Twenty miles outside of Portland, it’s easy to miss Michael Curry’s warehouse. And that’s exactly the way he wants it. The artist-designer and puppet master chose rural Scappoose, Oregon, to be home to his 75,000-square-foot space.
“I have an affinity for Oregon,” said Curry, who grew up in a small town near Grants Pass. “One has an affinity for where they were born.”
Inside the warehouse, Curry is walking through a rehearsal for his latest project: a collaboration with the Oregon Symphony on Stravinsky’s Persephone.
The lead actress floats in the air, her body held by an invisible crane. Her blond wig and mask glows under the blue LED light of the staged Underworld. The audience is left unsure whether it is seeing a human or a puppet.
“She has a whole aerial ballet with orchestra that’s really going to be beautiful,” Curry says as Stravinsky blasts from a stereo on the floor. “Because that’s really where we intersect the music.”
Hanging on the walls are creations from Curry’s past productions: a giant red dragon, a Saharan wildebeest, Uncle Sam on stilts.
Unlike other theater artists, almost all of Curry’s work is done entirely in-house. “Most people use outside services,” Curry explains. “But we have such a unique product, I need to touch it every day.”
Right now, Michael Curry Designs is juggling more than 60 shows around the world. One of his most famous works, The Lion King on Broadway, is responsible for 11 of those productions.
Other productions in the works include a Harry Potter show in Osaka, Japan, where drone powered dementors fly over the audience. He’s also completing a series of puppets for Disney’s Frozen, set to open on Broadway.
“Roger is sculpting a carrot for Olaf,” Curry explains as an artist shaves an orange object that will eventually serve as the snowman’s nose.
“I wanted a skinnier carrot so Roger put the carrot on a diet,” Curry adds.
“The head’s in the refrigerator,” Roger pipes in.
“That’s perfect,” chuckles Curry. “People don’t know that when they’re getting their lunches, there’s a big Olaf cartoon head in there.”
Curry, who comes from a line of southern Oregon loggers, credits learning to work with his hands and spending his childhood outdoors as a source of inspiration for the detailed craftsmanship he implements in his work.
With high profile projects around the globe, he now spends much of his time on a plane. He says it’s been refreshing to work on something closer to home.
“This is really providential. I’ve been looking for a Portland-area show to do with my team,” he said. “They know their grandma from Albany is going to come up and see this show. And I really know immediately that this notion of the doll, the puppet, and Persephone would really work.”
Curry and his team will wrap up a week of rehearsals before moving to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall for opening night on May 13.