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Meet Baton Rouge’s Puppetmaster

Most of us would call ourselves lucky to be able to count our true friends on one hand, even if they are two feet tall, covered in fuzz, and moonlight in a junkyard rock band.  These rowdy rockers make up only one part of the unique creations that Clay Achee and his wife, Kirstin Martinez, have handcrafted and brought to life through their home business, Beyond the Garage. Needless to say, they have got their hands full.

A Baton Rouge native Achee, grew up idolizing Jim Henson and Walt Disney, and aspired to emulate his heroes while carving out his own path. He relocated to Georgia to attend Savannah College of Art & Design, where he majored in film, and then returned home to Baton Rouge just as Louisiana became a central hub for the film industry. He worked in this arena for several years gaining experience in all aspects of film production while soaking up knowledge from experts in the field.

Upon marriage and becoming a father to his son, Dash, he decided to take a break from film to explore other options to bring in income while pursuing his artistic endeavors. Subsequently, he taught himself how to sew, the monster puppets evolved, and they have been taking on lives of their own ever since.

Guided by the footsteps of major names like Walt Disney, The Ramones, and Microsoft, Beyond the Garage’s namesake pays tribute to an all-too-familiar rite of passage for small business owners.

“It’s the American thing to start your dream in your garage, and we were desperately trying to get out of it,” discusses Achee. When the idea hit to start a YouTube series featuring their puppets, he was all in.  “I’m not going to ask permission to do this thing,” he reflects, and Ziggy and the Junk Yard Band was launched.

The popular children’s YouTube series showcases a lively bunch of puppet musicians, representing each thread of rock n’ roll, and their comical interactions with a curious alien, Ziggy, who has ventured to Earth on a music-centered mission.

“The idea that an alien came back to Earth looking for Chuck Berry filled me with childlike excitement,” Achee gushes.

Although all the characters are loosely based on Achee, himself, he performs the character of River, the All-American rocker.

“River should never be the most responsible person in a room, but he happens to be in this room,” chuckles Achee, a feeling he can relate to well as the director.

As the storyline developed, instilling the characters with distinct personalities and direction, they became something even more valuable:  a vessel for talking to kids about art, music, life and the power of imagination.  In the next few months, Achee is eager to begin teaching music to 4 and 5-year-olds as part of the Little Wing program of School of Rock Baton Rouge, where he is certain all the puppets will be frequent educational visitors.

Beyond the Garage also features a unique line of products, all surrounding a central theme of (you guessed it) monsters, which they sell customarily at local events.  Among the items currently available are handmade hats, monograms, hula hoops, Little Monster and Halloween t-shirts, and, naturally, monster puppets, for those looking to snag one of their very own.  Achee and Martinez can be contacted online for custom orders and followed on Facebook.com/beyondthegarage and Instagram @ZiggyandtheJunkyardBand.

In regards to the future, Achee jokes, “It was never supposed to, but this passion project turned into a career without my consent and it is becoming viable.”

Today, BeyondtheGarage’s monster puppets can be found on billboards around the city advertising Patient Plus, performing live shows, and even interviewing guests on radio shows. As well-recognized members of the community, it is safe to say these wild misfits have found their home.

Photo by Cayle Gray

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