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  • Annette Dawm

Back to the Rock with Ramon “Dan” Garza

Ramon “Dan” Garza described himself “primarily an artist, in whatever form that takes”. He has worked as a puppeteer, illustrator, writer and director, as well as a voice over artist. Regardless of whatever role he takes on, the most important thing for Dan is to connect with other people.

As he explained, “When I walk past somebody I don’t know, and I say, ‘Hey, how ya doing?’ I’m not just blindly saying hi! I’m saying, ‘How are you? As a human, how are you?’ You’d be surprised at how many people just don’t answer or just keep walking. Maybe you won’t be surprised, but it really surprises me because I really care! I don’t want to sell you anything and I don’t want any money off of you. I don’t want anything. I just want to see how you’re doing as a human.”

In order to balance all of the different aspects of his career, Dan prioritizes his time based on each project. For example, as an illustrator and an artist, he can work independently. If he is required on set, then he has to follow a schedule that works for everyone.

“They’re dealing with a thousand other people that have certain restrictions…. So you have to balance it all out and then you have to balance family and friends… among all of those other things.”

In the beginning, Garza attended a theatric academy where he learned a litany of skills in addition to acting: “….I learned everything! Like, soup to nuts! They taught us about history. They taught us about performance. I took ballet classes—if you can imagine me as a ballet guy! Stage combat, lighting, directing, and then writing, set design and wardrobe—I did all those things!”

“Then you put in the work and you find your place in the world. You find your little tribe that you can start making stuff with and it’s wonderful! Then I got the opportunity to start writing and directing shows for kids! In doing so, there were certain characters that I just couldn’t get on stage. I couldn’t get a giant fish, or a talking horse, or a giant snake. I couldn’t get those things on stage so I started building them and storytelling with those. Then I went into animation….”

In terms of creating his own puppets based on a sketch, Dan said, “….Sometimes you’re really scrambling your brain with those things because you go from a 2D image, which is just flat, to something that now you have to build. So you have to be flexible…. You have to allow yourself to make glorious mistakes. That’s one of the things that I tell anyone who is looking to do something important in life. I want you to fail gloriously! Fail in the best possible way so that you can learn from it.”

“Moving forward, you’ll say, ‘Well, that didn’t work this way…. Let me try that way.’ So, a lot of it is trial and error, especially with building puppets and performing. You want to get to the real heart of the character. You want to be able to be that individual living in that little moment and you want to be as honest as possible with it…. Fail gloriously so that you can thrive.”

He added that people should experience new things or do the things that they’ve always wanted to do. Then they won’t have a feeling of “What if?” later in life.

“….Try to be as genuine as possible. It’s okay to be you. It’s okay. It’s amazing to be you and always hold that to heart, no matter what other people say, because ultimately, they’re not living your life. You are.”

Prior to his time on Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock, Dan worked on Kidding. In the series, Jim Carrey portrayed Jeff Pickles. Jeff is a beloved children’s entertainer (similar to Mr. Rogers or Mr. Dressup) who deals with the death of his own child.

“Jim was great! It’s weird because I call him ‘Jim’. It’s because that’s how he introduced himself. Not because it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, me and my pal, Jim!’ He doesn’t call me for cookouts or anything like that, but we worked for two seasons together and he’s a very intense performer. Like, very intense! That’s something I can appreciate because I’m very much of that same mindset. We’re doing this and we need to be honest about it. If it hurts us in the process sometimes, it’s the way we have to go. To me, and from what I could see around us, he was nothing but kind…. There were moments where you have to respect each other’s privacy and process as you’re doing things.”

Garza recalled that he had many “wonderful” days on set where he would make Jim laugh or even snort on stage. “A lot of times, we would do it as scripted and then other times we would improvise certain things. Those were fantastic moments. There were other times when we were super vulnerable. In those times, you have to tread lightly and you have to respect each other—not only as performers, but as humans.”

“You have to remember that everyone sees him as ‘Jim Carrey: The guy who is always funny!’ or ‘Jim Carrey: The Superstar’…. They wonder what kind of wild and crazy things he’s going to do. Honestly, a lot of us who do take the comedic route, we aren’t very funny in person! We’re pretty boring, but there are opportunities to find humor in everything, especially when we feel comfortable or safe….”

