While studying theater in college, Johnny was trained in puppet design and performance by Mike (a.k.a Milo) O’Brien, who earned his doctorate in Puppetry from the University of Connecticut. Johnny reflects on how he got started: “I had been interested in Puppets since I was a kid- growing up with Sesame Street, the Muppets, etc. I even built a few, um, very rough moving mouth puppets in middle school. It felt like an awkward phase for a bit, but once I started taking legitimate classes and learning the real basic patterns and ‘tricks of the trade’ (lots of stitching… and TONS of glue, ridiculous amounts of glue), I started making some pretty decent Henson-style puppets in my spare time.”
“…I built this kind-of mad laboratory in the basement of my parents’ home in Great Barrington, and again at my first apartment in Troy NY. Suddenly I had like, dozens of puppets. I was renting them out, teaching workshops, performing at parties, and building new ones for local children’s theater. It was a blast.”
Soon after designing and building the Cat in the Hat puppet for the New York State Theater Institute’s production of “Seussical” (above), in his senior year at Russell Sage College Segalla was asked to create a few more characters for the Theater Institute at Sage, which was developing a new touring show for elementary school audiences. It was called “The B Bomb,” and it was performed in hundreds of elementary schools throughout the capital district. The intent of the show was to teach children about the dangers of bullying in all it’s incarnations, with a strong emphasis on cyber bullying.
In 2011 Johnny graduated from Russell Sage College with a BA in Theater. Proud of his progress but feeling a bit jaded by the commercial direction of the industry, he took a short hiatus from performing to work full time in resident care for adults with severe physical & mental disabilities. He occasionally brought his puppets to work, for a surprise visit or performance.
“I quickly discovered the obvious- that puppets are an incredible medium for relating to individuals with special differences. They provide a gentle middle ground for communication which is relatable and non-threatening in what could otherwise be a difficult situation to navigate.” He built a few puppets just for this purpose and soon began working 1-on-1 with Autistic children.
In 2012 Johnny began volunteering at CATA (Community Access to the Arts) http://www.communityaccesstothearts.org/ in Great Barrington MA. “It’s this wonderful bunch of human beings- a full spectrum of individuals who come together for art classes, theater games, and all sorts of creative projects. Every year they do this big gala event held at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox MA. The CATA performance is always the most beautiful thing you’ve seen, every time.”
In the spirit of sharing his craft Segalla offers 1 on 1 lessons, in-class/at-home workshops in puppet building and performance, & puppet play therapy for all ages and individuals.