Aspiring puppeteers now have the chance to step into a Fort Greene workshop to carve a character of their choice out of foam-rubber — the same squishy substance that fills couches and mattresses.
Puppet maker Kevin Augustine, founder of the Lone Wolf Tribe puppet theater company, said those who enter his laboratory come in with a simple front and side sketch of a face, and leave with something astonishing and strange.
“People are really surprised,” he said.
“They come in with no idea with how they’re going to do this, and they leave with this puppet head.”
Over the course of three-and-a-half hours, the participants learn to shape the block with knife and scissors — a technique Augustine has perfected during the 16 years the Lone Wolf Tribe has been in operation. The puppet master said his fascination with the art form began in childhood, with a plaything his grandmother made for him from a sock, a buck-toothed dragon Augustine named Fang.
“She made this toy for me, a toy that no other kid could go and buy,” said Augustine.
“That’s what made it so special for me.”
Years later, when Augustine was a budding playwright struggling to find the perfect performers to bring his stories to life, he turned to puppets again — and discovered that they unlocked great creative doors for him.
“I tried to form a company, but I could never get enough actors to share a vision and stick together. So I went back to my past, and I thought, ‘Oh, wow, I can make my own actors,’ ” Augustine said.
“Once you create the puppet, you can create the world it lives in, and then you can write the play.”
Ultimately, Augustine decided to mold the Lone Wolf Tribe’s troupe from foam-rubber, rather than from socks or felt or polished wood. The puppeteer said he picked the material for its spongy, almost flesh-like quality, which he argued gives his characters a distinctive personality.
“For me, there’s a real emotional texture to the foam. Something about how the light falls on it, it really comes alive in a way that is not as precious as some really smooth, porcelain doll face,” Augustine said.
“There’s something more organic to the foam, something that people say really gives the puppet a soul.”
Most people who go into the workshop only create the puppet’s head — often resembling a pet or family member. But Augustine said that he welcomes returning visitors looking to give their creation a body. The customers range from curious amateurs to school teachers to professional puppeteers, each of whom give life to their individual vision. Augustine compared the craft to Renaissance sculpture.
“Michelangelo believed the figure is already in the block of stone, or the chunk of foam… and you release it,” said Augustine.
Puppet-Sculpting Workshop at the Lone Wolf Tribe, inside the Alliance of Resident Theatres Studio [138 S. Oxford St., between Atlantic Avenue and Hanson Place, in Fort Greene, (718) 398–3701, www.lonewo