Hand-drawn patterns and fleece bits decorate the kind of garage that would put any dedicated crafter at ease. A radio murmurs CBC and a bottle of Speed Sew stands by.
Timothy Gosley pulls a yellow fleece puppet from the ingredients and slides it over his hand.
“The manipulation of these things is a bit like playing the blues, where it’s not very difficult to know the technique, but you can sure see somebody who can put the soul into it. It can be very rigid and people can still be into it, then there’s the real, refined subtlety.”
This puppet, much-loved and losing stitches, is a rare piece the puppeteer is able to admit he likes, for its simplicity. Its head cocks to the side.
“Yup,” the little guy says. “People kinda like me!”
The master Muppeteer has taken on a full spectrum of roles related to puppetry and after a career in television spanning four decades, he’s finally able to confirm his strength “may possibly be in performing.”
In 2005 Gosley returned to his hometown buying a house in Fairfield, minutes from where he grew up. It happened to come equipped with a 50-seat theatre (where he and his wife, actor Petra Kixmöller, regularly stage shows of all varieties) and ample space in the garage for Muppet-making workshops.
“I rejected the Muppets for a while because it seems kind of commercial, but then I came back here a few years ago when I was doing my (Muppet-esque donkey, “Tim’s ass”) in front of a bunch of old people, you could hear an audible: ‘Awwww,’” he says. “Being in a live audience made me realize that people actually need the Muppet, fuzzy, heavy, extreme character sort of thing. It’s just as culturally as important as doing an esoteric artsy, fartsy sort of thing.”
He does both.
Gosley began honing his craft as a builder for The Smile Show, a long-running vaudevillian/British music hall offering hosted by his late father, Jerry Gosley, through the 1970s. Though Gosley claims no particular talent emerged backstage at the show, he remembers enjoying the work before he left Victoria post-high school to attend “serious acting school” at the University of Alberta. Where acting presented challenges for the shy performer – a good actor when not intimidated working for good directors, he says – puppeteering was a natural progression from his work with Daddy. For the three students at his university interested in the art form at the time, it was also, apparently, a poor choice.
“I think we were called the three crazies and two of us got thrown out,” Gosley said. “I was put on probation, just because the university didn’t think we were cut out to be professionals. Of the class, we are the three working people.”
Another of the so-called crazies was Theatre Inconnu’s artistic director Clayton Jevne, who landed Gosley his first puppeteering gig in Alberta. The two toured with Patchwork Puppets, an Edmonton-based company aimed at teaching children about the law through puppets.
The friends, each producing their own shows, moved quite literally in different directions, with Jevne headed back to Victoria where he would build independent theatre and Gosley to Toronto, there working with a full spectrum of productions before The Muppets came along. Gosley worked with The Muppets, Fraggle Rock and Sesame Park, the Canadian Sesame Street, where he performed as Basil the Bear for nine years.
“Performing with cameramen, that’s your audience. You’re entertaining them, but you don’t have a great concept that there are tons of little kids at home (watching),” Gosley says. “We’d goof around and it’d be great, but it wasn’t until you got out and were with other humans that you felt the power.”
Gosley likens a puppet to an iceberg, with the majority of it hiding below.
“You’re trying to make an inanimate object look like it’s imbued with life. The nature of that is odd.”
In a world of computer generated imagery, Muppet movies continue to bring puppets to the silver screen and in the live world, Gosley says, they’ve always survived.
“What’s comforting to people with hands-on puppets is that the audience can see how it’s done. They get wrapped up in the magic of it. … In conjunction with the highly technical world we have, the puppet world keeps us in check with terra firma.”
For more information on workshops contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 250-598-7488.
Gosley will lead Poeteers in the Victoria Spoken Word Festival, March 6 at the Metro Studio Theatre (1411 Quadra). Tickets are $12/10 available at victoriaspokenwordfestival.com.