In September 2005, the Muppets Holding Company, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, held open auditions to cast "alternate performers" for the ten main Muppet characters, including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and Gonzo.
Disney's plan is to replace the Muppeteers ― artists who have performed these classic characters for decades ― with a production line of part-time puppeteers. It's cheaper and quicker to use young, unknown performers ― they don't ask as many questions or hold things up by insisting that the characters remain consistent.
Already, by October 2005, Disney has replaced Muppet performers Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire and Bill Barretta on the "Statler and Waldorf From The Balcony" web show at movies.com. The real performers appeared on the first eight episodes ― and then they were yanked off the project for episode 9, and replaced with cheaper substitutes.
Not only is this a bad way to treat your most talented performers, it's also bad for the characters. Jim Henson knew that having a single performer gives each Muppet character a soul. Kermit isn't just a puppet that can pass from hand to hand; he's a character, and he needs to be consistent to be real. When characters have changed hands over the years, it's always been out of necessity, the result of a performer's death or retirement. Kermit passed to Steve Whitmire after Jim died; nobody else has ever performed the character.
If Disney continues down this road, the Muppet characters will become what Henson never wanted them to be ― a box of puppets that can get passed around, a collection of catchphrases that anybody can imitate.
This is a crucial moment in the history of the Muppets. The people in charge of the Muppets are still working on this plan, and there's still time for them to change their minds. They need to hear from you ― the people who grew up with the Muppets, the people who love the characters and want to see them thrive. We need to show them what the audience response will be to an army of Muppet temps.
Tell the Muppets Holding Company that you don't want substitute Muppets. The Muppets should have one performer per character, the way they always have. One Kermit, one Piggy, one Fozzie, and one Gonzo ― One Muppet, One Voice.