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A Puppet’s Life for Me: Bringing ‘Little Shop’s’ Horrors to Life

A Puppet’s Life for Me: Bringing ‘Little Shop’s’ Horrors to Life

Behind the scenes of "Little Shop of Horrors."

By Ashley Kurtz

Puppeteer Mickey Gammill prepares Audrey II for its first appearance on stage.

Puppeteer Mickey Gammill prepares Audrey II for its first appearance on stage.

Halloween is a time for everything spooky; movies, candy and Jack-O-Lanterns are everywhere. And while “Little Shop of Horrors” might not be on everyone’s short list of Halloween entertainment, it should be.

Prop designer Nina Dorrance and puppeteer Mickey Gammill are the genius craftsmen behind Albuquerque Little Theater’s upcoming production of the strange musical.

Dorrance has made about three dozen props for this show, including body parts, a dentist’s drill and unique magazines and newspapers. She said her favorite part of designing props is using unexpected materials during the fabrication process.

“The intestines that Seymour (Krelborn) feeds to Audrey II, for instance, began as a pair of panty hose, some polyester stuffing and a bottle of liquid latex,” she said. “It gives me joy to put all this together and convince the audience that what it’s seeing just might be real.”

Making the audience believe something is real is a task Gammill is familiar with, as well.

Audrey II, a talking carnivorous plant, is by far the star of the show, and making an alien plant move is no easy feat: It requires a professional puppeteer to make it happen. Gammill has 12 years of experience as a puppeteer and said Little Shop is an extremely taxing show to work on just because of the sheer size of the puppet.

At the beginning of the show, Audrey II is just a small bud. This basic hand puppet version allows Gammill to make Audrey II wilt and flop to the protagonist Seymore Krelborn’s pleading song, “Grow for Me.” Going from a bud to the next version of Audrey II is still fairly simple – it requires only a fake jacket sleeve so that Seymore can carry it around, giving it more of an animated action.

The third version of Audrey II is where things get a bit hairy. The massive puppet requires Gammill to actually sit in a large pot, with her legs acting as the vines that can move and shake. Audrey II can lick its lips, sing and wiggle its tongue, making it a truly active character – and now it boasts its deep bass voice.

“There is very little room for air or anything besides the human operator inside, and it is completely dark,” she said. “However, I get to use my entire body to bring life to this version of the plant.”

Gammill said this aspect of Audrey II is when the physical aspect of the puppetry becomes more immersive. She has to bend over and lift the puppet’s mouth with her arms in sync with the singing of Moe Reese, who is off stage. Practicing this together is essential, since Gammill can’t see anything when she’s in the puppet; it requires talent and precision to get the movements and vocals in sync.

The finale of the show is all about Audrey II, and its sheer size – a whopping 7 feet tall – would be impressive, if not for its even greater width. Audrey II’s vines and leaves take up most of the stage: In this largest version of Audrey II, Gammill stands, bends and to control the puppet, all while making sure her legs remain carefully placed so the other actors can slide through when they are “eaten.”

Little Shop of Horrors is written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and it’s the perfect show to kick off the Halloween season. The musical tells the story of a carnivorous alien plant that arrives to change Seymore Krelborn’s life – and not necessarily for the better.

“Little Shop of Horrors” opens at Albuquerque Little Theater on Oct. 7 and runs through Oct. 30. For more information, visit albuquerquelittletheater.org.

 Ashely Kurtz is a freelance theater writer.

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Lex Voytek is a nervous wreck and reading quiets the noise. Reach her at books@freeabq.com.