Puppet master Joshua Holden chats about the value of spreading joy

Photo by Richard Termine

Need a pick-me-up? Award-winning puppeteer and “Ambassador of Joy” Joshua Holden is a sight to see — he belts out positive message tunes, he tap dances, and he engages with both puppets and his audience to spread the message of the importance of friendship and the value of being yourself.

“The Joshua Show: Episode 2” invites all ages to Segerstrom Center for the Arts this weekend, Feb. 1-2 to experience the happy, whimsical performance.

We chatted with Holden about the inspiration behind spreading joyous messages through puppetry, his favorite puppet, and what it means to him to bring those messages to stages all over the world.

How did you originally get into puppetry?

Accidentally! About 12 years ago I auditioned to understudy Chicago-based master puppeteer, Blaire Thomas, in his new one man show The Selfish Giant produced by The Chicago Children’s Theater. I auditioned because the pay was good and I was out of work, but I never considered that a career in puppetry was even a thing that people did! I booked the job and have spent very little time on stage since then without a puppet on my arm! 

What was the process of developing Part 2 of The Joshua Show? 

In 2015, we presented The Joshua Show at the Puppets Up! international puppet festival in Canada. The show was so well received that we were asked to make an episode two for their festival the following summer. I was feeling very disheartened by what I was seeing in the news with school shootings, police brutality, and the political climate leading into the election. There was an air of hopelessness in our country and I was swept up in it.  Episode 2 is my attempt to inspire those feeling down and out by this often crazy world to stand up and fight for joy. 

Will you or are you already creating a third episode? 

I imagine a third episode will come out at some point. We are currently workshopping our brand new holiday show, The Joyfully Jolly Jamboree. 

What did it mean to you when your show went on to be an international touring production?

It fills me up more than I can put into words. It has given me the opportunity to see firsthand that no matter how different we may fee from one another, joy is what unites us all. So cheesy, but i’m out there connecting with thousands of people across north america every year and that’s what I’m experiencing. It gives me a lot of hope. 

Which puppet character is the most special to you, and why? 

My soul mate and right hand man, Mr. Nicholas. He’s my right-hand man — the main puppet character in The Joshua Show. Mr. Nicholas is the balance to the show’s positivity. He allows us, without judgement, to be our worst, most cynical, and pessimistic selves. So often, we’re expected to be happy all the time — to always have a smile on our face. But, the world is hard. It’s full of scary things and hard truths. Bad things happen, and sometimes, nothing really feels fair. Mr. Nicholas gives a voice to that part of our humanity. He makes it a little easier for us to talk about the heavier things that all of us have to think about. And in the end, he’s always the biggest champion for us just being ourselves. With all the joy and love, bumps and bruises, hurt, love, and hope. Mr. Nicholas is so precious to me, and I’m so proud he exists.

What inspires your story and songwriting? Do you have a writing process or do you work by inspiration? 

I write my shows for adults; I write my shows for parents to bring their kids to. Audience members at The Joshua Show are never spoken down to and we talk about real emotions and troubles. 

The Joshua Show: Episode 2

Segerstrom Center for the Arts – Samueli Theater: 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, CA

When: 1 p.m. Saturday, February 1; 1 and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, February 2

Tickets – $20

More info: scfta.org or call (714) 556-2787


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