten said. “I think of my puppets as actors who are refining their craft. They will often play various roles in different productions.”

Some of the puppets Cotten works with include Shoe the old Chinese man, Barley the boy, and Thomas from Newcastle, England. Thomas plays a variety of characters – from a simple, oafish woodsman to a French chef.

“My favorite part about acting, well, I like the creative process. That’s my favorite thing,” explained Thomas. “Sometimes my director doesn’t know which direction to go and I say, ‘Cast me for that part! I’ll do a wonderful job!’ I am just a puppet after all.” And if anyone has authentic Jamaican allspice, Thomas, in his role of French Chef, Pompidou, would greatly appreciate it.

Barley shared that he’s played everything from a baby or a seven-year-old boy, to an Irishman in the St. Paddy’s day show. He also said that his favorite audience to perform for is children.

“I like kids, kids like me,” Barley said bashfully. “I look kind of funny I guess. I’ve got this weird expression on my face that exudes happiness and joy, and excitement at the prospect of a very exciting adventure ahead of me.”

But puppet shows aren’t just for the kids. Cotten also offers a puppet cabaret – fun, provocative, humorous – for the adults.

“The puppet cabaret has just been a format for people to experiment and not worrying about having to censor themselves at all,” Cotten said. “That was risqué and that was a lot of fun. The response was wonderful.”

He invites other puppeteers to join him in creating the cabaret in a variety show that features short acts of shadow and traditional forms of puppeteering. “So it’s a format that is intended to activate a community, to sort of kick start an interest in puppeteering,” he added.

Heimlich, the puppet from Deutschland, hosts the cabarets. “I like to make dirty jokes” said Heimlich in his thick German accent. “They don’t let me out for the children’s shows, no.”

The Playhouse also shows short films of some of the best puppetry in the world, as compiled by Heather Henson – the famous Jim Henson’s youngest daughter. Cotten is showing seven volumes of the films.

“You wouldn’t be able to see these any other way,” Cotten said.

The Playhouse is located at 657 W. St. Mary’s Rd. November family performances include “Crumpled” on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 9, 10, 16, 17 at 4 p.m. For the full, fall schedule of shows and ticket prices, visit

Puppets Amongus’ Hatter’s Hollow
photo by Jade Beall


Category: Arts, Community, DOWNTOWN / UNIVERSITY / 4TH AVE