Bay City puppeteer gaining recognition for life-size reindeer puppet in 'The Snow Queen' production

It takes three people to operate the reindeer puppet in the Bay City Players production of The Snow Queen, a fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen and the basis of the hit Disney movie Frozen.

One puppeteer operates the hind legs. A second operates the front legs. And a third moves the head and provides the puppet its voice.

It’s quite the production, made even more impressive by the fact that the reindeer puppet is a life-sized representation of the favorite Christmas animal.

The reindeer puppet was designed and created by Kristen Phillips Gray, a puppeteer who trained under the now-retired California State University professor Richard Bay.

The Bay City Players production is a return to form for Phillips Gray, who has been laying low these past eight years as she raises her family in her new home of Bay City.

But as her children grow older, Phillips Gray has more time to focus on one of her passions: Creating puppets.

"Puppeteering is a really fun balance between the mechanical process and the creative process. You have to determine how things work and move but also the design, how they look," Phillips Gray says.

"What I really love about puppetry is that you get to use all of the brain."

Phillips Gray’s life-size reindeer puppet is, by all accounts, one of the highlights of the show.

She started over the summer, drawing designs by hand. Then she built the skeleton and mechanisms that create movement. She applied fur and paint to build the body and then a casting process to create the head and antlers. Click here to see an interview with Phillips Gray about the process.

Soon, with the help of three puppeteers, a reindeer came to life.

"This is not something that’s seen a lot," Phillips Gray says. "This is different than a person in a costume. This is the full embodiment of a character."

Catch the Bay City Players production of The Snow Queen this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Dec. 13–15, at the Bay City Players theater, 1214 Columbus Ave. in Bay City.

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