"Puppet Up - Uncensored" is like two productions. The audience can choose to watch puppets on the big screen or watch how the puppeteers work on
"Puppet Up - Uncensored" is like two productions. The audience can choose to watch puppets on the big screen or watch how the puppeteers work on stage. The show is geared for adults and can get off-color and suggestive. (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
Puppeteer Grant Baciocco said although the show, "Puppet Up — Uncensored," is produced by Henson Alternatives — which falls under the Jim Henson Company umbrella — the organization famous for its work on "Sesame Street" and the Muppet movies franchise, it is not for kids.

"The show is mostly improvised every night, and we take scene suggestions from the audience and run with them," Baciocco said during a phone call to The Park Record from Burbank, Calif. "I like to say the show is like the TV show, 'Whose Line Is It Anyway,' but with puppets. And usually with a roomful of adults, we get adult-orientated suggestions, so sometimes the show does go a little off-color. That's why part of the title says 'Uncensored.

Grant Baciocco is one of the puppeteers for "Puppet Up - Uncensored" and started with the company in 2007. (Photo courtesy of West Beth
Grant Baciocco is one of the puppeteers for "Puppet Up - Uncensored" and started with the company in 2007. (Photo courtesy of West Beth Entertainment)
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The Park City Institute will present "Puppet Up — Uncensored" at the Eccles Center on Sunday, March 9. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.

The setup is like presenting two shows at once, Baciocco said.

"The audience can watch the action on the big screens that are set up on either side of the stage, which are the camera shots of just the puppets, or they can watch the performers work the puppets," he said. "We are not hidden in any way, but out in the open, and people can watch how we do the puppetry and see how we get into positions to make the puppets do what we want them to do."

One of the challenges of the show is for the puppeteers to convey an emotion through their puppets.

"You have to focus everything through your hand, in order to make the puppet behave in the way that it should in different scenarios," Baciocco said.

The second important thing is to listen to the other puppeteers

"When you're doing non-puppet improv, you have to use a lot of eye contact to pick up cues from your partner," Baciocco said. "When we are performing with puppets, we don't look at each other, because we're watching monitors. So we really have to listen to everything what is going around to know what the puppet needs to do.

"It's multi-tasking," he explained. "You're improvising. You're watching the screen and you're also trying to pay off an audience suggestion at the same time. So it's kind of like juggling."

To make things a little easier, the cast has more than 80 puppets at its disposal.

"So we can pick one that would seemingly fit in the situation that comes up," Baciocco said. "If a scene involves a squirrel, we find a squirrel puppet."

Scattered throughout the show are skits that aren't improvised.

"These segments are recreations of classic Jim Henson sketches and call for certain puppets that can't be subbed out," Baciocco said. "The sketches include some that were first performed on the 'Ed Sullivan Show' and have not been seen by live audiences for decades. They are not improvised, but are a lot of fun to recreate."

Baciocco fell in love with the Muppets when he was a child and paid attention to what the late Jim Henson did throughout the years.

"In early 2000, I tried my hand at building a puppet because I was working on a project that would be cool with a puppet, but it was more like a hobby," Baciocco said. "I didn't have any grand designs, but that led to me getting noticed by the Jim Henson Company for a small project."

At that time, Baciocco was also doing a podcast called "The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd," and the Henson Company wanted him to take over its official company podcast.

That's when he began working with puppeteer Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, who brings Abby Cadabby to life on "Sesame Street."

"She recommended him to 'Puppet Up' director Patrick Bristow in 2007, and that's when I started getting the training from the Jim Henson Company," Baciocco said. "The rest, well, is history."

Baciocco said there is nothing he would have rather done in the past seven years.

"We did two weeks in Toronto late last year and there was a moment when I realized I had this big, old stupid smile on my face," he said. "It was then I knew that out of all the things I've done in my life, this was the most fun.

"After we perform in Park City, we're going to Australia, and that is totally amazing," Baciocco said. "I have a degree in theater and love performing in front of people. Even when we don't know what the show is going to be when we go out."

The Park City Institute will present "Puppet Up — Uncensored" at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., on Saturday, March 9, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $20 and are available by calling 435-655-3114 or by visiting www.ecclescenter.org.