In the fall of 2005, the Muppets Holding Company held open auditions for puppeteers, casting alternate performers to puppeteer and voice the main Muppet characters. Earlier in 2005 Miss Piggy appeared at New York Fashion Week; however as Eric Jacobson was unable to attend the event, Kevin Clash puppeteered Miss Piggy but did not speak for her in order to preserve the character's consistency.
In October, regular Muppeteers Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire were replaced on the Movies.com webseries "Statler & Waldorf: From the Balcony" with Victor Yerrid and Drew Massey taking over the roles of Statler and Waldorf (they also took up the characters of Dr. Teeth, Animal, Sam the Eagle, and Sweetums).
Muppets Ahoy!, a live shipboard stage show, debuted on the Disney Cruise Line in 2006 and featured alternate performers for the main Muppet characters, including John Kennedy, Victor Yerrid, Drew Massey, and Brett O'Quinn.
In September 2009, Kermit the Frog was performed by Artie Esposito for appearances on America's Got Talent, the MTV Video Music Awards and the second day of the D23 Expo singing "Rainbow Connection." Steve Whitmire commented on the alternate recasting in an interview on The MuppetCast, stating "from a mass-production standpoint, that's exactly what you'd do. From a character standpoint, if you want to integrate that and have both working, you've got to be real careful."
Fearing that the core Muppeteers would be replaced by a team of alternates, a group of Muppet fans started a fan campaign, Save the Muppets. The campaign was organized by Kynan Barker and launched in August 2005. The Save the Muppets campaign used the slogan "one Muppet, one voice" in its opposition to the idea of multiple performers for the characters. Aside from bringing awareness to the issue, the campaign organized letter-writing efforts and gathered signatures on an online petition in hopes of reversing Disney's plans to cast alternate performers. Over 3,600 signatures were collected on the petition.
The campaign ran from 2005 to 2007; in 2008, the campaign website closed.
“Another lure for parents is tradition. Sesame Street’s Muppets are still operated by the same performers after 36 years, rather than a rotating cast. It's a subtle but important difference. Disney's decision to allow characters to be performed by "just anyone" led to fan backlash and critical drubbings.
"One performer, one Muppet," Carol-Lynn Parente, who has been with the show since the 1960s [sic], says proudly. "Performers bring the characters to life, and they must be respected."”
In a 2006 interview at the TV Land Awards, Steve Whitmire and Eric Jacobson spoke in detail about the importance of an individual to the performance of a Muppet character.
- Steve Whitmire: I'm Steve Whitmire, I'm the performer who does Kermit the Frog.
- Eric Jacobson: Yeah, and I'm Eric Jacobson, and I perform Miss Piggy.
- Steve Whitmire: Each character is performed by a particular person. Jim Henson performed Kermit for thirty-five years before he passed away in 1990. I've been consistently the only Kermit since that time, and Eric --
- Eric Jacobson: Yeah, and with Frank Oz's characters, I've been performing them since he's gone off to directing movies and such.
- Steve Whitmire: If you play my voice next to Jim's voice, they're not the same. They're very close, and the attitude is very close. And because I had the experience of working with Jim very closely, and knowing him, I think I gained some insight into where this character came from, from within Jim. So the number one goal in trying to continue a character like Kermit was making sure the character was the same and consistent, but didn't become stale and just a copy. We wanted him to continue to be able to grow a bit, but also have this foundation of where Jim started...We've always been dubbed the 'Muppet performers,' and it involves acting and it involves the puppetry, and all those skills combined.
- Eric Jacobson: It's not like animation where the voice is something separate from the animators who animate the character... I grew up watching the Muppets and was a rabid fan myself, and to carry on this legacy is really important to us.
Whitmire spoke about the importance of individual performers for the characters in an interview with The MuppetCast, stating that "it's not just the voice – you could probably find a voice artist who could do a believable Gonzo, or Piggy, or Kermit, or whatever – it's the character." In his in-depth discussion on the importance of character identity and having a linear line of performers, Whitmire went on to say:
“I am a real advocate that we don’t need alternate versions of the characters. I don't think there's any level of our work where that is not important. I don't distinguish between Kermit at the theme park and Kermit on TV or in a movie. Kermit opening a shopping mall – which we haven't done – but we go to a museum, it still needs to be the Kermit, not a Kermit – the Kermit, or whoever, whatever character it is. Otherwise once you have version, after version, after version, you sort of have to start thinking "well, what is the essence of this character and how do we duplicate that?" Once you’re only focusing on the core of the character, that leaves it to interpretation or no interpretation at all. You either have 17 versions of Kermit or you have this homogenized version that can only do a dozen things... you're not getting more, you're getting less.”
