The show’s creator and host Joshua Holden is an award-winning international puppeteer and actor, and was named one of “20 Theatre Workers You should Know” by American Theatre Magazine. He’s got quite an interesting background in theater and puppetry with credits that include the Broadway national tour of Avenue Q as well as freelancing for The Jim Henson Company as one of the puppet wranglers on Sesame Street. The Family Series features artists and theater companies from around the world with unique backgrounds and talents. The Joshua Show is a whimsical production that uses live music, dancing and puppetry to teach children about friendship, confidence, and the value of being yourself.
- When did you realize you wanted to be a puppeteer? Was it something you wanted to do as a child?
As a kid, my dream was to be the next Dick Van Dyke and have a career playing comedic song and dance man roles on Broadway. While I grew up on Sesame Street and the Muppets, being a puppeteer was not something I ever imagined for myself. It wasn’t until after I graduated college with a degree in acting that I accidentally fell into my first job as a puppeteer. I was understudying Blaire Thomas, a Chicago based master puppeteer, who patiently taught me the skills of the craft. It was astonishing to see these puppets come to life I was immediately hooked, and my life took such an adventurously whimsical turn.
- How did you and Jeb meet? And how did the idea for The Joshua Showcome about?
Like most wonderful things in life, The Joshua Show was very unexpected. While on a road trip through Chicago, I was asked to make an original piece for a puppet slam (an evening of short form puppetry for adults). I had been working as a puppeteer for other productions for years, but creating shows and building puppets was not something I had ever done. I wrote a 10 minute sketch that was a spoof on a classic kids TV show. I had no intentions of keeping any of the puppets or performing it again. Soon after I was asked by the Puppeteers of America to expand the piece to a full show and perform at their national puppet festival. A year later we did and left winning “best performance” and voted “fan favorite”. That was the start of it all!
Jeb Colwell, my very tall (6’8”), dashingly handsome, and wildly talented musical sidekick responded to an audition notice I posted online three years into the show’s life. He walked into the studio in a three piece suit, a straw hat, and a ukulele strapped to his back. As soon as he opened his mouth to sing, I knew he was the one.
- Explain your very first show in front of a live audience. Where was it at? How many people were there? Were you nervous? What was the performance about?
I was 7 years old. My acting studio in Salem Massachusetts was putting on You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and I was one of three people playing Charlie Brown at each show. In my section of the performance, Charlie Brown has a long monologue about mustering up the courage to talk to a little red-headed girl that he has a crush on, but his nerves get the best of him. At the end of the show, I had to sing one solo line, “Happiness is finding a pencil…” There were maybe 50 people in the audience… and I was absolutely terrified to be alone on stage and even more nervous about singing in front of people. Facing my fears was so scary, but the benefits have lasted my whole life.
- What would you say is the hardest part about touring?
I sometimes find it hard to go back home because life on the road is full of such excitement and adventure. It’s currently 19 degrees and snowing in Brooklyn and this California winter is spoiling me so!
- What does the preparation process look like when getting ready for a tour? How long does it take to come up with a new script and music, and how long do you rehearse for?
The preparation process is full of so many grown up things like spreadsheets, scheduling, emails, and phone calls. All that tedious work pays off once we hit the road! The show we are currently touring took about a year to create and we now have 2 three hour rehearsals before we hit the road to be sure that the puppets remember their lines and our feet know the steps.
- How many people are on your production team and what is everybody’s role? Has it grown over the years or has everybody been on board since day 1?
The Joshua Show team started out with two of us (myself and a musician) and over the last 7 years we have slowly grown to a team of eight joy-makers.
Jeb Colwell- musician/ composer
Jess Lazar- director/ stage manager
Dave Neff – production manager/ composer
Danny Gardner – choreographer
Tara Bailey – booking agent
Jordan Reeves – producer
Stephanie Stender – producer
- What is your favorite memory of puppeteering?
When I am not on the road, I occasionally work for The Jim Henson Company as one of the puppet wranglers on Sesame Street. My first job with them was on Sesame Street’s 50th anniversary TV special last year. One day I was on set with Whoopie Goldberg, Patti LaBelle, Itzhak Perlman, Joseph Gordon Levitt, all the original human characters, Caroll Spinney (original Big Bird & Oscar), and every Sesame Street puppet that there ever was. That show has changed the lives of millions of people and being a small part of it was pure joy.
- Who is your inspiration/someone you look up to?
Mr. Rogers is a constant inspiration to me. He was a teacher and a friend to everyone. It was his mission to make every kid feel special, and he taught us all to love one another in spite our differences. I hope to build on his the legacy and help fill a void left in today’s family entertainment market.
Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, inspires me to strive for excellence in my performances and in my business. He took risks, lived a rich creative life, and built an empire that was true to his vision. He worked diligently to succeed in the business of puppetry arts, and in doing so, fostered a larger community that still thrives today.
It’s because of these two amazing individuals that I am able to do what I love to do. I am inspired to be a better artist, a better humanitarian, and the best businessman that I can be.
- What would you say your biggest accomplishment is so far?
It may seem silly, but creating Mr. Nicholas is my biggest accomplishment. He’s my right-hand man — the main puppet character in The Joshua Show. Mr. Nicholas is the balance to the show’s positivity. He allows us, without judgement, to be our worst, most cynical, and pessimistic selves. So often, we’re expected to be happy all the time — to always have a smile on our face. But, the world is hard. It’s full of scary things and hard truths. Bad things happen, and sometimes, nothing really feels fair. Mr. Nicholas gives a voice to that part of our humanity. He makes it a little easier for us to talk about the heavier things that all of us have to think about. And in the end, he’s always the biggest champion for us just being ourselves. With all the joy and love, bumps and bruises, hurt, love, and hope. Mr. Nicholas is so precious to me, and I’m so grateful he exists.
- What are your plans for the future? Are you going to continue the show or are there any new projects you hope to take on?
There are a few really exciting things in the works! While we continue to tour The Joshua Show, we are currently creating and developing our brand new live holiday show, The Joyfully Jolly Jamboree with Joshua & Jeb that will tour in the winter of 2021 – I’m feeling so good about it! Additionally we are pitching The Joshua Show to television networks and streaming services. There’s never been a better time to spread joy, and I’m ready to do that full throttle. My message to be authentically, wonderfully, and joyfully you is so important in this world where so many distractions are telling us to be so many different things. Television shows impacted my life in such a meaningful way when I was younger, and I want to give back in that same way. I want The Joshua Show to be on television so it can reach families all over the world. Most importantly, I want people to feel safe, happy, and hopeful. If The Joshua Show can accomplish that, then we’ve done a really good thing.
The Show is at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. https://www.scfta.org/