It all started on the stage of a Southern California mega-church. Two boys were crouched behind a simple stage, ready-made puppets. The music started and the show began. It was a normal day of worship for brothers Raymond and Jon Carr. Their parents, both youth ministers, performed in a clown ministry alongside the boys’ puppet shows and skits. “At its peak, we were traveling across the country playing about 200 times a year, and that’s how we got to Atlanta,” Raymond recalls. “The church I grew up in had 14,000 members and the church here in Atlanta had 24,000 people.”
In the years that followed, the brothers each pursued creative careers. Jon Carr followed his love of improv and became artistic director at Dad’s Garage before accepting the role of executive director of the historic Second City comedy club in Chicago. Raymond, who lives with his wife in Atlanta, has built a career as a puppeteer and storyteller. He works with the Jim Henson Company in Los Angeles, fulfills various decorator and artist roles for commercial productions, and is a filmmaker, theater manager, and founder of Ninja Puppet Productions.
This week, the Center for Puppetry Arts is honoring the achievements of Carr and Ninja Puppet with a month-long puppet exhibit and film screening on Saturday, August 27 at 7 p.m. I had the opportunity to join Raymond for an afternoon coffee drizzle and hear his story firsthand.
“At first, my mother made puppets, then we bought puppets too. There is a large market, a relatively large market for church puppets. It’s just one of those things where you can keep the kids’ butts in the seats. It has since evolved… the biggest was the musical parodies of popular songs turned into Christian lyrics.
Traveling and performing aside, the boys otherwise had fairly normal childhoods growing up in Inglewood, just outside of LA. Little did their parents know, those early performances ignited a spark in Carr that would see him through a career in puppetry, performance, film, and eventually into the halls of the Center for Puppetry Arts.
Although he’s always loved puppetry and art in general, Carr says there was a time in his life when he didn’t know it was a viable path. “It wasn’t until I moved to Atlanta that I started meeting people who are making a living as artists. I’ve always loved puppetry and the arts in general, and I realized it was possible.
A young man of only seventeen, Carr found himself at the gates of the Center for Puppetry Arts. He took a trainee position and started performing in shows there. A particularly influential figure in Carr’s life was the late Bobby Box, an associate producer at the Center who saw Carr’s potential and recommended that he try a job with Nick Jr.’s show called Lazy Town.
It was a big break. As a young man, landing the gig and moving to Iceland for over a year was formative and life changing. Upon returning to Atlanta, he began working with PushPush Theater creating short films with his friends and getting involved in the local art scene. He and his friends have created characters like the 12-foot-tall astronaut who debuted at the Goat Farm ScoutMob Halloween party in 2013.
Carr’s career also includes stints operating giant 40-foot animatronic dinosaurs for Walking with Dinosaurs. His credits include projects with Disney+, Comedy Central, Netflix, Adult Swim, and Cartoon Network, to name a few. He is even one of the main characters of Splash and Bubbles, a PBS television series. And yet, despite all of his successes and the importance of the Centre’s showcase, Carr is more comfortable showcasing his creative partners and their accomplishments than talking about himself. He credits collaborations with hundreds of talented artists that have allowed him to bring his ideas to life and pursue his dreams as a puppeteer, filmmaker, director, producer and entertainer.
To attend Saturday’s screening and learn more about the exhibit, visit the Puppetry Arts Center website.