An Interview with Flexitoons Puppets and Marionettes
Interview compiled and submitted by Orion Anderson with our thanks
For those unfamiliar with his relation to Thomas, the Juke-Box Band were a
part of the Shining Time Station series in America - Thomas's launchpad in the States.
How did you become involved with Shining Time Station?
were working with eccentric National Lampoon writer Sean Kelly on various projects, and he called us up and said he was over
at WNET-THIRTEEN (Public Broadcasting Station) and that "the producers were working on a show that needed
puppets, and they need the Flexitoon puppets but they just don't know it yet." So we packed up some of the puppets
and marionettes from our Nickelodeon series PINWHEEL, and went over to meet the producers. This was
on a Friday. They called Monday and said that "the other puppeteers said they could bring something different to the party,
and we were the only ones who proved it." So Flexitoon was hired to build and perform the Juke Box Band on Shining
What was a typical
day like working on the set of Shining Time Station?
We shot the first 20 episodes in New York City (where
we're stationed), and all the rest in Toronto. The Juke Box Band were usually the first segments shot for the series.
I'd get the scripts earlier and "puppetize" them. I'd also draw storyboards and work closely with a co-director
on integrating the scenes and musical numbers within the context of the rest of the show. We'd shoot all the two or three
camera-stuff first to get it out of the way. Then we'd go to single-camera film-style and the fun would begin.
We'd redress the puppets and marionettes, add custom props and sets to the juke box, or move to one of the other sets (the
dressing room or Tito's vault, for instance.) Many of the props, hats and set-pieces were constructed before,
during and after hours. The six of us puppeteers were always busy behind-the-scenes: Olga Felgemacher (Didi the
Drummer) and Jonathan Freeman (Tito Swing) were making the costumes and hats. The late Peter Baird (Grace
the Bass) restrung the marionettes. Alan Semok (Tex) constructed intricate mechanisms; Ken Miele (Grace's
assistant) did woodwork; and I (Rex)designed/painted/ constructed/ supervised and co-directed. One time
a business person came back into our magical enclave and declared "Oh, just like elves" to which Peter Baird - -
looking up from his newly minted Finnigin Pin declared "More like trolls!"
Did you control the jukebox as well?
I'm not sure what you mean
by CONTROL, but we were very "instrumental" in all things Juke Box. The six of us performed and voiced all
the characters (Grace's voice was dubbed in later).
In the special " One of
the Family" , Mr. Conductor goes inside the jukebox; how did you get the puppets to interact with Mr. Conductor?
required a lot of preplanning and careful storyboarding. After lining up the individual shots, we had the stage manager
read Mister C's lines from off screen. We kept strict eye focus as to where he would eventually be integrated.
And the results were quite believable. Our only regret was that we never had Ringo appear in the Juke Box to drum with
Didi. A tap-dance on the tom-tom would've been one for the ages!
Was the idea that the Jukebox Puppet Band would be in Thomas and the Magic Railroad ever proposed to you?
given the cross-over popularity of the characters. (Newsday said "the best American part of the show is a cast of
crazy musical puppets known as The Flexitoons") But I guess the producers thought it's be "hipper" to
have a girl pop group instead. A real faux pas on their part. Oh we had big plans for them. The preliminary
discussion was to have the juke box knocked over and all the characters would scatter and get lost. They'd be out in
the world! Alone. There would be a song that each of them sings, and by the end, they'd all hear the others song
and reunite once again, singing joyful five-part harmony.
In closing, did you enjoy working on Shining Time Station?
and without a doubt. The people, the producers, the finished product touched and continues to touch millions of families.
On behalf of all the puppeteers, FLEXITOON is proud to be part of a such great series.
can view several Juke Box Band numbers on our website:
Click on the Shining Time Station page and Video Gallery.