You might not know Tim Gosley if you saw him on the street, but if you ever watched the Canadian version of The Muppets, Fraggle Rock, you know his work.
Gosley is one of Canada’s preeminent puppeteers, playing Basil Bear on Canadian Sesame Street and rubbing elbows with Muppet creator Jim Henson.
Gosley took to the stage quickly, his father was a performer in Victoria, where he would dress up like Queen Victoria, British colonels and more.
“I think that planted the seed to become a puppeteer because originally I wanted to be a serious actor,” Gosley said.
He was making the sets for his father’s show, opening a door to creating visual set pieces eventually transferring that passion to puppets.
“Puppetry crosses over between performance and visual arts quite well, I think that’s why I like it,” Gosley said.
He enjoys lesser-known styles like shadow puppetry, Czechoslovakian rod puppets and more.
“There’s actually this huge history that’s kind of quiet and not a lot of people know about,” Goslley said. “I’m eclectic so I liked all of those things.”
He happened to go to Toronto at the right time for a puppeteer, right around when popular CBC show created by Jim Henson, Fraggle Rock. The Toronto Star ran a front page headline stating “The Muppets are coming to Canada.”
Probably the best-known name in puppets, Henson, or “the big J” as Gosley said he was called at the time, was expanding to more projects.
“That was my first TV gig and I thought they would all be like that, and I’ve done some since and they’ve never been the same,” Gosley laughed. “The Muppets put so much care into the production. They had more money than any other production, and the money helps, but Jim Henson really liked to experiment and to get things right, so there was a tremendous amount of time to get a little sequence that made all the different performers happy.”
Gosley said that Henson, and by extension The Muppets, was a “performer friendly” production, making sure that puppeteers were able get what they wanted out of a take.
“I didn’t know that when you go on other shows, it’s basically ‘get on with it! Next!’ With The Muppets we would go to about 3 a.m. to get it right,” Gosley said.
Gosley and the other Canadian puppeteers who got called back after auditioning in front of Henson, would operate an arm here, background characters there. Gosley said that time was like getting a degree in Muppet-style puppetry.
Gosley admitted he was shy and meeting Henson was intimidating, recalling one wrap party where he got caught up on a slang word.
“I used the word snake, as in everybody is going snake — like crazy, and (Henson) heard me say this and said ‘uh, Tim what does snake mean?’” Gosley said. “I went, ‘uh, doesn’t everybody say that? I think it’s a word we use in B.C. to say everything is crazy, I don’t know sir, I think I’ll go have a beer,’” Gosley laughed.
Gosley said Henson was always very calm and truly enjoyed performing.
“He appreciated talent, he appreciated laughter, it was the most fun set to be on,” Gosley said. “Generally if you’re not having fun on a Muppet-style televeision shoot there is something wrong. Usually what was wrong was the production crew didn’t know how to do a Muppet-style show because it was that fun that drove directors crazy.”
He said puppeteers were dedicated, but a tad quirky and definitely fun-loving.
“If you didn’t have a similar mind space it was really annoying,” Gosley laughed. “However it was what put the energy onto the screen. I very much appreciate that more now than at the time.”
Working on Fraggle Rock was also quite the technological feat back in the days before wireless microphones. Over 20 performers would be crouched and coordinating behind a set with cords crisscrossing back. Gosley admits that there were a lot of hippies around back then, including himself, recalling some awkward conversations about deodorant.
The technology of the time actually grounded the characters with some quirks.
“As we get computer generated animation coming in, it’s all great, but you kind of lose that connection that there is humans doing it, and there’s something about the funkiness of The Muppets that there was a human there,” Gosley said. “The technology kind of made it like that.”
“You buy into it, even though you know where the energy is coming from, and I think there’s actually a need for that, and I’m not a luddite,” Gosley laughed.
Gosley is hosting a workshop at the Shatford Centre from June 3 to 5 for adults and late teens. The workshop costs $180 with materials for your very own fleece friend, the same special fleece used on Sesame Street and The Muppets.
The weekend will culminate in a puppet performance of The Ugly Duckling and Gosley hopes to have the hadmade puppets featured in the performance on June 5 at 3 p.m. at the Shatford Centre. The performance is open to all ages.
For more information visit www.shatfordcentre.com or call 250-770-7668.