Steve & I at the Center for Puppetry Arts, 2010
In January of 2010, I had the opportunity to attend a puppetry workshop hosted by Steve Whitmire at the Center for Puppetry Arts, in Atlanta, Georgia. I was 14 years old at the time. As a young puppeteer, I was mega happy and excited. I saw him three times at the center. Once at a seminar and twice at the workshops.
I was able to meet him personally before the first workshop and it was mind blowing. I brought with me a Wembly Fraggle replica and he got excited to see my work. He grabbed the puppet and started performing as Wembly. Then we had a little chat. During the last workshop, I met his wife, Melissa Whitmire, and she was a sweetheart. She told me that I looked like a young version of her husband. She also pointed out a newspaper article about me. A few months prior to meeting Steve, I was featured in a Atlanta newspaper. The article was about me and my puppets. Later, Steve told me that he read the article when it came out, that his chauffeur gave him the newspaper.
Steve holding my Wembly Fraggle replica, 2010
Being compared to Steve, by himself and his wife was very humbling. I felt so small compered to him. What makes this experience so memorable is that I met Steve as student, not a fan. For those two, long workshops, he was my teacher. There was no time for fan boys. The entire time I've spent him, he didn't do Kermit's voice and anything like that. He was teaching me, and a few others, how to perform a puppet and how to bring it to life.
Steve joined the Muppets in 1978. He began working at "The Muppet Show." He was able to learn from pioneers in the Muppet industry, like Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson and Jim Henson himself. In 1990, shortly after Jim Henson's unsuspected death, Steve was handed the role of Kermit. Since then, he has carried the legacy of Kermit in his hands (literally.)
In Steve's statement about his departure from the Muppets, it reads that Disney was recasting Kermit since October of 2016. He did everything in his power to deal with Disney in order to remain Kermit's performer. His efforts were in vain. Disney's decisions forced him to resign and hand over the role to someone else. Matt Vogel, a puppeteer known for being Big Bird's understudy, will now be performing our green, little friend.
It just isn't fair. Why on Earth would Disney make a decision like that? It's not about Vogel becoming Kermit, it's about trying to fix something that doesn't need to be fixed. Steve has been with the Muppets for 39 years, 27 years as Kermit. If it was because he was retiring or any other purpose that would be fine. But because of unnecessary recasting? Really? Let's hope it wasn't a monetary issue.
I know that Kermit is just a puppet, but he means so much more. To me, Kermit represents art, freedom to be yourself and dreaming big. I'm sure he means the same thing, or more, to a lot of people. Steve carried the spirit of Kermit, with the lessons he learned from Jim Henson. Kermit, in a way, was an alter ego of Henson. That's what made Kermit, Kermit. Steve saw that and applied it to his performance of him. I trust that Vogel will do a good job as Kermit, knowing that Vogel himself is a Muppet fan. Imagine being a Muppet fan and someone tells you "Your Kermit's representation know." But it's unfair what has happened to Steve. It appears that all the years of hard work, sweat, and tears of Steve as Kermit mean nothing to Disney.