Personalizing puppets

Whether it’s on the streets or streaming online, The Ridiculous Puppet Company makes puppets personal.

Jackie Renzetti

The Ridiculous Puppet Company helps people get up close and personal with puppets.

Jeff Neppl and Megan Culverhouse founded the company in 2012 with the goal of taking puppetry beyond the theater realm. Neppl serves as the company’s creative director and lead puppeteer, and Culverhouse specializes in building the puppets.

“I’m not a performer, so that’s why I like working with Jeff — he makes [good suggestions for] these crazy creations that I bring to life,” Culverhouse said. “It’s a really good partnership.”

Aside from offering kids’ shows and puppeteering workshops, they also give customers a “conversation booth” or video work. The pair’s weekly video blog, “Felton’s Vlog,” presents original characters — Felton and his butler Chives.

 

Puppets to the people

As an award-winning puppeteer, Neppl has worked for “Transylvania Television” and “The Choo Choo Bob Show.”

While performing for the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, he ran a booth labeled “conversation” where people could visit with Felton and spin a wheel for various conversation topics, including politics and philosophical debate.

“It’s just a purely interactive, improvisational conversation,” Neppl said.

When Neppl and Culverhouse decided to start the Ridiculous Puppet Company, they included the booth’s concept in its traditional form and other variations. They offer it during booked events.

A spookier version of the conversation booth uses the character Miss Fortune. Neppl created a deck of cards with random topics for visitors to draw. As Miss Fortune, he improvises bad fortunes based on the random combination of cards.

Fit for corporate events or trade shows, Neppl uses the character Skip Toomylou, who takes after a stereotypical ’70s game show host. The conversation booth uses a trivia wheel with questions on the participating business’s assets or causes.

The puppet company also offers to work with the businesses to make videos, like instructional ones for employee orientations. The company’s founders made a promotional video for an attorney and a fashion designer in the past, and  they also helped with a music video for the local Irish punk band the Langer’s Ball.

Neppl said that in contrast to conventional orientation or promotional videos, puppets drive the message home.

“Puppets are memorable,” Neppl said. “And they at least usually make people laugh, or at least smile.”

 

Puppet presentations

Neppl and Culverhouse work with writer Chad David and recurring guest puppeteer John Jennings to produce hilarious, roughly five-minute-long segments for “Felton’s Vlog.”

“Tuesday nights are the best night of the week,” David said. “We just show up, we laugh for three hours, and hopefully the camera was turned on.”

The antics of Felton and Chives include first-date mishaps. In their recent Thanksgiving episode, Chives constantly interrupts Felton’s monologue to sell zany products.

“I really adore the one [segment] where [Chives] had a spirit animal that was a pink dolphin because he had food poisoning, because it was so weird,” David said. “When Jeff added the dolphin noises, I was so beside myself laughing.”

Jennings, whose credits include puppeteering for Disneyland and Disney World, plays the part of Chives.

“I think it’s really cool because it’s not something you’ll see anywhere else,” Jennings said. ”When I lived out in LA, there wasn’t a group of people who got together and filmed something like this.”

By providing one-on-one conversations at its booth, customizing shows for parties, hosting puppeteering workshops and producing a video blog, the Ridiculous Puppet Company creates a personal experience for people all over Minnesota and the Internet.

“We want to connect people with the puppets because we think they’re great characters,” Culverhouse said. “There’s a very strong, warm place in our hearts for these kinds of puppets, and we’re very excited to tap into that and bring some cool entertainment to people in a way that they wouldn’t necessarily expect.”