When Drew Nowlin was a child, his mother often took him to watch children’s theater, including the Grey Seal Puppets, a puppetry company in Charlotte.
Those activities helped shape his future.
Nowlin, 34, is a puppeteer who writes his own puppet shows, constructs puppets and performs with puppets in assorted venues. He maintains a website at www.fracturedpuppetminds.com.
Nowlin attributes his interest in the arts to his family background.
His mother, Connie, taught arts and crafts, and his father, Phil, was a videographer for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
“They were incredibly, incredibly keen on letting me find my own path,” Nowlin said. He is a graduate of Myers Park High School and holds a bachelor’s degree in theater from UNC Charlotte.
Nowlin is experienced with hand puppets, rod puppets, shadow puppets, giant puppets and something he calls “obscure puppets,” which are similar to marionettes.
He entertained visitors uptown this summer with a couple of giant puppets at the grand opening of Romare Bearden Park. Nowlin said he admires Bearden’s paintings, so he was glad to pay tribute to the artist, who is a Charlotte native.
Some giant puppets can weigh as much as 60 to 80 pounds and are physically demanding to maneuver.
“These things are gargantuan,” he said.
Nowlin’s puppets are crafted from inexpensive materials or recycled items. He considers himself a “poor man’s puppeteer,” he said.
Among the more unusual materials he’s used are authentic automotive parts from a Chevrolet Camaro.
A small puppet takes no more than a few days to make, including time for painting, drying and detail work. A giant puppet requires two weeks to a month, depending on materials.
Nowlin learned to use a sewing machine and also knows how to sew by hand. He said puppets are rising in popularity as a simple form of entertainment. More shows and performances are incorporating puppets as part of their act.
Nowlin said versatility is important to succeed in the performing arts.
“Puppetry is what I love to do more than anything else, but it can’t be the only thing that you do,” he said.
He also juggles, walks on stilts and sculpts balloons, and is a juggler and variety performer with the Fettucini Brothers, a group that blends comedy, juggling and other entertainment.
Hardin Minor, an artistic director of OMIMEO Mime Theatre and one of its co-founders, has known Nowlin about 12 years and has performed with him.
“Drew really does create magic with his puppets,” Minor said.
Nowlin said he has recently become interested in researching Vietnamese water puppets, an ancient form of puppetry.
Nowlin is a Charlotte native who lives in Pineville with his wife, Chelsea Pifer, a sports and fitness writer and personal trainer who sometimes assists with the puppets.
“You’re only limited by your own imagination,” he said of puppetry.