Cover photo: B. Pittman

“Halloween is my biggest interest. Using Halloween makes it easier to bleed my way into other areas of art,” says Bran Rogers.

Rogers credits his mother’s Halloween drawings during his Kindergarten days for the budding inspiration that would have amazing sticking power. Childhood Halloween crafts expanded to front porch haunted houses. The holiday then began to creep into other seasons with summer spook houses.

Bran at home

Knoxville artist Bran Rogers at home.


Rogers’ outstanding Halloween yard sculptures.

For several years Rogers has treated downtown Knoxville haunts to his whimsical take on All Hallows Eve. From his front yard, to galleries and alleyways, fans have enjoyed discovering his enchanting art. Rogers says, “I work best when I’m working on ten things at once.”

The Vampire Kid on the long-gone Wall Avenue graffiti wall.

The Vampire Kid on the long-gone Wall Avenue graffiti wall.

Guess who participated in the Armstrong Alley Revamp Project?

The Armstrong Alley Revamp Project?

Bran uses micron pens and watercolor wash for his drawings.

Bran uses micron pens and gouache for his drawings. Skeleton Boy has also appeared on posters and in a video.


“My projects have backstories and histories.” The 2009 Dee C. East Protraiture Prints project was based on old family photos. Rogers created 30 sculptures and photographed them with specialized backgrounds. Sadly, Crayola Modeling Clay does not store well, and only one sculpture survives.

 Bran is one of the hardest-working artists I know. He is a true example of the artist who makes things because he has to, not just because he wants to. It’s in his bones. Working (and goofing off) with him is a whirlwind of inspiration. One idea begets another idea, begets another. Theatre Obsolete is a culmination of all these ideas, and it’s a way his talent can really shine in the spotlight. – Jenna Hancock, artist

Theatre Obsolete

theatre sign

Rogers’ Theatre Obsolete will be hosting its annual Spook Show, All Hallow Even, at the Mary Boyce Temple house on October 26 at 8pm and 10pm. The 7th Annual PoMoNoBo Hallowe’en Art Show will taking place simultaneously at the same venue beginning at 5pm.

“With the puppet shows, the Spook Show in particular, it’s like creating those [childhood] spook houses again, but onstage in a variety show setting.” says Rogers.

Theatre Obsolete artists (l-r) Jenni Bates, Bran Rogers, and Lila Honaker.

Theatre Obsolete artists (l-r) Jenni Bates, Bran Rogers, and Lila Honaker.

In late September, the three members of Theatre Obsolete held a puppet workshop as part of Acting & Community Theatre – Uniting Performers (ACT-UP!) program. Program Director, Carolyn Corely says:
Theatre Obsolete represents exactly the type of group we’re seeking to collaborate with and promote. They’re a small group of independent artists whose hard work deserves to be recognized and enjoyed, and their style of performance is unlike anything else seen in Knoxville. They led a very fun workshop that provided unique insight into the very physical aspects of performance and character development.
Here’s a sneak peek at some of the puppets that will be used in Theatre Obsolete’s Spook Show, plus tips on how the puppets were made, and information on the art of puppeteering.

Bran Rogers’ Puppet Making Secrets

1. Simple Puppets

You can make puppets by recycling items from your household.

Eyes can be made from plastic spoons or ping pong balls.

Lightweight felt tears easily. Heavy felt or fleece works best for cloth puppets.

Rogers says to “think in an abstract manner, and not details, when it comes to simple puppets.  His flapping bat puppets were made quickly with heavy felt, wire, wax, glue, and a dowel. Don’t worry about the feet or head.

The simple bat/raven puppets are shown with the early stages of the Witch Sister hand puppets.

The simple bat/raven puppets are shown with the early stages of the Witch Sister hand puppets.

Rogers is a fan of Target’s skulls with movable jaws. He cuts a hole in the bottom of the skull and partially stuffs it with closed-cell foam for a simple hand hold. A small thumb hold is inserted inside the chin.

Coffin skeleton

A modified Target skull is used again with the Cemetery Keeper puppet. A mask was glued onto the skull and a hat with attached wig completes the head. Bran advises that a puppet maker “build puppets to last because the puppets require constant upkeep after every use. Even if you make mistakes, keep going, and you will end up with something. Don’t ever throw the puppet away.”
2.  Puppet Patterns
Rogers recommends Project Puppet for quality patterns. He says “you do not need to create a whole body.”
Audrey II and Hipster Puppet were made with simple sock puppet patterns.
Photo by Lila Honaker.

Audrey II with her maker. Photo by Lila Honaker.

Hipster Puppet

Hipster puppet is a hand and rod sock puppet made by Jenni Bates.

Some of Theatre Obsolete’s puppets wear infant shirts purchased at thrift stores. Crackin, a puppet recently made with air dry clay (which unexpectedly cracked to good result), sports a shirt fashioned from a shirt sleeve.
Creepy clay head puppet
3.  Non-Cloth Puppets
This eerie puppet’s head was made from paper mache covered with plaster bandages and craft animal eyes. The puppet’s hair is made out of unraveled twine.
Jenni Bates and Bran Rogers work together to animate this new Spook Show puppet.

Jenni Bates and Bran Rogers work together to animate The Orphan, a new Spook Show puppet.

4. Puppeteering Tips

Below, Bran is puppeteering to the song “Build Me Up, Buttercup.” He suggests a budding puppeteer practice to his favorite songs to build up wrist and arm strength. Rogers also recommends practicing in front of a mirror, or to video your practice, so you track arm height slippage due to fatigue. Bran says to “use your non-dominant hand for easier segments, and save your dominant hand for challenging puppeteering tasks.

pupprts 005

Lest he be typecast as a strictly Halloween-oriented artist, Rogers frequently engages in miscellaneous shenanigans.
bran cilly
He enjoys genealogy.
Bran geneology
His love of vaudeville led to the creation of and the musical comedy troop Boozehound Gandy Dance.
bran booze hound
Vintage Christmas kitsch is another one of Rogers’ interests. This December looks for Theatre Obsolete’s Yule extravaganza.
Bran snowman
For additional information about puppetry, Rogers recommends the following:
Puppetry Journal from Puppeteers of America
Puppetry: A World History by Eileen Blumenthal (available at Knox County Public Library System)
Julie Taymor: Playing With Fire by Eileen Blumenthal (especially the Juan Darien: A Carnival Mass section)
Beauty is Embarassing (available on Netflix)
Her Master’s Voice (about ventriliquist Nina Conti; available on Netflix)
Puppet A Film by David Soll
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© Debra Dylan, 2013.

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