Puppet wranglers want a fair deal

Puppet wranglers say they’re unfairly treated compared to puppeteers, despite being the true puppet experts.

Puppetry seems like a jovial profession, but per The Hollywood Reporter, it’s anything but for some employees.

The Jim Henson Company is the biggest name in puppetry — there’d be no Muppets without it. But its puppet wranglers say they’ve been unfairly treated for years and are pushing to unionize.

What exactly is a puppet wrangler?

They not only build puppets, but act as their hair, makeup, costume, and props department. A 2018 Market Watch video shows a busy “Sesame Street” wrangler repairing and touching up puppets on set.

The job is so specified that there are ~25 full-time wranglers worldwide, yet they’ve never had a union.

Wranglers told THR that they’re often seen as “lesser than” puppeteers, who are members of SAG-AFTRA, Hollywood’s union for performers.

But that’s not their only complaint:

  • Many wranglers are considered freelance and receive no benefits (they would receive guild benefits if they unionized)
  • They work with potentially hazardous materials — a SAG-AFTRA safety consultant told THR that The Henson Company doesn’t hold proper safety seminars
  • Builds are often understaffed, underfunded, and disorganized

The Henson Company — now headed by founder Jim Henson’s children, Brian and Lisa Henson — has denied these accusations via its attorneys.

While a union could solve some of the alleged issues…

… it’s not clear which one the wranglers would join.

SAG would put them with puppeteers. But others feel like they should go into a craft union with costumers, while still others think a props union would be best.

There are pros and cons to each, but given recent concerns around Hollywood’s working conditions, insiders say it’s the perfect time to finally negotiate.

BTW: A puppet wrangler explains how the puppets in Broadway’s “Avenue Q” work.

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