Why 2018 Dragon Con is a grand slam for puppet lovers
Costumed puppetry fans gathered at the Center for Puppetry Arts for the Labyrinth Ball, a special event held in conjunction with Dragon Con 2016. This year, there’s “The Dark Crystal” Ball on Aug. 30. CONTRIBUTED BY CENTER FOR PUPPETRY ARTS
Atlantan Beau Brown belongs to two tribes: the worlds of puppetry and Dragon Con, the pop culture gathering each Labor Day weekend in downtown Atlanta.
As Dragon Con’s Puppetry Track director, he melds the two by overseeing more than 45 hours of puppet-related programming. Think workshops, performances and more. Since the track’s 2012 debut, it keeps growing.
"Most geeks are fans of puppetry, but they just don't know it," said Brown, a Dragon Con volunteer, who works part time at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Midtown. Not only is he exposing new fans to puppetry, but the track allows aspiring puppeteers the rare opportunity to meet performers from stage, TV and film.
“The professionals Beau brings hang out with you,” said attendee Heidi Carpenter of Atlanta Puppetry Guild. “You get to be side by side with them instead of just seeing them onstage.”
This includes 2018 guest Brian Henson, son of the legendary Jim and chairman of the Jim Henson Co. “I love it,” Henson said. “It’s got fantasy, science fiction and puppetry tracks, and I live on all three. … And Atlanta’s a puppetry town.”
Brown’s ties to the Center for Puppetry Arts allow access to notable pros like Henson and members of the local puppet community. It was Brown’s intown puppeteering that helped him land Dragon Con.
Years ago, he began participating in puppet slams, adult-oriented puppet variety shows. One of his pieces featured a pair of glove puppet characters known as the Sci-Fi Janitors, which Brown co-created with Michael Goodwin and performed with local actor Matt Nitchie. Later, Brown eventually took over "The Puckin' Fuppet Show," a popular local slam.
In 2010, he and Nitchie filmed comedy segments starring the characters, which were screened at Dragon Con and shown on host hotel TVs. The Sci-Fi Janitors became Dragon Con darlings, and this led Brown to produce a Late Night Puppet Slam for Dragon Con 2011. The slam was packed to capacity.
Dragon Con founder and president Pat Henry approached Brown about creating a Puppetry Track for Dragon Con 2012. Brown took the challenge, and succeeded out of the gate with marquee guests and lines wrapping around the hotel halls.
Going forward meant sacrificing his own Dragon Con fun. “I decided what I was creating for other people was worth more than my own experience at the convention,” he said.
This year, Brown and his volunteer staff offer events including 101-style workshops for newbies, and panel discussions with Joel Hodgson (“Mystery Science Theater 3000”), Caroll “Big Bird” Spinney from “Sesame Street” and others.
You’ll find The Magic Puppet Tea Party, a social mixer for puppeteers and their puppets; the Puppet Ninja Warrior obstacle course competition; the Late Night Puppet Slam for the 18-and-older crowd; and more wackiness.
The arguable headliner will be “Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge: Live.” Based on the 2014 TV series, contestants each create a character inspired by the Henson sci-fi show “Farscape.” The winner scores a tour of the Jim Henson Creature Shop in either Los Angeles or New York City.
“I’m a little scared about judging,” said Brian Henson. “My guess is we’ll see something that’s the same caliber as what we put in our movies.”
Brown's involvement with both Dragon Con and the Center for Puppetry Arts helps allow both the opportunity to share guests Labor Day weekend. That's when the Center holds the 2018 National Puppet Slam, hosted by Brown.
In the tradition of the Center's Labyrinth Masquerade Ball, which Brown helped create, the Center kicks off Dragon Con weekend with "The Dark Crystal" Ball. On Aug. 30, costumed guests party at the Center and view the new "The Dark Crystal" exhibit, featuring puppets and artifacts from the 1982 flick co-directed by Jim Henson.
For the multitasking Brown, it’s all a labor of love.
“We use the pop culture element of puppetry as a gateway to expose (Dragon Con attendees) to the live art form,” Brown said. “The hope is they say, ‘Wow! That was amazing!’ And check out their local puppet theater in their own hometowns. That’s the secret mission.”
Aug. 30-Sept. 3. Five-day membership: $160 online until Aug. 28; then available for $140 beginning Aug. 30 at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel. Three-day, two-day and single-day memberships: $10-$120 depending on number of days and which days. Tickets available on a day-of basis at the Sheraton. Free, ages 6 and younger. Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, 165 Courtland St. NE, Atlanta. dragoncon.org.
“The Dark Crystal” Ball
7 p.m. Aug. 30. $175. Center for Puppetry Arts, 1404 Spring St. NW, Atlanta. 404-873-3391, puppet.org.
2018 National Puppet Slam
8 p.m. Aug. 31-Sept. 1; 5 p.m. Sept. 2. $20. Center for Puppetry Arts, 1404 Spring St. NW, Atlanta. 404-873-3391, puppet.org.