It all began on the stage of a megachurch in southern California. Two boys crouched behind a simple stage, puppets at the ready. The music kicked on and the performance began. This 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 performances and skits. “At the height of it we were traveling around the country performing like 200 times a year, and that’s how we made it out to Atlanta,” recalled Raymond. “The church I grew up in had 14,000 members and the church here in Atlanta had 24,000 people.”
In the years since, the brothers have each pursued creative careers. Jon Carr followed his love of improv and went on to become Artistic Director at Dad’s Garage before accepting the role of Executive Director at the historic comedy club Second City in Chicago. Raymond, who lives with his wife in Atlanta, has built a career of puppetry and storytelling. He works with the Jim Henson Company in L.A., fills various roles in the art department for commercial productions, and is a filmmaker, theatrical director, and the 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 display of puppets and a film screening on Saturday, Aug. 27 at 7 p.m. I had the opportunity to join Raymond for a coffee one drizzly afternoon and hear his story firsthand.
“Initially my mother made some puppets and then we bought some puppets too. There is a big market, a relatively large market for church puppetry. It’s just one of those things where you can keep the kids’ butts in seats. It has evolved some since… the big one was musical parodies of popular songs turned into Christian lyrics.”
Aside from the travel and performances, the boys otherwise had a fairly normal childhood growing up in Inglewood just outside of L.A. Little did their parents know, those early performances would light a spark in Carr that would see him through a career of puppetry, performances, film, and ultimately to the halls of the Center for Puppetry Arts.
While he always loved puppetry and art in general, Carr says there was a time in his life when he didn’t know that it was a viable path. “It wasn’t until I moved to Atlanta when I started meeting people who make a living as an artist. I always loved puppetry and the arts in general, and I realized it was possible.”
As a young man of only seventeen, Carr found himself at the doors of the Center for Puppetry Arts. He took a position as an intern and began performing in shows there. One 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 he try for a job with the Nick Jr. show called Lazy Town.
It was a big break. As a young man, landing the gig and relocating to Iceland for more than a year was formative and life-changing. On his return to Atlanta, he started working with PushPush Theater creating short films with his friends and getting involved with the local art scene. He and his friends created characters like the 12-foot tall astronaut which debuted at the Goat Farm ScoutMob Halloween party in 2013.
Carr’s career also includes stints operating giant 40’ animatronic dinosaurs for Walking with Dinosaurs. His credits include projects with Disney +, Comedy Central, Netflix, Adult Swim, and Cartoon Network, just to name a few. He’s even one of the main characters on Splash and Bubbles, a PBS television series. And yet, despite all of his successes and the significance of the Center’s showcase, Carr is more comfortable highlighting his creative partners and their achievements rather 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 working puppeteer, filmmaker, director, producer, and artist.
To attend Saturday’s screening and learn more exhibition, visit the Center for Puppetry Arts website.