Featured Artist Series: Sarah Beth Hester and Unexpected Puppetry

Embarking on a career in the performing arts is a journey best undertaken with creative use of map and compass. Often when actors start out, we imagine a linear yellow brick road to Hollywood, but a career in the arts is littered with unexpected and rewarding opportunities. We just need an open heart and open eyes to seize them. So this week in our featured artist series, we’re off-roading with Sarah Beth Hester…and puppets!


Sarah Beth was born and raised in the greater Atlanta area. With a degree in Musical Theatre Performance and a minor in Music Theory and Pedagogy from Valdosta State University, she rounded out her training by graduating an apprenticeship with the Atlanta Shakespeare Company. Here she went on to be an actor and teaching artist. Of her early years, Sarah Beth says, “I grew up in a very artistic and supportive household. Both of my parents were musicians; though, by the time I came along, each held a job within the education system. I knew, early on, that I would pursue some sort of artistic career, I just wasn’t quite sure where I’d end up.”


Spoiler alert: Sarah Beth is currently a puppeteer on set of the latest production brainchild of Andrew Davenport, creator of the Teletubbies. It was a thrilling turn in her career. But it wasn’t something she planned for.


Sarah Beth spent her teenage years exploring the many facets of her artistic talents. “In truth,” she reflects, “I think I was very lucky with timing. I couldn’t really tell you why, but there was a huge artistic community forming in my county around my years. There was so much talent and drive to express ourselves through the Arts.”


Despite community support, her high school didn’t have much in the way of a theatre department until Bob Ramseur entered the scene. He found a group of hungry young artists and willingly took the wheel. It was during this exciting period of Sarah Beth’s early artistic momentum that she first encountered puppetry.


“It had always been an interest,” Sarah Beth explains, adding, “my dad and I would animate my many plush animals growing up, but I didn’t know it as an art form. Even then, I could have never imagined a career as a puppeteer. There was a short period I was ready to leave civilization and run off with Bread and Puppet Theater, but that was a short lived dream.


When it came back into her life, Sarah Beth took to it immediately, loving the honesty inherent in the art form. “The truly great performances link the puppeteer and puppet as one. The same basic principles of acting and performance transcend between the two…it’s wonderful for character study and connection to one’s inner voice…It’s also really difficult to take yourself too seriously when a giant fuzzy monster with googly eyes is staring at you in anticipation for life. We as adults tend to lose our sense of play and discovery which I find important for any creative mind.”


But her passion for the subject does not blind her to its difficulties. Of the many misconceptions surrounding puppetry, she counters, “ I do have an incredibly unique and fun job, but holy hell- I am not just playing with dolls all day….There are endless styles and hybrids…The typical character takes anywhere from 2-4 puppeteers to operate at any given time. Shooting for film, we have an added challenge of maneuvering around lights and sets, as the goal is to remove the rods in post. It’s an incredible team game to play, not only for the puppeteers, but between all departments. Communication and flexibility- mentally and physically- is so important to the work we are doing.”


While puppeteering on set is a full time job, Sarah Beth has not stopped working on other facets of her career. She is in development with Rebekah Suellau on a new musical: Hannah Cremation and the Ash. “Keep an eye out for us!”

To her fellow artists cultivating dynamic careers, she says, Never stop learning and never hold yourself back. Life is about the journey and experiencing “the now.” …Your plans may never end up how you think they should….Don’t be afraid to just DO something. Treat yoself.”


She adds, “If you are interested in puppetry, as a performer or spectator, check out The Center for Puppetry Arts…The museum offers history and interactive play, and performances are top notch. Puppetry is for kids and adults and I think the Center balances their programming accordingly.”


We are fed so many notions of what an acting career should look like. Those notions can be incredibly limiting. Be fearless in the crafting of your career. Throw that map away and blaze your own trails. When it comes to the arts, sometimes you are the best navigator.


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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com

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