Exclusive Interview with ‘Fraggle Rock’ Creative Supervisor & Puppeteer John Tartaglia

Karen Prell and John Tartaglia attend the 2022 Children's & Family Emmys at Wilshire Ebell Theatre on December 11, 2022 in Los Angeles, California
Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images

We were lucky enough to ask some burning questions to the very talented John Tartaglia, Creative Supervisor of the Fraggle Rock franchise and puppeteer who has been in the business since he was a teenager. As the second season of Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock just premiered on Apple TV+, he answered questions about the show, the new season, and his interesting career history. Let’s get into it!

You perform the roles of Gobo Fraggle, Architect Doozer, Gunge, Barry Blueberry, and Sprocket the Dog in ‘Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock.’ Which one is your favorite to perform and why?

Oh, that’s tough, that’s like choosing among your children! I really do love performing all of them for different reasons and they all bring out different sides of myself as a performer. But, if I HAD to pick, I think I would say Gobo. He truly has my heart and has made me both a better performer and person and carrying on the legacy of Jerry Nelson (his original performer) has been such an honor.

Fraggle Rock Red Fraggle 1983-87

HBO/Everett Collection

Growing up, which character was your favorite? Has that changed now that you’re working on the show?

Red Fraggle all the way! I have ALWAYS loved her and loved Karen Prell’s brilliant portrayal of her, everything from the voice to the comedy to the genius puppetry. I just love how out loud she is!

What does it mean to you to go from a fan of the show to becoming the Creative Supervisor of the franchise?

I think the best word to describe it is surreal… I use that word a lot in talking about it… I mean, how often does something like this happen? Growing up being obsessed with a show and truly loving it in every way possible and almost 35 years later getting the chance to reboot it? It’s a privilege and a great responsibility and the happiest I have ever been. The fact that I got to spend my childhood playing in Fraggle Rock and now I get to do it as a job as an adult? Absolutely UNREAL!

Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock from left: Uncle Travelling Matt, Wembley (voice: Jordan Lockhart), Mokey (voice: Donna Kimball), Gobo (voice: John Tartaglia), Red (voice: Karen Prell), Boober (voice: Dave Goelz), 'The Great Wind', (Season 2, ep. 201, aired March 29, 2024)

Apple TV+/Everett Collection

What were some of the challenges with creating the reboot? It seems it is always difficult to reboot something so nostalgic for so many people.

It can be difficult, yeah, fans always have high expectations of something that means so much to them and that’s why I think of this as such a privilege, not everyone gets the chance to remake something that is so beloved. I think a lot of people who reboot shows or movies tend to panic about being “modern” or “edgy” or “cool” and they immediately decide to revamp or update to update… not because it’s in the best interests of the property but just to make it “relevant.” We all came from the place of – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! There’s a reason something as adored as Fraggle Rock has stayed beloved for 40 years! So, we kept everything that works, all of the brilliant characters and music and design and concept and world-building, etc and just updated its tone and pace and feel. To us, that’s what makes this version seem both accessible for fans of the original and at the same time makes it feel completely brand new to someone watching it for the first time. Why change something that works so well already???

What can fans expect from the new season of ‘Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock?’

We really tried to make this season even more epic in all ways, the stories, the sets, the music, the character arcs and more! We took what people loved about season 1 and just kept exploring new ways to make the show grow. One of the things I love that we did this season was explore what we call the “shadow” sides of the characters…. their other personality traits that may not be as dominant but are still there… that’s what makes them feel so real. For example, who is Red when she’s not being the outgoing athletic one? How does Gobo act when he doesn’t have all the answers? How does Boober step up to the plate when someone else is in peril and battling anxiety and not him? We also end the season on a BIG development that I can’t wait to see fans’ reactions to and also can’t wait to continue on in season three!

Actor John Tartaglia attends the opening night performance of "Hadestown" at Ahmanson Theatre on April 27, 2022 in Los Angeles, California

Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

Which Fraggle Rock character do you personally most relate to and why? (Ex: When Gunge does XXX that’s so me!)

