Puppeteer teaches children life lessons

Puppeteer Timmy young works with Tuffy Tiger.

When trying to find a mime to write about, I had a hard time. However, a staff member at the College of Charleston’s Theatre & Drama department told me about Summerville native Timmy Young — a professional puppeteer. Young attended Pinewood Preparatory School, then went on to the world of puppetry. A nonprofit, Puppetry Arts’ Founder Tim Young and his troupe of artists travel between New York City and Charleston to perform. He is even an alumnus of a Sesame Street Workshop.

Regan: When did you get interested in puppetry? My online research told me it’s been around since 3,000 B.C.

Young: My interest in puppetry began in the ‘80s. At the time, the worlds of Henson and Lucas were bubbling up and grasped the imaginations of kids across the globe. While my dream is to find professional success, the driving “force” was the art of the movement and design of the kinetic sculpture. That’s my passion.

R: You studied at Francis Marion University and at the Oxford School of Drama in England. Were you originally going to be an actor?

Y: I have been in movies and T.V., but decided I wanted to do my own productions. Opportunities to study puppetry was limited to what you could grab from T.V. or movies. Acting was my only recourse and close enough for studying my craft. Puppetry was with me from childhood and I grew into the art form as an adult, taking every chance I could to make my performance better. It wasn’t until I went to a Sesame Street Workshop for puppeteers that I discovered there’s a huge community I could learn from. I’m still learning.

R: Tell us how you founded Puppetry Arts?

Y: I had just moved into my first apartment in Brooklyn. I went to a bar one block away. I don’t drink, but the bar was typical Brooklyn. I spoke to the bartender of this amazing play I was writing involving puppetry, but I had no idea how to make it happen. He suggested Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, establish a non-profit, and use grant funding to support my work. That’s exactly what I did. We now create puppet-based outreach for youth and families, theater for all ages, and impact over 30,000 people each year.

R: You offer a lot of programming per your website.

Y: At first, we would produce a new show per season, with new puppets and songs. Our board decided to pick one character and create programming, saving us funding and allowing us to amplify our outreach. I chose Tuffy Tiger mostly due to his laugh. With the support of volunteers and emerging artists, we developed a multi-media program featuring the little orange tiger who’s almost 5. His music, games, videos, and performances are used and produced in schools and events across New York and beyond — all free. Tuffy supports the social, health, and academic goals of kids. He promotes diversity and respect, taking care of yourself inside and out, and to explore and discover the amazing world around you. He is joined in his adventures by Arlee, a penguin and Poedy, an alligator, and they meet in Tuffy’s treehouse every day.

Mary E. Regan, Columnist, is a Publicist with her ProPublicist consultancy. Story ideas? Email: Mary@ProPublicist.com.

R: You write all the music and lyrics for Tuffy Tiger, too?

Y: I do. We published our first album in 2017, Songs & Music for Me, with 10 originals. Available everywhere digital music is sold. Funding was cut dramatically while the city pulled itself back up from 9/11. Without money, more of the creative side fell in my lap than planned so I learned to write music and lyrics. Sometimes I worked with volunteers and using my own funds to cover the honorariums for partnering artists. I always collaborate with orchestrators who help bring Tuffy’s music to life. Tuffy’s website is updated with new songs when they are complete. Currently, we are working on the staged musical A Tuffytastic Christmas with 10 original songs.

R: What about your musical, Anthropomorphic? (showcased at Piccolo Spoleto with a feature in 2017 in The Post & Courier).

Y: Human-like scorpions and spiders fill the stage in an epic adventure about faith as audiences are drawn into the purgatory underworld of a young man’s suicide. My goal is to impact audiences of all ages and backgrounds. This musical infuses mask and giant puppetry as the boy Wesley is thrust into a journey around anthropomorphed insects and animals as he struggles to overcome the pain and hate beaten upon him for being gay. The characters and content derive from religious and historical texts as well as my own personal story and features crickets, moths, sloths and dragons that help the boy to learn he is someone to be loved.

R: Your goals?

Y: Long term, to establish a fully produced run of Anthropomorphic in a Manhattan theatre and to produce Tuffy’s Christmas musical for tour leading up to a T.V. production. We are also working to place Tuffy Tiger’s Arts in Education Initiative in every public school across the U.S., a 45-minute interactive workshop for Pre-K to 3rd graders. These goals would be fulfilled by emerging artists covering multiple disciplines. We work with 200+ volunteers but we make all of our creative projects open to new artists hoping to support their growth and foster new ideas and art. Charleston is an incredible city but lacks the infrastructure to support nonprofits and emerging artists on a scale to provide resources to help them thrive. If you have a new play or work of art you want to workshop or showcase or if you need organizational assistance, you must leave this area to get the funding, people, and space needed like I did. What is out there is limited, or allocated for the whole state to compete for, or simply insufficient, and that is cultural. If we, as a city, want to compete in this world beyond tech, manufacturing, and tourism, not to mention the civic and cultural empowerment of our citizens, the culture for supporting organizations and artists here in Charleston needs to change. We want to establish a center that would supplement this need, promote student volunteerism, provide office and program space for local organizations, and filter in funding to be used to support organizations and new works of art, keeping talent here. We are asking for the donation of a large-scale space and funding to fulfill this goal. We are the little organization that does big things- no strings attached.

Mary E. Regan, Columnist, is a Publicist with her ProPublicist consultancy. Story ideas? Email: Mary@ProPublicist.com