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Fort Greene Puppeteer Brings Life-Size Characters to the LES

By Janet Upadhye | February 25, 2014 7:03am
 Kevin Augustine stars — alongside dozens of puppets — in his new show "Hobo Grunt Cycle."
Hobo Grunt Cycle
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FORT GREENE — These Brooklyn puppets aren't child's play.

A Fort Greene puppeteer is bringing a cast of life-size characters to the Lower East Side, using a traditional Japanese technique to depict the story of a war vet and his pit bull.

The puppets in "Hobo Grunt Cycle" use Bunraku, where three people maneuver the puppet's head, hands and feet using their hands and wires.

And although it's primarily a puppet show, the themes of war, violence, suicide and peace make the story anything but suitable for kids.

"The work that I do is not for kids," said the show's creator, Kevin Augustine, 45. "I don’t use puppets as tools to make hard issues more palatable, but as partners in the craft of creating theater."

The Prospect Heights resident and director of the Lone Wolf Tribe theater company makes all his puppets using foam, sculpting intricate details of their faces and bodies using scissors and a serrated knife. He later paints them with pastels or markers.

Wires placed inside allow puppeteers to move the puppet's face and ears.

Augustine — a trained actor who also teachers puppetry workshops — has loved the idea of puppetry since his grandmother made him a sock puppet as a young boy.

"Seeing that puppet really cracked open my brain," he said. "I realized you can't buy it in a store and no other kids can have this toy. I was immediately smitten with the uniqueness of it that came from her brain, skill and some found material."

He said that his experience with real actors who constantly changed companies made him realize the value of puppets.

"I could never keep a company together so I started doing solo work but really missed the interaction with the actors," he said.

"Eventually I realized I could create my own company of actors who won't leave.”

Augustine found some foam on the side of the street and made his first puppet. Today he is artistic director and founder of the Fort Greene-based theater company that has produced seven shows including "The God Projekt" that Time Out New York called "Puppet genius."

"Hobo Grunt Cycle" incorporates one dog puppet, at least a dozen clown puppets, three puppeteers and Augustine himself.

The show opens Feb. 28 and runs through March 21 at Dixon Place on the Lower East Side. Tickets cost $16 in advance, $20 at the door and $12 for students and seniors.