Arriving Friday evening, I checked in a couple puppets from my show Monster Intelligence to be used in the exhibit and met Facebook friend Jeff Bragg. Jeff has been a friend in the online world for some time and these festivals are always a great place to put faces to the online names and make lasting friendships. After dinner, we were treated to shows by fellow puppeteers and were wowed by The Tanglewood Marionettes and their presentation of The Dragon King. Theirs was a lesson in the beauty in the details. Gorgeous marionettes were paired with a beautifully painted scrolling background, set pieces that flew in and out and numerous pieces of eye candy that created a delightful experience. If you ever get the chance to see a Tanglewood show, do yourself a favor and go!
On Saturday, I took two morning workshops dealing with tips and tricks of the trade. The first was with Tom Tucker, a puppeteer from Philadelphia. Tom has a great, infectious passion for all the tools and tricks that make puppet building a breeze. From the best super glue (gorilla glue brand) to micro tools and the best materials for shadow puppets, Tom covered the gamut with a great enthusiasm. No matter how many years you spend in this business, you can always glean a new tip or trick from other builders. My second workshop was with Lex Rudd from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge which aired on the SyFy channel. If you haven’t seen the show, you can watch episodes online. Lex was a fan favorite and a PGOGNY member. She was the only contestant who actually worked in the ‘puppet world’. Lex shared her process and some of her wonderful puppet designs. Toward the end of the workshop, she gave insights into the Creature Shop Challenge from auditions through the show itself. It was great to find out that she has done some freelance work for the Creature Shop since wrapping up the show.
Saturday’s shows had their gems as well with Bonnie Duncan’s Squirrel Stole My Underpants. Along with her puppetry skills, Bonnie is a trained dancer and it shows. She is lively on her feet as she bounds with energy through the pacing of this show. Without any dialog, her expressions and movement spin a wonderful tale with the puppet protagonist. Bonnie’s show was a master class in story telling. Lines of clothes become a dark forest that comes to life, an ocean she must cross and a large tree made of laundry as she tracks down her prized panties. The tale is equal parts silly and triumphant.
The late night puppet slam is always an interesting collection of talent. Ideas are presented from the sublime to the ridiculous. A favorite included the telling of a Jewish joke with puppets. The husband and wife team of Anna Sobel and Brian Bender invoked vaudeville with Brian on melodica and trombone and Anna acting out the tale with colorful hand puppets. It’s wonderful seeing stories of all faiths and backgrounds being represented in puppetry.
I may never be a marionette artist but, I wanted to see how the pros string and manipulate their puppets in the Sunday morning workshops. Lead by National Marionette Theatre’s David Syrotiak Jr., it was a master class in marionette movement. What looks like simple movement, rocking and swaying, turns out to be quite the skill. David went through a cast of half a dozen or more marionettes showing how specific stringing on certain marionettes created movements that are specific to that character; whether it be a soldier attacking with his sword, a ballerina going up on pointe or a dog’s legs alternating as he walks. When us students had a chance to hold a puppet, creating movement was like flailing in the water for a first swim lesson.
Sunday afternoon, we were treated to a toy theatre performance titled “Emma’s Parlor”, a wonderfully passionate story of anarchist and women’s rights activist Emma Goldman. Lorna Howley and Martina Plag created this moving piece with an elaborate toy theatre stage with scenes moving in and out. Toy cardboard binoculars were provided for the audience so we could examine the tiny set from our seats. It was a brilliant touch. The stage was decorated with old luggage, a victrola and bird cage which were all incorporated in the story. Howley embodied the character of Emma and emoted brilliantly. When the show ended, the audience erupted with wild applause and a well-deserved standing ovation.
Each piece of puppet theatre is a class where we have the opportunity to better ourselves. To the strong story tellers mentioned here, I thank you from every felty fiber of my puppet being. I look forward to every puppet festival to continue my education and help me be a better puppeteer.
See Up In Arms on Instagram for additional photos from the puppet homecoming exhibit.