Pride Month Profiles: Andrew G. Cooper, Fraggle Rock Performer

Published: June 3, 2024
Categories: Feature, Interviews

For this Pride Month at ToughPigs, we’re raising money for LGBTQ+ related charities through some exciting projects. But we’re also reminding you once again that transgender and nonbinary people are just people in your neighborhood like everyone else. We’re not evil or weird, or even new, despite what a lot of people want you to think. We’ve always been here, living our lives, hanging out with our friends, and sometimes, making the art you love. 

Case in point: The Jim Henson Company and Disney have worked with a number of trans and nonbinary puppeteers and performers over the years. They’re a part of shows you enjoy, like Muppets Mayhem and Back to the Rock. So I’ve been reaching out to some of them and having amazing conversations with some of the most genuine, passionate artists I’ve ever spoken to. Below, I’m going to profile one of them and share some stories. Stay tuned this month for another profile!

Andrew G. Cooper (they/he)

Henson Projects: Back to the Rock

The Beginning:

Andrew G. Cooper is a nonbinary genderfluid asexual pansexual trans person who recently began working with the Jim Henson Company on Season 1 of Back to the Rock. There, they are credited as an “Additional Puppeteer,” which they joke feels like “an appropriate credit” since they do a little bit of everything on set.

Andrew has been in the puppetry world since before he can remember. When he was one year old, his mother was a puppeteer on a TV show called The Puppet Tree, which aired on a British Columbian local television channel. On the show, his mother did crafts with a variety of puppet characters. She and Andrew’s older siblings performed puppetry on the show; even though Andrew was too young to help, there were always puppets around his house. Some of his earliest memories were playing with these puppets, both at home and at church.

In university, Andrew studied theatre and worked as a stage actor. While they were still interested in puppets, being a professional puppeteer wasn’t their plan. However, while performing with Theater Under the Trees, a summer stock company that staged outdoor family theater, Andrew found that many of the shows had puppetry as an element. They fell back in love with the “tactility of puppetry on stage” and decided to seek out more formal training in this sphere.

As a genderfluid person, Andrew felt a deep connection to how puppets have no gender. They can be whatever their performer wants them to be. He says, “By taking my physical appearance out of the performance, it becomes something transcendent. And that feels a lot like being transgender.” Andrew couldn’t do this as a stage actor: even being in drag felt different than acting as a puppet with a different gender presentation.

Andrew took an intensive class with the Old Trouts Puppet Workshop, and gradually began acting less and puppeteering more. He developed a show called The Robber Bridegroom, which he toured for a few years. After some time, he got a “cryptic” letter from Henson, which would eventually lead him to Back to the Rock.

Back to the Rock and Other Projects

As mentioned earlier, Andrew’s first job with the Henson Company was Season 1 of Back to the Rock, where he did a little bit of everything. However, the biggest role he had on the show was doubling for Icy Joe when Karen Prell was performing other characters. He worked alongside Karen Prell and Ingrid Hansen to develop Icy Joe’s signature physicality and movement.

Andrew was also super excited to help develop the physicality of Glitterini, alongside fellow queer Fraggle puppeteers Kira Hall and Ali J. Eisner. He jokes that the Henson Company was like “Hey, we have this queer character, maybe we should have puppeteers who represent that!” While Ben DuRocher stepped in for Ali for the final team, Andrew still feels that the team’s truth came through in Glitterini’s performance. 

He also had a chance to assist with Jamdolin and Brool, perform the body of Measure Doozer, and double for most of the main characters.

And of course, as with many of the puppeteers, Andrew had his hand in a variety of characters, including background Fraggles, cave creatures, and Doozers. In particular, he took advantage of his long arms to perform the Fraggles when they were swimming in the pond. When asked for his favorite cave creatures, he said he loved all of them, but really enjoyed being Inkspots, Diggits, and Marshy and Bog.

He says, “Having fluidity helps with this. I’m super comfortable jumping between things because of my identity…or maybe I’m just a curious person who likes to do a lot of different things.”

While on the set of Back to the Rock, Andrew realized a couple of things: that TV-style puppetry was fascinating to him, and that there are a lot of extremely talented puppeteers in the Calgary area. So Andrew got some grants, and wrote and developed a pilot called Windchasers to be performed with his colleagues. They are very excited about Windchasers, which just released last week and can be found here!

However, Andrew wasn’t about to leave the world of theatrical puppetry behind. They adapted Frankenstein into a puppet stage show, and have been designing puppets and directing puppetry for Alberta Theatre Projects shows. 

Final Words

I asked Andrew how he thinks Back to the Rock is doing regarding queer folks, both those on set and those viewing the show at home. Like his queer peers told me last year, he feels the Henson Company does a great job creating a working environment that supports all people. He says, “Back to the Rock is doing a crack-up job supporting queer, disabled, and BIPOC people.” Andrew especially notes that John Tartaglia is extremely helpful and supportive, and puts a lot of energy into creating a safe space for all.

They had a lot more to say, however, about how the show currently treats its audience. Andrew notes that they’re very pleased with “I’m Pogey,” and how much care went into creating it. He compares “I’m Pogey” to “The Glow” from Season 1, observing that while many people found queer imagery in “The Glow,” it isn’t explicitly about gender or sexuality. However, “I’m Pogey” is clearly about gender. He feels the growth between the two is important, revealing the show’s confidence in tackling specific LGBTQ+ issues.

Andrew thinks that the show does an amazing job tackling complex themes with simple phrases, giving kids the tools they need “so they don’t have to do all the work we did to understand” LGBTQ+ concepts. Plus, he adds that the team behind the scenes find exploring these issues through the Fraggles to be very therapeutic.

As Andrew noted, “Both queer and non-queer people can really open up and learn about themselves through puppetry. There’s a reason it’s used for communicating with people. It’s like a magic trick.”

Click here to learn who Marshy and Bog are on the ToughPigs Discord!

by Becca Petunia

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