Being a puppeteer isn't just socks and giggles. To prove that point, Chris Schulz gets an lesson from official Muppeteer and Sesame Street veteran, Peter Linz.
Backstage at Henderson's Whoa! Studios, a crowd has gathered. They want to see a failure. They're about to get their wish.
"We should get you on camera so you can try this out," says Peter Linz, an official Jim Henson "muppeteer" with 27 years of expert puppeteering experience behind him.
Linz has been trying to explain to Weekend the art of puppetry, how much thought goes into a puppet's every move and how hard it is to "convey the full range of human emotion through, basically, a sock".
He's decided the best way to prove this is to give this journalist, a shaky puppeteering novice, a practical lesson.
So Linz opens up his suitcase, pulls out his "practice puppets" and hands over Kermit the frog. Yes, for Weekend's debut, we've been given the most iconic Muppet of all time.
Linz sets up a monitor and turns on a camera, determined to get this embarrassing first attempt on tape. While he does this, a crowd gathers, mostly made up of Whoa! puppeteers, who have been in training with Linz this week as they embark on filming their first children's TV show together, Custard's World.
"Just get the character centred, and have his eyes look right down the lens," says Linz. To him, it's the most basic puppeteering movement, one he's done thousands of times with his memorable characters: Walter in The Muppets, and Ernie in Sesame Street.
I can't do it. Kermit slowly fades off screen. The more I try to correct his decline, the faster he disappears. "Everything is backwards, that's the first hurdle to get over," laughs Linz.
He squares Kermit back up and gives me some tips. "Stand here ... arm nice and tall ... there's the two eyes looking ... you can put your arm up higher ... a little more, a little more ... that's nice."
He backs off, then suggests another simple task: making Kermit count to 10. Again, I can't do it. I'm out of time, Kermit looks like he's chewing vigorously on a lump of cardboard and, with a growing crowd watching this meltdown, I'm turning the colour of beetroot.
"You look like a snapping drill," says Linz, who has grabbed his own puppet, a shaggy puppy, and joined me on screen. His puppy begins to mock me. "How do you talk like that?" he declares.
The crowd starts laughing. I start sweating. Then things get worse. Kermit's head has nodded back and is staring skyward. I can't straighten him up. "Doesn't that hurt your neck?" laughs Linz. "What are you looking at up there?"
Giggles ripple through the crowd. Whoa!'s puppeteers are on a lunch break, and they're enjoying what they're seeing. Together, they have years of experience entertaining kids with Whoa!'s cast of colourful characters, and rookie mistakes like mine have been long forgotten.
Today is the first day of filming Custard's World, a children's show that has NZ on Air funding and will screen on TVNZ's Heihei channel. The stories are based on Whoa!'s live shows, with characters like Custard and Buzz and Jazz taking on Dr Gloom, a big-nosed villain trying to steal everyone's smiles.
Linz is on his second visit to Whoa! The first time, he was helping them establish their live shows, which have been running since Whoa! opened in 2016. Today, he's giving them a few tips to transport their skills to the small screen.
Puppeteering on television, he says, is completely different to a live show. "TV is so intimate. Every tiny movement you do has to mean something," says Linz. "If it doesn't, it looks like you don't care about it. There's so much going on - it's a magic trick."
Suddenly, there's a loud beep. The camera's battery has died. Thank God. My relief is obvious. Linz's lesson is over. But the mocking isn't. Linz has grabbed Grover to review my performance.
He's won the crowd over, and he's just showing off now. "Did anyone see that?" asks Grover. "It was a train wreck. It was a mess. Very entertaining." I slink off to the side. Linz comes over. "You're a good sport," he says, by way of consolation.
"Very few people understand how hard it can be," says David Sutherland, the owner of Whoa! Studios who cashed in his tech job to set up the combined eatery, theatre show and playground, which opened in 2016. "To turn puppetry into a proper art form where people feel like actors [in New Zealand], it's incredible difficult."
Sutherland is buzzing. He'd always intended the characters from his stage shows to appear on television, and today it's finally happening. In a giant shed beside the theatre a sound stage is set up with Dr Gloom's car and lair, and one of the first things he did when Whoa! opened was shoot a two-minute trailer in it.
The set is shushed. Dr Gloom, played by Terry Hooper, is sitting in the back of his Gloomsmobile, setting up for a scene. His prosthetic nose took 90 minutes in makeup to get right and, in the back seat, a puppet kea bird is chirping at him. Nearby, two other puppeteers are working to film a version of Star Wars' trash compactor scene, their hands stuck up inside a giant box.
Linz says the standard of Whoa!'s puppeteers is "really strong", and points to Jon Coddington, who plays Buzz, as world class. "He's very funny, a goofball, a classic clown. A sense of play comes through his puppetry. He's at the top ... they're all doing great."
Even with 27 years of experience, Linz says he's still learning. Today, he's trying to pass on his knowledge to Whoa!'s cast. He wants them to get "to a point where you could watch a scene with the volume turned down and you can still figure out what's going on just based on the movement".
As for me, Linz laughs. He says I have plenty of work to do if I'm ever to make it as a puppeteer.
"I always equate it to a musical instrument," explains Linz. "You can someone to play Twinkle Twinkle (Little Star) in a week. It takes years to play jazz."
• Custard's World begins streaming on Heihei from October 6. For more information on Whoa!'s live shows, visit whoastudios.co.nz.