For this Pride Month at ToughPigs, we’re reminding you 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 for Pride Month, I reached out to some of them and had 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 more profiles!
Kira Hall (they/them)
Henson Projects: Back to the Rock
Kira Hall is a nonbinary genderqueer puppeteer who, like Stoph Scheer, recently started working with the Jim Henson Company and participated in one of their diversity training initiatives. Their first role with Henson was on Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock, where they assisted Donna Kimball and played Brio the Troubadour and Melody Merggle.
Kira says that when they were younger, “puppetry hadn’t really been flagged as a possible career path for me.” However, they were interested in theater, and as such went to school for musical theater. Kira always enjoyed watching the Muppets and Sesame Street, but their love of puppetry didn’t go much further than that.
That changed when Kira moved to Toronto, and eventually was cast as Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut in the Canadian production of Avenue Q. During that show’s run, they were coached in puppetry by Mike Petersen, who performed on the original Fraggle Rock and in Labyrinth. In playing those roles, Kira realized just how much they appreciated puppetry as a whole. Kira says, “With a puppet, you can see how you’re doing and react to that in real time, which appealed to me.”
For years, Kira had been trying out for “flesh acting” roles, while booking puppetry work elsewhere. They were frustrated that the in-person roles they could audition for were always based on people’s perceptions of Kira’s looks. While they were not yet “out” as nonbinary, Kira felt like there was “an additional layer” they had to build on top of whatever character they were playing. As they put it, when acting in roles like “Young Mother” and “Slightly Attractive Girlfriend of the Protagonist,” they had to think “this is what the character is doing, and I have to act like a woman on top of that, whatever that is. I felt an expectation that I didn’t know how to reach.”
Kira was relieved to find that puppets freed them from those restraints. In time, they began performing Cottonball, an enthusiastic pink cat, on the Canadian children’s show Studio K. They state, “As you can probably guess, the puppetry was more successful than the acting. In 2021 I more fully committed to puppetry and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Expanding on their love of the art form, Kira says, “With puppetry, there’s so many possibilities. It lets us step beyond our physical limitations. The closest approximation of how I feel about my gender is, it’s an amorphous blob. If you think of me as an amorphous blob, that would be ideal. I can puppeteer an amorphous blob and still generate feelings and identity. I can be a scarf, or a little cave creature that’s just feathers and a foam ball and I can tell a story with it that has nothing to do with my gender.”
Back to the Rock and Diversity Training: In 2021, Kira began working on Back to the Rock. Of that experience, they say “I was one of the featured puppeteers, who fill in the majority of the supporting characters who didn’t necessarily have big roles. So, I played Brio, Melody Merggle, and the sapling Junior talked to [in the episode ‘Craggle Lagoon’]. A lot of the rest of the time, I was Donna Kimball’s primary assistant for Mokey Fraggle and Cotterpin Doozer, which was a lot of fun. Donna’s a gem. Otherwise, I just filled out scenes by putting on a Gaggle Fraggle or a Cave Creature.”
Working alongside the “extraordinary artists” on Back to the Rock motivated Kira to keep improving. As a result, they went to participate in one of the Henson Company’s diversity training institutes, or as they say, “doing some rigorous practice in the puppet gym.” As they say, “It probably seems odd to do the training after working with Henson. That being said, we work in a form where there’s always more to learn.”
Kira says that the Henson Company is an incredibly affirming place to work. They say, “That was the first workplace I went into where… I said ‘Just so you know, I identify as nonbinary and these are my pronouns.’ And everyone was like ‘yeah cool.’ It never felt like I didn’t belong. There were other queer people, like [fellow Back to the Rock puppeteer] Ali Eisner, and we totally ‘bro-ed’ out. I reached out to Ali for support, because they said they were nonbinary. Ali was so kind and supportive, and made me feel safe, and that gave me confidence to be out in the rest of my life.” (Note: Don’t worry! We’ll be posting a profile with the legendary Ali Eisner soon!)
Kira feels that the Henson characters and the Muppets “represent people on the fringes.” As a result, they feel that queer people can find “a resonance, or a sense of recognition and camaraderie” from spending time in these worlds. They’re aware that many people, especially Gen Z, recognize the queer coding in shows like Fraggle Rock. They laugh, mentioning the episode where Boober’s baloobius begins to glow. “I mean…come on.”
Other Work: These days, Kira continues to focus on puppetry, even when not working with the Jim Henson Company. They speak fondly about an interesting collaboration they’re working on with a friend from Norway’s new composers’ group. It is called Visit Under Revision, although they note it may be somewhat difficult to find online at the moment.
Kira also adds that they’ve done some “fun and naughty puppet days on non-puppet shows” recently, although they cannot give more specifics at the moment.
Final Words: I asked Kira what final thoughts they had about their work. They said, “Puppetry has made me happier than basically anything else in my life. Having this be my job is a tremendous joy. The thing that’s brought me the next-most peace and happiness has been coming to understand my queerness better. I think it’s lovely that I get to work in a space where those two joys can coexist.
“For a lot of people who came out during the pandemic, finding a community can be difficult. Most of my community I found through puppets. The puppetry scene is riddled with nonbinary people. And that’s a surprising gift the puppetry scene has given me. If you’re queer, there’s always puppets.”
You can find Kira’s work on their Instagram, @canadafamous
Click here to do some rigorous practice in the puppet gym on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Becca Petunia