We had the good fortune of connecting with Shaun Michael McNamara and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shaun Michael, what do you attribute your success to?
The cast and crew that I work with are top notch. We work as a troupe, a circus freak like atmosphere where the weirdos show up and they love to put on a show. This family of misfit toys is exactly what keeps the lights on at APP. But they’re not the only ones. We have been around for ten years. But it wasn’t always sold out shows. There was a time when we would “paper” the audience, meaning we would just give tickets away. We would have nights that there were 2 paying customers but we would be performing to 50. In a 200 seat theater it felt like death. Sometimes we had more people on stage than we did in the audience. It took a lot of hard work and sweat and saying yes to things we that were off brand, like kids shows, just to see if we could strike lightning in a bottle. Those early years in Arizona were rough. But we found our niche. We found out that kids shows were never gonna be us. When we sold out for younger audiences we sold out our brand. The second we became ONLY for adults, and stuck to our core audience, things began to change. Once we made an effort to be who we always were… But truthfully, all of this wouldn’t have mattered, had the 30 people in our audience, the ones who come up and tell me , “I remember when it was just 10 people in here”, started telling their friends. It was a like a secret for awhile. A secret you only told the weirdest of your friends. No one can keep a straight face when they ask another adult if they want to see a “puppet show”. But once they brought those weirdo friends in… once those weirdos found us… even bigger weirdos, we all clicked. We have found our tribe. I don’t want to be too dramatic, but we are nothing without the people who keep inviting new friends to join our gang. I owe them everything. The mighty few who believed. They and the kick ass casts that keep indulging me in play, they are the reason we are still here. Not to quote a puppet, but it seems apropos, “[I’ve got a dream] about singing and dancing and making people happy. That’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with.” -Kermit
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
We are an adult puppet company. We are what happens when South Park and The Muppets mix. We tend to translate big budget films into low budget, puppet spectacles on stage. We perform Avenue Q style puppets, but we wear costumes that cover our bodies and faces. You have the freedom to move around the stage, but your eyes as an audience member is drawn to the puppet as there is nothing else to look at. We started in Santa Ana California. In a little 55 seat store front theater. I had written Hamlet Has No Legs as a way to get people interested in Shakespeare… I always hated Shakespeare but I thought if I could make it a comedy, with puppets, it might be more interesting. On opening night, everything that could go wrong, did. Sets fell down, props broke, and the actors frustration led to our biggest epiphany… the more we screw up… the more the audience loves us. Suddenly we struck lightning in a bottle. Each show was completely different as a late comer could derail us for 10 minutes. Someone talking loudly, a phone ringing, a prop busting, a set-piece in the wrong place, would require minutes of puppet banter and inspections. The idea that each show was organic and changed, so what you saw opening night most assuredly would not be the same show closing night, soon became our M.O.. My wife and I invested the 300 we had in our savings account and we payed for the whole production. In the end we made a little money, but more importantly we were picked up by a theater in Fullerton. We ran for 7 weeks and really got to see what we could do with a little bit bigger budget and an extended run. However, it wasn’t all me. I had a talented crew and cast who pushed the boundaries with me. Who never doubted that I would steer them wrong. It was a really fun time. I mean, come on, my puppets say the “f” word… who wouldn’t want to be apart of that?
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
In this city there are a couple places that are my go-tos when people are visiting. Especially if they are visiting to see one of my shows. We almost always take a trip to Oven and Vine off of Vernon. Not only do they have the best nosh, but their atmosphere is friendly and inviting. It is also suitable for adult puppet watchers or families. It helps that the food (the BREAD is on a different level) is VERY good. I love the people at Pizza People. That place is an awesome chance to get a good pizza and hang with super cool staff. The FilmBar is a great place to grab a drink and watch an off-the-beaten path flick. However, if they are not seeing any of my shows, a Stray Cat Theater production is always worth a gander in Tempe. Those guys perform so many great and interesting shows and I have nothing but love for the cast, crew, and artistic directors over there making actual ART. They are the prime-rib of theater. I’m like a McDonalds happy meal, delicious and I come with a prize.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Susan Thompson is an educator in Arizona. She was my drama teacher in high school and the sole person I went to for advice when trying to break into acting. She has been a constant figure, a mentor, a friend, and a guiding light during my darkest periods. She has just retired, but even after being out of high school for 20 years, her and I still talk, every month. We spend holidays together. I have no right to have such an amazing person in my life, but I am better for it. My grandparents, June and Walt also deserve a lot of credit. They always have encouraged me to reach for the stars. When I was living in California, my grandfather would call me everyday asking if I was “famous yet”. That meant a lot. My grandmother is still the first person I call when I have good news. She has this way of saying, “I’m so proud of you” that feels like a hug over the phone. Lastly, my wife and daughter. It takes a weird family to co-habitat with someone who owns an r-rated puppet theater company. These ladies keep me grounded. My wife is one of the few people who are brutally honest when she thinks something is not funny. She can still hurt my feelings with pointed remarks, but she always makes me better. My daughter is “love” personified. There is no passion without them in my life.
personal photo -Jason M. Hammond non-personal : Jason M. Hammond and Kristin McNamara