Deep in the heart of mid-city, Beyond the Garage is filling a niche market you never knew you needed — puppets.
Beyond the Garage is a collection of projects by husband and wife duo Clay Achee and Kirstin Martinez, consisting mainly of the creation, sale and videography of puppets. In addition, they produce merchandise, are available for painting commissions and even make hula hoops.
Clay Achee, the main designer and creator of the puppets, said it all started after he graduated film school in Savannah, Georgia. He moved back to Louisiana after hearing about the boom in film opportunities in the state, but grew dissatisfied working behind the camera. He felt he needed to work with his hands to create instead, and after a few YouTube tutorials, learned to sew puppets.
“YouTube was a thing,” he said. “And suddenly there’s this New Zealand guy with a Gandalf beard teaching me how to make a puppet, so I taught myself how to sew on a sewing machine and started there.”
Achee grew up admiring Jim Henson, so puppeteering was an interest it just felt logical to pursue. After he honed his skills a bit, people began inquiring to buy his creations. His hobby turned into a business, and Beyond the Garage was born.
The creator uses fleece, faux fur and foam to create his puppets, along with the occasionally 3D printed set of joints when they need some more structure. Some are monsters, some are people, but all give the owner the freedom to create their own personality.
Achee says his commissions range from celebrities to monsters to a troll grandma smoking a cigarette — no, really — but each is a unique project. His job changes each day, and that’s the creator’s favorite part.
After puppeteering became his full-time job, the creator decided to utilize some of his other interests and inspirations and create a webshow called “Ziggy and the Junkyard Band.”
The show, shared on YouTube, centers around an alien named Ziggy that comes from an emotionally telepathic planet. There, he never learned about the arts because emotions were immediately understood, so the show is a lesson about both emotional intelligence and the appreciation of art.
The band now contains a full collection of puppets, each representing a style of music, and features the songs of real-life band Liam Catchings and the Jolly Racket. Puppets are voiced by Achee himself, as well as a few students from the University’s theatre program, Chase Bernard and Joe Carleton.
The directly intended audience may be children, but Achee says he wants to make the episodes enjoyable for adults as well. As a parent himself, he understands the struggle of sitting through hours of Elmo’s World.
“It’s meant for kids,” he said. “And unwilling adults.”
Moving forward, the duo says they plan to continue creating commissions for any and every occasion, as well as focus on getting out episodes of “Ziggy and the Junkyard Band.” They also have a few upcoming appearances.
On April 13, Achee will be teaching a course in filmmaking through puppeteering at Knock Knock Children’s Museum, and on April 14, he will be on the children’s stage at Blues Fest.
To keep up with Beyond the Garage’s new projects and appearances, follow its Instagram @beyondthegarageshop, its Facebook, and subscribe to its YouTube channel, Ziggy and the Junkyard Band.