Puppet-palooza: Month of shows, programs
A month of puppet-related activities around Haines starts with the exhibit “Strung Up and Reconfigured: Puppetry in Haines and Beyond,” 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20 at the Sheldon Museum.
Other events will include four puppet performances, puppet-making workshops and lectures.
“It’s like a puppet festival,” said puppet-maker and history buff Byrne Power, who is co-curating the museum’s exhibit. Power helped launch grown-up puppetry here seven years ago with his “Lilliputian Puppet Theater,” a sideshow at the Southeast Alaska State Fair inspired by a trip to Europe.
Power’s effort splintered off into two theater groups, his “Reckoning Motions” and “Geppetto’s Junkyard,” a puppet theater anchored by residents Gene Kennedy and wife Debi Knight Kennedy. Carver and artist Tresham Gregg followed suit, creating his own puppets and shows.
Power’s and the Kennedys’ groups each will stage shows in the next month. In addition, Power collaborator and puppeteer Paulette Caron of France will work with Haines High School Drama, Debate and Forensics students to create puppets and their own show.
Also, Juneau resident Carlton Smith, who performs Tlingit language ventriloquism with a Charlie McCarthy doll, will perform at the Haines School March 7.
The museum exhibit, which runs through March, will include a display of puppet creations from artists and organizations around Haines plus ones from Bulgaria, Indonesia, and Asia, animatronic puppets, and Folkmanis hand puppets.
New museum curator Helen Alten said puppetry in Haines was a surprise to her. “It’s very interesting, given the population of the town, how many people are involved in it” as well as the level of artistry and handiwork in puppet creations. “It seems like puppets sparked the imagination of the artists in the town. I’ve never been in a town so crazy about puppets.”
The Kennedys’ group will stage “Starlust: A Space Opera,” Feb. 21-22 at the Chilkat Center. Like about a half-dozen shows the troupe has staged, it will include new puppets, an original script and live music.
“In this one, we’re back to bawdy, but there’s a little meaning of life, too,” Knight Kennedy said this week. “I don’t know if there’s a moral but there’s more than just sirens,” including a cowboy duet, she said.
A silver artist who operates an art gallery, Knight Kennedy said puppetry is “insanely fun” because artists can let their imaginations run wild, and work collaboratively. “It’s so satisfying, creatively. There’s lots of brainstorming that goes on. Somebody gets a crazy idea and makes up their own scene, then we oddly work them into one story.”
Power, Caron and others will stage “Everypuppet,” a retelling of the medieval play “Everyman,” on March 14-15, with the time and location to be announced. Power – whose shows are typically weightier than Geppetto’s more lighthearted fare – has incorporated materials ranging from plastic toy soldiers to bones of deer joints in his portrayals.
Power was traveling in Europe in 2005, interviewing puppeteers, when he came across a Czech group doing what he called a more “slapdash” version of puppetry. “I thought, ‘Hey, we could do that in Haines.’”
“You go to any small town in America, and they have a local band. Why isn’t there a puppet theater in every small town? This stuff isn’t that hard to do. It’s a lot of recycling art, which is particularly suited for Alaska, because we recycle everything. We have all this material to work with,” Power said.
Haines is probably the capital of puppetry in Alaska, “because there’s not many people doing it anywhere else,” Power said.
School librarian Leigh Horner said Caron’s puppet performance at the school last year got students excited about the art, so she invited Caron back for two weeks this year to help DDF students make puppets. Students will also write a script and stage a show. Horner said she’s hoping the DDF program can use puppetry to raise money for team expenses.
Other upcoming events include an all-day open house March 1 at the museum, featuring how-to demonstrations and mini performances by local puppeteers.
Power, who is creating a film documentary on puppetry, will talk about the history of the art starting 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 5 at the museum.
Knitting instructor Teresa Raven will teach how to knit Alaska animal finger puppets during Saturday workshops March 8 and March 22, from 1 to 4 p.m.