Hmmm… I would say it’s a cross between Gobo and Wembley. I can be SO indecisive and too much of a people pleaser like Wembley yet super loyal like he is. And I can be a leader like Gobo but can definitely get stubborn like he does, too!

The puppet house is on fire – which ‘Fraggle Rock’ character are you saving first and why?


I read that you were one of the youngest ‘Sesame Street’ puppeteers in the show’s history, joining at age 16. What was that experience like for you? How did you learn puppeteering?

It was incredible…. and difficult! Being so young and coming into an established troupe of puppeteers wasn’t always easy. I was like the new family member suddenly showing up and being put into the family photo… that can be a tough experience. But honestly, everyone was so welcoming and supportive and quite protective of me. I didn’t go to college, I went right from high school to living by myself in NYC and working on Sesame so I was literally raised on that street! But it was a mind-blowing experience to go from watching that show to working on it! It took me almost the entire first season I was there to stop calling Sonia Manzano “Maria,” her character name! I mean, she was Maria to me! But I started puppeteering at a very young age by watching and learning from TV at home. But it’s a very different experience to go from that to doing it with professionals on a set of the most famous kids’ show in the world! So, there was a learning curve but truly such a glorious experience.

What are 3 skills you absolutely have to have to make it in puppeteering?

The ability to do different voices, physical strength and really good character development skills.

Actor John Tartaglia performs onstage at the Family Festival Street Fair during the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival on May 1, 2010 in New York City

Joe Corrigan/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

What are your favorite parts/challenges of puppeteering?

I come from a theater background so I love when we do really challenging choreography or dance with the puppets…. LOVE that. I love finding a new character from scratch. Taking a new puppet that’s never been performed before and originating who they are… finding that voice, how they move, etc. And more than anything the collaborative spirit it all takes…. we all work very closely together, physically and emotionally, and it really teaches you the power of a shared idea and the power of “yes, and.” Everyone’s ideas are valid and need to be heard!

How did you come to create your own show ‘Johnny and the Sprites’ on Playhouse Disney? Tell us about that experience.

Oh, what a truly lucky experience. I was doing Avenue Q on Broadway and Rich Ross, who was President of Disney Channel at the time, came to see the show and asked me to dinner and expressed that he loved the work I did in both Avenue Q and on Sesame Street, etc, and asked if I had ever thought about having my own series. I mean, I had…. but in one of those “if I ever win the lottery” dream-like scenarios! I never thought it would actually happen! But he believed in my talent and so with some dear friends we created Johnny and the Sprites and before I knew it, I was starring in and executive producing my own TV series at 27… it was like a dream. Those two seasons taught me SO much about business, about being a leader, producing a show, handling power, being open and accessible and about collaboration… so much. But we really had a BLAST making it. I am so touched now when people who are in college come up to me and tell me it’s the show that made them want to be a performer or it comforted them during a tough time in their lives, etc. I feel very honored to have had the experience of making that show with some of my closest friends.

John Tartaglia, Jack McBrayer and Karen Prell speak onstage during the 2022 Children's & Family Emmys at Wilshire Ebell Theatre on December 11, 2022 in Los Angeles, California

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

I also read that you’ve been on Broadway and played some iconic characters including Lumière and Genie. What was your favorite show and/or character to portray?

That’s another tough one! I have been lucky enough to star in three Broadway shows including Avenue Q and I have loved them all. I played Pinocchio in the original cast of Shrek the Musical and that was such fun and of course, playing Princeton and Rod in Avenue Q changed my life and gave me this career in so many ways. It was my Broadway debut so that will always be so special. But if I was honest, I ADORED playing Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast. I was so happy doing that show 8 times a week… I mean, C’mon! You get to steal the show with “Be Our Guest” and make the audience laugh and sing that glorious Alan Menken and Howard Ashman score every night??? Heaven! I would do it again in a heartbeat!

Anything else you’d like to share with our audience?

I’m just so happy people love Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock as much as we love making it! To say it’s a labor of love is an understatement. We all worked at our highest level making the show and are so proud of it. Hope we get to do it for many more seasons!

Thank you so much for talking with us John!

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June 2018

Unleash your inner child by reliving your favorite kids TV shows, cartoons, toys and more!

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