What’s Better Than a “Triple Threat” – Interview With John Tartaglia

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John Tartaglia and His Puppets in Imaginocean
John Tartaglia and His 'Glow-in-the-dark' puppet co-stars in 'John Tartaglia's ImaginOcean'

When a performer has exceptional talent as a dancer, a singer, and and actor, some say he or she is a “triple threat.” But what do you call someone who’s awe-inspiring talent and creative genius can be seen in theater, acting, singing, producing, puppeteering, developing productions from concept to fruition and everything in between? The only word that comes to my mind is magic! John Tartaglia brings creative magic to any project he touches and his resume is nothing short of spectacular. He started “Mupeteering” at the age of 16 on Sesame Street, created and starred in inspiring, imaginative shows for kids like Johnny and The Sprites and his latest, ImaginOcean, and (with puppets of course) commanded the stage in the hilarious and irreverent Avenue Q (a role for which he was Tony Award-nominated.)

We chatted John about his recent projects and to learn more about his hand-crafted hobby and passion: puppets!

CIW: Hi John!  I am a huge fan…my now 8 year old son and I used to watch Johnny and The Sprites all the time on Playhouse Disney and I have belted out the theme song more times than I’d like to admit. What a wonderfully imaginative show! Did you create all the puppets on Johnny and the Sprites?

John Tartaglia: Well, in a way yes and in a way, no. I came up with the initial idea of what I thought they should look like – meaning, Ginger should be pink with crazy hair and Basil should be green with glasses and leaves, etc”. Then our fantastic designer Michael Schupbach designed the final look of the characters along with Three Design Inc who built the puppets. It was a very exciting process!

CIW: And before that you worked on puppets for Sesame Street? What was that experience like?

John Tartaglia: Puppeteering on Sesame Street was an amazing experience. I was lucky enough to be there over ten years and learn so much. Getting to perform so many different characters and working with amazing guest stars was a thrill. But truly, the heart and soul of Sesame Street are the amazing cast and crew that have been there a long time, a few since the very beginning over 41 years ago!

CIW: How did you get interested in puppet making and how did you learn?

John Tartaglia: I became interested when I was a kid, around 7 years old. At first I was mostly interested in the performance of puppets from a “how does that work?” place, but then I really fell in love with making them. I learned mostly by watching and observing. There was no such thing as Googling or the internet when I was a kid, so it was very difficult to find information back then. I watched a lot of Muppet specials and went to the local library and read as much as I could about it. But, it’s still really a very much self-taught art form.

CIW: What is your favorite part about puppet making?

John Tartaglia: I think I just love the ability to create something that was not there before and bring it to life. There is a moment when you finally place the eyes on a puppet (some puppet builders do this as the last step) when you finally see the “life” in the puppet come out. It is really cool. I think the most frustrating thing is, being an impatient person, once I get close to the end of building a character, I just want to finish so I can start using it! I have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy the process. I try to put as much love and care into my personal “just for fun” as I do the commercial ones, but I definitely put a lot more time and detail and effort into anything that is not just for personal enjoyment.

CIW: What are some of your favorite puppet making books or resources for people wanting to get started making them?

John Tartaglia: Oh, nowadays there are quite a lot of great puppet-making books, but actually, two of my friends have written wonderful books that I would recommend. One is “Ten Minute Puppets” by Noel MacNeal. There are really wonderful ideas in there and a lot of great information about puppeteering. Also, John Kennedy has two books out called “Puppet Planet” and “Puppet Mania!” — both fantastic resources for building puppets, even if you’ve never done it before. (*See ‘Puppet Making Resources’ at the bottom of this page for links to purchase these books*)

CIW: Can you tell us a little about your most recent production for kids, “ImaginOcean” ?

John Tartaglia: ‘John Tartaglia’s ImaginOcean’ is a glow in the dark interactive family musical. Really, the whole show glows in the dark thanks to the magic of black light. It takes place under the sea where three best friends- Dorsel, Bubbles and Tank, who just happen to be fish, go on an adventure through the ocean to find a treasure. It’s really a lot of fun, and we fill the theatre with glow in the dark bubbles and snow, and lasers and fog. It is a really amazing experience and we created it as a kind of a first musical experience for kids.

CIW: Looks and sounds amazing!! I know you are working on tons of things right now…Where can fans see you next?

John Tartaglia: Well, I am lucky to always be pretty busy! I will be returning to Broadway soon in a new show and I have been developing some new television shows for kids.

We can’t wait! Whatever projects John comes up with next, we know they will be, in a word, brilliant! Check out John Tartaglia’s ImaginOcean off-Broadway in NYC and stay tuned for more from John and his puppet friends coming soon!

Puppet Making Resources:

Ten Minute Puppets” by Noel MacNeal

Puppet Planet” and “Puppet Mania!” by John Kennedy

Stay Tuned to learn how to make puppets and more on Craft Ideas Weekly