The day – Weston Chandler Long of Waterford brings his talent as a puppeteer and actor to ‘Little Shop’ off Broadway
Weston Chandler Long had arguably the best mentor a child dreaming of being a puppeteer could have: Caroll Spinney, the genius who played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on “Sesame Street”.
Long, who grew up in Waterford, was 5 when he wrote a letter to Spinney, who had a home in the northeast corner of the state in Woodstock.
Spinney responded and it turned into a multi-year mentorship.
âHe told me years later that he made sure to write to me because I was so young and wrote to him about puppets. I wasn’t writing to Big Bird, I wanted to know more about him, âsays Long.
Long says the three most influential people in his life were his parents, Jesse and Jill Long, and Spinney, who died in 2019.
Of course, having Spinney as a role model did not guarantee that Long would become an active puppeteer as an adult. But Long actually still pursues a life in the arts.
Long, who lives in New York City, is currently part of the off-Broadway production of âLittle Shop of Horrorsâ as a so-called âvacation coverâ. He under-studies two puppeteers in the show and intervenes when either is absent for an extended period. When he spoke to The Day on November 11, he had done three performances so far, with one set for that night and four over the weekend. (Not wanting to mislead anyone, he’s safe to say, âI can’t stress how much I’ve done so far.â But he was eagerly awaiting other opportunities.)
Having the chance to do live performances has been especially gratifying after theaters have closed for so long due to the pandemic.
âBeing a part of ‘Little Shop’ reminded me how much I love doing that and how much I love going to the theater every day and meeting new people and collaborating with new peopleâ¦. It has been such a fun time so far. ‘now,’ Long said.
Long’s first rehearsal for “Little Shop” was on her 26th birthday. âI couldn’t have asked for a better gift,â he says.
Long is both an actor and a puppeteer, and says that puppetry has often been his foot in the door in his career. What’s great about âLittle Shop of Horrors,â he says, is that one of the puppeteer roles he’s studying also includes the chance to star in the series as a whole as Derelict in the opening number “Skid Row”.
âWhen I play this role, I have to lie on stage under a pile of trash while everyone is sitting in the audience – I’m up there alone and still for about 30 minutes before the show starts, then i can appear and sing and have little fun on stage with the other cast members during the number. I played this role for the first time last week and it was awesome, âhe says.
Long’s credits before “Little Shop” include the original cast of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show” and the New York premiere of the musical “All Hallow’s Eve”, which premiered by the famous “Sesame Street” and ” Little Shop, “puppeteer Martin P. Robinson. Long has also appeared in productions of” The Laramie Project “and was on the nationwide tour of the musical adaptation of” Mr. Popper’s Penguins. “
A childhood passion
Long started doing community theater at the age of 5, performing in Waterford Week productions in the early 2000s, then spread to other groups. He played Little Jake in “Annie Get Your Gun” and Artful Dodger in “Oliver”, among other roles.
His acting started after his parents enrolled him in football, and he hated it.
âThe only goal I ever scored was for the other team, and the rest of the time I would ask my parents to sit on the sidelines when it was time to come home,â he said.
Long says his parents were both athletes, as were his siblings.
âI was the only one who wasn’t. I turned to (my parents) when I was 5 after hearing about Caroll, and I said, âI’ll be a puppeteer when I grow up. To their infinite credit, they were like, âOK, what can we do? It was something that was so out of their depth. They had no idea what a career in the performing arts looked like, what a career as a puppeteer looked like, what a career as an actor looked like, âhe says.
Long realizes that his parents might have thought it was a phase, but he was grateful that they helped him in any way they could. His mother found articles on puppetry for Weston to read. His parents bought him puppets as Christmas gifts so that he could learn to work them.
âI give them all the credit in the world for taking this and making do with it,â he says.
And, of course, having Spinney as a mentor was a big help. Long first visited the set of “Sesame Street” with Spinney when he was 7 and says Spinney showed him what a career in puppetry is, how it works and what a day on set is like. .
âI am so incredibly lucky to have gotten to know him. I still don’t quite understand how it happened, but I’m so grateful that he decided to guide me for so long, âhe says.
When asked if he would have pursued a career in puppetry without Spinney, Long replied that he didn’t know.
âAll I know is I’ve learned so much about the puppeteer trade, but also what it means to be just a decent human being just by watching him,â he says.
Life in the ‘Petite Boutique’
As for “Little Shop”, the puppet of the show is the human blood-eating plant Audrey II. There are four different puppets that spin around as a constantly growing creature. While actor Aaron Arnell Harrington plays Audrey II, two puppeteers bring the plant to life and alternate what they each do at night. (Only the larger puppet, which is on stage for the entire second act, needs both puppeteers to handle it.)
âIt’s so fun playing with what Aaron gives us because it’s so interesting and it’s so dynamic and he gives so much in this performance. We wear a little earpiece so that we can pick up whatever feeds his microphone so that we can also hear his breath and inflection very closely as we have to do our best to match and support whatever he gives us, âsays -he.
During the months that theaters were closed due to COVID, Long continued to teach puppetry to college students at the Professional Performing Arts School, but the move to the internet brought new challenges: he had to design puppets for the students to do. could make themselves using household items.
He also did a recurring Zoom gig and was in a Zoom room at one point.
âWhat I learned during the pandemic was that even when everything was taken away – and at that time there was no future to play in – I never put off in question my place or what I wanted. â¦ At least I can hang on to this, at least I know I’m doing what I really want to do. There was no doubt about it, âhe said.
Most of the actors have regular daytime jobs, and Long is the manager of a gym in New York City. He says a lot of other people who work there are artists too. One of the advantages is that the work is flexible. Long can, for example, take a week off to perform at a show in Philadelphia or do a day of work on âSesame Streetâ.
He, in fact, did two days on âSesame Street,â helping the main puppeteers or doing background puppets – working on a puppet to fill a stage or, say, to be behind the counter in the Hooper store.
Worth the fight
As is the case with most performers, Long’s work âcomes and goes, it comes and goes, it’s not consistent at all. So, as incredibly happy, grateful and excited as I am right now that I can do it even though I’m not even in the theater full time, there is also a lot of time when there is no work to be found. He said. .
Moments of collaboration and fulfillment, as he now has with “Little Shop”, is what makes Long last.
âIt’s definitely worth the fight, it’s definitely worth the frustration and the tears and everything that comes with this career, to have times when it works,â he says. “There is nothing else like it.”