“The way that I saw him work was inspiring. It made everyone else step up their game, too. The first day that I was on set with him, I was watching him through a monitor because I was hiding behind a little window area with Ennui. I saw him bring his heart to an emotional state where it brought tears just to the edge of his eyes. Not a tear was dropped and then he’d suck it back in. It was tremendous to see that kind of dedication…. He was pretty involved with what we were doing… It was great! It was absolutely wonderful!"

"I would do unlimited seasons if it ever came up again. I would work with all of them. Dave Holstein was an amazing Show-Runner. Michel Gondry was an amazing director and everyone else who we had on board, they were just absolutely delightful!”

Dan made even more Canadian connections while filming Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock in Calgary, AB. In this version of the series, he has taken on the voice and face performance of Junior Gorg (originally done by Richard Hunt).

Garza gushed about how much he loved Calgary’s mountains along with the forests, the people, and of course, the ketchup chips: “For Pete’s sake! What’s wrong with you people? You’re hoarding all of the ketchup chips! We don’t get that over here and I sorely miss it!”

“….In season one, we had a bit of amazing weather and then we had, ‘It’s real cold outside!’ I was walking back home with a little scoop of ice cream and my ice cream caught a cold! It froze! It was crazy! It formed crystals on it! It was weird. I’d never had my moustache or my beard or my eyelashes freeze on me….”

“We also did a lot of hiking and we did rafting and we got to enjoy all kinds of other things. You know, I was rafting down The Bow River in Calgary with Dina Meshkuleit (who is one of our amazing wranglers) and Karen Prell! I was in a raft with both Icy Joe and Red at the same time! ….Those are memories that will never leave my mind! It was absolutely brilliant and I love your country! It’s great! Thank you for being Canada!”

Dan described the new Fraggle Rock set as “so magical” and rightly so. He had high praise for everyone involved on the set: “When you walk into The Great Hall, it’s three stories tall. It’s practically a 360 degree environment. It was absolutely stunning—the attention to detail! ….There are details that you will never see on camera that someone spent hours and hours on! That speaks volumes on how deeply we wanted this to be a real place. It feels real every time I step on set. I hope to do it for many years to come!” He was also hopeful that there would even be a movie in the future.

At the same time, he was worried that he might not be able to pull off what the original crew had done. “Gosh! I cry at the drop of a hat as it is, and I carry around a lot of hats to drop! ….It was frustrating for myself as performer. I always believe in finding the honesty or the truth in the character. When I walked in for the first time and I saw that Gorg castle, it was a lot of responsibility that I threw onto my own shoulders….”

“You second guess yourself a lot in any sort of thing that’s important. But if you don’t try and you don’t risk it, you’re never going to know if up to it. Through the help of everyone else, I found that I was up to it because I’m not there alone. That’s one of the best parts of our industry is that we don’t have to do it alone. We’re not doing any of it alone and that’s fantastic.”

Dan acknowledged that technology has evolved by “leaps and bounds” since the original Fraggle Rock first aired. For example, The Doozers can now be made with 3D printers: “Those Doozers are something else! The amount of expression that we can get out of them is pretty fantastic! ….I mean, the expressive nature of The Gorgs has changed, but what it boils down to always is the puppetry and the puppeteer who believes that this is truly happening and it’s real!”

Unfortunately, in some cases, the environment can be too real. This can cause actors to take on the emotional weight of a storyline as if it is happening to them in their own lives.

“….A lot of performers just don’t know how to deal with the aftermath of shooting a very intense scene.” Garza continued. “You have to tell your brain, ‘Hey, whatever we just did was a simulation. It was real for this character. It was real in this moment, but you didn’t go through heartbreak.’ You have to learn how to close those little boxes up.”

In order to channel certain feelings for a scene, Dan will draw inspiration from things that happened to his friends and loved ones. “….At the end of the day, I call them and I thank them for being on set with me. If it’s someone who has passed away, I’ll take a moment and I’ll meditate and pray. I’ll thank them for having been a part of my life."

"I have to convince myself that those things did not just happen. Otherwise, I will have these little holes in my heart that I try to fill with other things. People try to fill them with food or booze or drugs or intense experiences. You have to treat yourself like a little kid and say, ‘Hey buddy, it’s okay. Whatever just happened, we did that because someone else is going to need that encouragement from that story and character down the road.’”