In a 2008 interview with the fan site ToughPigs.com, Steve Whitmire explained that the situation resolved itself, stating:
“It was a real tough patch. I always try to see it from both sides of the issue. It was necessary to get these characters back out into the world. It seemed like the way to do it, I guess, from a certain point of view to have a bunch of people doing them everywhere. But actually, as soon as the Muppets moved under [Muppet Studios], they just didn’t see the need, and there really wasn’t a need for it as it turned out. The idea was that we were going to be this gigantic worldwide thing and they were going to need that. But I think they understand now why it’s important, to keep them individual. And to be frank on that issue, I kind of look back on that whole episode and I’m kind of happy for it. Because it certainly gave me the responsibility to do some deep thought on what it is we do, and how it works, and why it’s important. And I’m not sure if Jim was actually conscious of why it’s important. He just instinctively knew that you cast someone and they stay that character. But it gave us the chance to analyze it a little bit, we sort of had to, and I’m glad for that now. I could give a lecture series on the individuality of the Muppets, the integrity of the Muppets.”
Whitmire also reiterated that Disney's desire of using multiple performers for the Muppet characters was a thing of the past in a 2010 interview with fan site The MuppetCast. When asked about the recasting of Kermit on America's Got Talent, Whitmire stated:
“What I should say is that, I was available to do the show. I was there. These characters are owned by The Walt Disney Company. They are not owned by me. And it is up to The Walt Disney Company to decide who performs these characters. And it was an experiment on their part to try something. And I didn't think it was a good idea. It had to happen. It's behind us. And I don’t think I should say a lot more. I don't think it’s fair to say a lot more. There’s politics. You know, things happen. But we're all moving ahead. Nobody's mad at each other and that's the best part.
I will say, to stray from that –and I'm not avoiding the question, I want to let that one be a bygone – we are really fortunate within the Disney structure right now to have an educated group of executives directly over the Muppets. And it's taken them three years to get where they are and they’re still learning. Their job is to be corporate officers. They have a legal responsibility to make sure that what Disney does is done with Disney policy... At the end of the day a corporation has to answer to shareholders and a board. And you have to do your business. And integrating the Muppets – this little family-run company, that's had a transition since Jim died anyway – into a big corporation is tough.”
In 2011, Dave Goelz explained the importance of one performer per Muppet when questioned about why only one person performs each individual character:
“They are presented as living characters and, in the case of The Muppet Show characters, as working actors, so they had a life outside of the project and outside of whatever script they were performing. And so to do that, the particular slant of the performer always has to be present.”
A 2014 article in Variety leading up to the release of Muppets Most Wanted connects to the current position of Muppets making appearances with their performer to the method in which it was established:
“The Muppets have a policy, started by Henson himself, of making public appearances only when accompanied by their puppeteer. That means when Kermit does his press tour for “Muppets Most Wanted,” Whitmire is the only one who talks and operates him. “We live their lives,” says Jacobson, who is more mild-mannered than his alter ego. “Everywhere Piggy is, I’m underneath. Everything she experiences, I experience.””
In 2017, news broke that Whitmire would no longer work for the Muppets, and that Kermit the Frog would be performed by veteran Muppeteer Matt Vogel. In contrast with the 2005 initiative, Disney explained that the situation was the result of recasting the role rather than hiring multiple performers for one character. (see Steve Whitmire: Leaving the Muppets)
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 The MuppetCast with Steve Swanson. Show 147.
- ↑ ToughPigs.com My Week with Steve: Day 1
- ↑ Disney twenty-three, Winter 2011 issue, page 51
- ↑ Variety "How Kermit the Frog and the Muppets Got Their Mojo Back" by Ramin Setoodeh, March 11, 2014
- Save the Muppets (via archive.org)
- The Petition Site - online petition
- "Just One Kermit" ToughPigs.com editorial on the issue