Upper Darby Summer Stage is swarming with puppets this season. The puppeteer at the helm, Patrick Ahearn, has been working for weeks on everything from a two-headed llama to a colorful parrot and even a 20-foot dragon. This week his puppets will make their premiere in “Doctor Dolittle, Jr.” This big, show-stopping production features a collection of animal puppets that talk to Doctor Dolittle! We took some time to talk to Pat about his training and what makes a puppet really unique.
Pat has been working officially with puppets for the past 25 years. Unofficially, Pat has been playing with puppets since he was a little kid. After some self-taught work and a little training with a man from Glassboro State, Pat went to University of Connecticut to join their dramatic arts program. It was here that he worked with a collection of graduate students from a variety of artistic backgrounds. Pat described this bevy of individuals saying, “Some were of an art background, some were of a theater background, some were from psychology and some were from religion.” Ahearn added, “So they were dealing puppets how they wanted to. There were a lot of exchange of ideas there.”
Pat’s creations, with the exception of his largest works, all take about two to three weeks to design, create and complete. The puppets themselves are made out of everything from pool noodles, to neoprene and latex. Once Pat has finished a puppet, he notes that he could make it again in just two to three days. This is a result of having the designs completed and all of his patterns and methods worked out.
“In a way it doesn’t matter what a puppet looks like – you can have a beautiful puppet but after 30 seconds or so if it’s not alive the audience doesn’t care.”
Even after 25 years of working with puppets, Pat still loves what he does. When asked why he jokingly said, “I’m lonely and puppets are my friends. It’s fun, it’s creative and it’s a nice mix of performing and art. I kind of like having that mix of stuff – You can make your own characters. You don’t have to deal with actors; you can make your own actors.”
With all the different puppets on stage this season, Pat has been coaching all of the actors and actresses on the best way to work with a puppet. Pat’s number one tip is “That you don’t treat it like a prop, you treat it like a real character because in a way it doesn’t matter what it looks like, you can have a beautiful puppet but after 30 seconds or so if it’s not alive the audience doesn’t care.”
Pat’s puppets are incredible works of art. Through his training and skill, the puppets come alive on stage. Be sure to come out to see “Doctor Dolittle, Jr.” and witness foxes, llamas and hedgehogs alike. Then, when you’ve had your fill of realistic puppets, watch “Shrek the Musical” to see a dragon and many other magical puppets.