Hi, friends… how are ya. This is the first entry in my new blog. I was thinking of calling it “Working With Puppets”, but I’ll probably get into topics other than puppetry. We’ll see how it goes.
If we’ve never met… let me introduce myself. My name is Kipley, generally known as “Mister Kipley” to the kids and parents who’ve seen my shows or watched my videos on youtube.
I have followed a career path that meandered through various fields… acting, music, filmmaking, digital production, web design, network marketing, finally arriving at children’s entertainment about ten years ago.
After years of living the “creative” lifestyle, I was exhausted and burned out and happened to fall into an opportunity I didn’t think much of at the time… creating music and puppet shows for a bookstore in Hoboken, NJ.
I was like, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯… why not.
One of the owners, Cornel Rusu, and I took over the “story hour” event that had been running for a while, and decided to make it into a puppet show with music and whatever else we wanted to explore. (The daily music/puppet show is still running and has evolved over the years as different performers came in and made it their own.)
Cornel mostly did the puppetry, taking on the character of “Birdie”, a mischievous, irreverent, and entirely self-interested loudmouth, using a ratty hand puppet my wife had kept from childhood.
I was the host, interacting with the kids, leading/playing the music on guitar (mostly three-chord kiddie songs), and moving the stories forward. I would play various characters, but mostly was myself. Well, a sort of “Mister Rogers” version of myself. The nannies who brought children started calling me Mister Kipley, and it stuck.
The show started slowly. We canceled the first couple because nobody came. But we stuck with it, creating a new hour-long adventure every week. It was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun. More fun than any “job” I’d ever had.
The audience started to grow. Soon, one show per week was filling up. We added another, and another, and another. We doubled up shows on Thursdays and Fridays. Then we added a third show on Friday. We started creating two new stories per week.
Within 8 months or so, we were doing 10-12 shows per week and booking birthday parties on the weekends. That’s when I realized, hey… this could actually be a career. It was everything I loved about my various creative careers, without the lifestyle – the insane hours, the travel, the touring, the chaotic grind of it all.
Doing kid shows enabled me to be creative, perform constantly, actually GET PAID, and still be home in time to pick up the kids from daycare/school.
About two years, a thousand performances, and maybe 75 scripts later, it was time for a change and I struck out on my own as “Mister Kipley Music & Puppets”. Within two years I was booking over 300 shows a year all around NYC/NJ/Upstate.
Then, for a bunch of reasons, we moved to Chicago, where I had to start over from scratch building my business. It’s been a challenge, but after five years, I’m getting closer to my NYC booking levels.
More important, I am making a greater and greater effort to develop new skills and improve my shows. That’s mostly what I think this blog will be about.
The thing is, I’ve got a basic shtick down that I could ride the rest of my career. I have a repertoire of shows for preschools and birthday parties, seasonal and holiday shows. I play some songs on guitar, I have some strong puppet characters, cute little stories that are fun for kids. I can do some cool magic tricks.
In short, I have a bunch of “cute” shows. And while most entertainers loathe hearing someone call their show “cute”, I’ve been absolutely fine with that. My shows are designed to be cute. They’re silly, they’re goofy, and they make kids laugh with enough humor to keep adults entertained. Boom. Done.
But my background is in theater, and for the past few years, I’ve been craving a return to the greater depth of theater. Yes, my shows are fun and make people feel good, but I don’t get the sense they resonate very deeply beyond the actual performance. They’re designed just to be entertaining.
And don’t get me wrong, I think that’s perfectly fine. That’s totally legit to focus on making kids and parents laugh. But I’m craving something more. I want to be an artist, not just an entertainer. And in order to get beyond the “cute little shows” I’ve been banking on the past 10 years, it’s time to get serious about developing my skills.
It’s time to get serious about puppetry. It’s time to get serious about music, and magic. It’s time to give some real thought and effort into scripts that are more than just a string of gags and bits. I want to be an artist. I want to go beyond what the birthday party/preschool market asks of me.
Which is not to say I’m going to start doing surrealistic object manipulation pieces designed to express the alienation and angst of contemporary society. I still want to entertain, I still want to make people laugh, and present shows that make people feel good. But I want them to be better. I want to have a deeper impact. I want people to go, “Wow!”
So… that’s what this blog is going to be about. Really diving into the hard work. Getting beyond the birthday party shtick and creating work that has a greater impact and opens up greater opportunities. I hope you’ll check back to follow my progress on this journey, and I will make an effort to post consistently, and to keep the content brief and engaging. This will probably be the longest text I post.
So that’s that. We’ll see how it goes.