Interview: Arnold Engelman and Patrick Bristow for Knott's Scary Farm
Courtesy of Knott’s Scary Farm

When you think of Knott’s Scary Farm, do you think of puppets? Because I certainly didn’t. However, as we recently discovered at the reveal of what’s coming to Knott’s Scary Farm, puppets are indeed coming to this year’s haunted attraction.  As we revealed at the announcements, the content is driven by audience suggestions and participation, topped with the zany antics and bawdy shenanigans of the colorful and brazen puppet cast. Puppet Up! – Uncensored will be performed three times each night at Knott’s Scary Farm and is intended for mature audiences. However, many questions ran through my mind. How would they be able to feed off the audience? And uncensored! Wouldn’t that go horribly wrong? Luckily, I was able to get my questions answered.

I got the opportunity to chat with show producer Arnold Engleman and co-creator, director, and host Patrick Bristow, where we discussed everything pertaining to what Puppet Up! – Uncensored is to what brought them to take a residency at the much-beloved Southern California Haunt.

If you were stuck in an elevator with someone and had to summarize what Puppet Up is, what would it be? Basically, an elevator pitch. How would you describe the show?

Patrick Bristow: I would say it’s world-class Henson puppets making comedy up at the top of their heads and doing whatever it is the audience wants them to do.

Arnold Engelman: In a variety show format.

Patrick Bristow: [laughs]

I was about to say. Whatever the audience wants to do? That could be anything.

Patrick Bristow: Sometimes they push us to the edges of our boundaries. 

Yes. Well, with Knott’s Scary Farm, you may be pushed an awful bit. What brought you guys to Knott’s Scary Farm because when someone thinks of Knott’s Scary Farm, puppets don’t generally come to mind.

Patrick Bristow: Not usually right.

Arnold Engelman: It was Eric Nix. He was the one who came up with the idea. We do a show every three to four months at the Henson Lab on the Charlie Chaplin Soundstage. He came to see it, cornered me afterward, and asked me if I was interested in bringing the show down here as a residency at Scary Farm. I, from the East Coast, had no idea what Knott’s Scary Farm was. I went to Brian and Patrick. They explained to me what a big deal this was in Southern California and we sort of jumped on it and felt that it would be great for Knott’s Scary Farm and would be a great way to introduce the show to a larger audience.

I think what I ended up typing was, “Puppets are here, guys. Puppets are at Knott’s Scary Farm. Beware!” As soon as I saw them pop up, I just went, “Oh dear!” This could go a variety of ways.

Patrick Bristow: [laughs] Yeah. Right!

Speaking of a variety of ways, do you guys have any horror stories of when the audience takes control? 

Patrick Bristow: Sure. Of course. It’s an August legacy. We’ve had audiences, audience members, that have gotten slightly out of control. But, we roll with it. We play it off. We keep the mood light and also, the audience sort of polices each other. Somebody will do a suggestion or sound out a suggestion that will be like too dark or too horrible and there will be people in the audience that will be like, “No. We don’t want to do that really.” So, the whole room basically decides what suggestions they like. So, nothing has gone terribly off the rails believe it or not.

Arnold Engleman: And the audience does feed off of each other. Once some of the audience gets into it, I think the rest of the audience starts feeling their oats. I think that’s a way of putting it.

Patrick Bristow: Yes. And as a group. You know, they kind of feel like, “Hey. We’re kind of in power here. Alright!” And so, it is a feeling like a party. A good party.

Going back to the audience feeding off of each other, sometimes towards the end of the night, the audience is a little tired. They are a little ready to go home and not as much fun to feed off of. What do you and the performers do in order to make it fun for yourselves when there isn’t that much to feed off of?

Patrick Bristow: Well, you know, we’ve had over the years some audiences who started off a little resistant or a little tired or they partied too hard or whatever, but they get swept up in it. It’s kind of magical. It’s adults finally getting to tell these iconic looking Jim Henson Company creations what they want to see and no matter how you come in the room, you’re going to leave having had a good time and energized. And I know that sounds like a line, but it’s what I have seen happen time and time again over fifteen years.

Arnold Engleman: And there are people who know what they are coming for and they are people who have no idea what they are coming for. And what is really fun is to see the people that come to the show not quite understanding what it is and, within five minutes, they are totally swept up in it. And they get it and want to be a part of it.

Knott’s Scary Farm starts September 19th and will run for 26 nights through November 2nd. Tickets and season passes are on sale now here.

Sarah Musnicky
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