When he was a kid watching the show, Garza admitted that Junior Gorg “scared the hell” out of him. So he wanted to make the character into someone that other kids didn’t have to fear. “….Junior is a product of what his parents made him into, but he’s not limited to that. He’s not a hate machine. He’s not a thumper, even though he might say, ‘I’m gonna thump those Fraggles!’”

“….We have this little shed on set and a scarecrow in his garden.  I thought to myself, ‘What’s Junior’s truth?’ Junior’s truth is that he’s a gardener. He tends to these living things—these plants.”

“He treats each one individually and thinks about, ‘What can you do with a tomato that you can’t do with a potato?  How do you make a carrot grow? How is that different from a sunflower?’ So, much in the same way that Junior takes care of his garden, would be the same way that he would take care of his friends if he had them. He would nurture them. He would love them. He would prune them. He would protect them from predators…. Junior’s heart is rooted in love, not in hate. He wouldn’t cause damage or harm to anyone or anything. In doing so, Junior becomes a more complete and a more fulfilled character for me…. Sometimes you have to do what your parents tell you to do and other times--like you saw at the end of season one--he had to do the right thing.”

Dan estimated that Junior would be in the age range of a 9-11 year old: “….When he has to make a choice in season two for example, he’s getting older. He’s becoming a big boy…. That episode was beautifully written by Charlie Feldman. It was amazing to be able to say, ‘Okay, Junior’s got to make his own choices now, regardless of what Ma and Pa are saying.’ These things are affecting him for the rest of his life, so it was important.”

The majority of the episodes were filmed at the height of the pandemic. This meant that masks and other safety protocols were put into place. To this day, Dan still receives negative comments whenever he shares behind-the-scenes photos on social media.

“….Someone actually posted this the other day. They were like, ‘You’re wearing those masks! You’re normalizing it!’ It wasn’t that for me at all. It was about, ‘How am I protecting people that I’m working with?’”

“None of us asked for COVID! But I can think outside of my own comfort zone and I can deal with it. It’s more about a bigger picture than it is an inconvenience because that’s essentially what it is. People can say it’s about freedom. No, you’re upset because you’re being inconvenienced.”

“I am wearing a weird shirt today and I haven’t had anyone come up to me and say, ‘I hate your shirt’. Or, I have a big, stupid hat. I wear this big, dumb hat so that my head doesn’t burn, right? But I don’t have anybody coming up to me and saying, ‘Why are you wearing that stupid hat? Your hat’s infringing on my vision!’ Nobody’s saying that because everyone knows that I’m protecting myself! I’m trying to add longevity onto my life so that I can do more cool things with cool people so that I can make a difference! The mask is no different for me, if that’s what it takes. You wouldn’t ask someone, ‘Why are you walking around with that oxygen mask?’ They need oxygen!”

He equated the situation to caring for others when they are in need. He agreed that many people found wearing a mask to be uncomfortable. However, it allowed their team as a whole to succeed.

“There was no question for me if I was going to do it or not…. We wore our masks until it was our time to speak. We were getting tested three times a week. If anyone had symptoms they would call it in. They would save production from slowing down or stopping altogether. That’s millions and millions of dollars that are on the line just because someone didn’t necessarily want to follow through. Everyone’s got their choices and they would either come to work with us or they wouldn’t. Everyone that was there was channeling the spirit of Fraggles and Fraggles do things for each other. Fraggles do things together. Fraggles do things despite what their own inconvenience might be. I think that’s a reflection on what Jim Henson wanted to do. I think that’s not a bad thing.”

Finally, Ramon “Dan” Garza expressed that if he could, not only would he want to go back to Fraggle Rock, he’d want to live there in order to make the world a better place. “Anyone who has ever watched the show knows exactly what I mean. I want to live in a world like that where everybody’s different colours and styles with different points of view, but at the end of the day, we all laugh and joke and play.”

“Honestly… if you ask anyone, ‘What is it that you truly want?’ They’ll say, ‘I just want to be happy. I just want to live happy.’ I think everybody wants that! Why does it have to be at the cost or the expense of someone else? It doesn’t. That’s what I’m looking forward to. I just want to plant more good seeds and grow more good fruit and pray that our generation, the next generation and the one after that all learn from each other…. I hope that we make this place significantly better for everyone, not just ourselves….”

For more information, please visit Dan’s website.

Photo courtesy of Dan Garza.

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