Marty Robinson - Guest Blogger
Okay, we're trying something new here. Martin P Robinson is the genius (do you mind if I call you a genius) behind the ingenious puppetry of Audrey II. So all you people out there who climbed into that puppet and sweated through Act II, Marty's the guy you have to thank. - Sarah:
There are some people you meet, and later in your life you can play the game; "Well, if I had never met that person, I'd probably be doing this right now".
I can't play that game with Howard... my life changed irrevocably because of knowing him. It was early in 1982, and I was at the WPA Theater meeting with Howard about "Little Shop of Horrors". I believe my connection was Julie Taymor, whom I had worked with several times and who had the same agent as Howard, Esther Sherman. Julie had passed on the project, and recommended me. I also knew Alan Menken peripherally from his work on Sesame Street, but I don't think that is why I was called in for the meeting.
Howard and I talked of our love of the original Corman film "The Little Shop of Horrors," how it had been important to us as kids ( I could imitate the voice of the plant to the delight of my brothers at mealtime). I had brought a few examples of my work to show my design style and level of building technique. Mostly I remember Howard getting right down to the plot lines and needs of the script, describing how he envisioned some of the main plant scenes, and what the plants themselves had to do to further the action. I still have the sketchbook I used that day, to talk out loud with my pencil, so I have a good idea of what we discussed. One of my ideas on the spot that I think really helped in getting the job was my solution to the "Don't It Go to Show, You Never Know" scene. Howard described a song where Seymour was carrying what became known as plant #2, setting it down in pre-determined set areas where hidden puppeteers would be waiting to pop in through the bottom of the pot and animate the plant while it sat there. I suggested the old vaudevillian fake-hand-routine, which would allow Seymour to operate the plant clandestinely anywhere on the set during the song. Howard was not familiar with this technique, and was very pleased at the amount of the flexibility it would provide his scene.
We talked about all the plant scenes, how big she needed to be, who got grabbed, who got eaten, the nature of the songs. I recall at this point, the script was still in major revisions, so a lot of what Howard was asking for was kind of in "wish list" form. At the end of my interview, Howard asked me point blank if all these things he wanted the plant to do - grow, sing, dance, talk jive, devour the entire cast, attack the audience and take over the world, was possible... I said "Sure, we can do that..." I found out later that many of the puppeteers Howard had interviewed had said; "NO, you CAN'T do that..." So...once I was asked to do the job (and agreed to take it on for the minimum stipend offered), I just had to figure out how to deliver what I had promised. We go on from there, through the months of creating Audrey Two. (I have often thought, If I have a book to write it would be about those early days of "Little Shop" from the Plant builder's point of view....) the show's great success Off Broadway, the LA production, the London production, the film, and through it all, my relationship with Ellen Greene, the unforgettable human Audrey. Howard was a good friend to me through all those years. Our collaboration, though harrowing at times, was always great good fun. Being part of Howard's team and watching his artistry in action was the best school I ever could have attended, and reverberates in my life still...
If you'd like to check out more of Marty's writing, here's a link to his blog: http://www.sesamestreet.org/parents/blog.