You may have met him at the corner of King and Calhoun, or perhaps you've seen him at the City Market. He's a diminutive fella — roughly six inches tall — so you could have overlooked him at first. That is until he starts belting out Al Green's "Tired of Being Alone" or Sinatra's "New York, New York." When Mr. Bonetangles, a skeleton puppet, takes his tiny mic on his suitcase stage, people notice. That's when all the push and shove of the city fades away and a sunny afternoon or perhaps an evening street lamp becomes the spotlight for one of the Holy City's most creative new acts. And if a cameo in the new movie Chef is any indication, he may be the most promising hope for a street performance community to take off in this city. But how did a singing stack of bones, who's received a royalty check from Jon Favreau, end up here? We asked the man pulling his strings, Will Schutze, to find out.
"I followed my girlfriend here," Schutze says. See, the puppeteer and his girlfriend Ashley Brundrett, a medical student, have been dating for seven years since meeting at University of Texas at Austin. "She went to school in Lubbock at Texas Tech University, and I had these dreams and plans and stuff to be a puppeteer. We worked it out to where we were in a long distance relationship."
Schutze moved to L.A. where he performed around Santa Monica and tried his hand at acting. But the two decided that wherever Ashley got her residency, he'd move there too. "MUSC ranked her as number one," says Schutze. So the couple packed up a car, and his 30 marionettes and hand puppets, and drove to the Holy City.
But long before Schutze was discovered by Favreau, (who spotted him performing on the street and promised to put him in a movie one day), he was just a typical drama kid in Texas. "My high school theater teacher's husband John Hardman is a puppeteer and runs the state fair show in Dallas," Schutze explains. "He had me come fill in one year for someone who couldn't be there and I fell in love with this. I realized this was a way to pursue my dream of being an entertainer and an artist."
And that he's done. In fact, Schutze earns his entire living from busking. A regular gig at the Charleston City Market's evening market keeps him busy Thursday through Saturday where he typically brings out Mr. Bonetangles. The rest of his puppets get top billing when he's experimenting at other locations around town. That said, he admits he initially got some flack from local police. But, he says, that's all part of the life of a street performer. "I have some friends who live in Brooklyn who do another puppet show out of a suitcase and they're getting a whole lot of trouble from the police there, too," Schutze says. "But, you look at cities like Paris and London, and street performance there has been a tradition."
And really, what's the harm?
"When you're walking down the street and you have a unicycle or your juggling balls or props, people get excited because they know there's a performance going on," Schutze says. "It's just having fun. It's playing, that's essentially all it is."
We'd have to agree. Mr. Bonetangles, play on, player.