August 1998

Seatttle 1998 National Puppet Festival

Oh boy, a puppet festival! And the national to boot. Lots of Los Angeles people were going. Lots of old friends from around the country would be there. I happen to love Seattle so when guild presidnt, Maria Bodmann, asked me to represent the guild, I was thrilled. Does it sound like I wanted to go?

The University of Washington_s campus was beautiful. The architecture was worth the trip alone. The campus was lush and green. The flower beds bloomed with blue and purple hydrangeas. Those of use lucky to stay on the eastern side of the dorms were treated to a panoramic view over Lake Washington, a view worthy of a four-star hotel.

The first night, Sunday August 1, we all piled into busses and then two ferries to cross the Puget Sound. On an island State Park, nearly 800 participants of the festival got treated to a American Indian salmon dinner and a show. At this event, our own Gayle Schluter received special recognition for her work as Puppeteers of America registrar. Gayle will step down after over two decades of service in January 2000. One speaker said it won't be the same without the charming Cricklewood Path on all the envelopes.

The next morning started early with breakast at 7:00 and workshops at 8:30. From then to the end of the festival, the schedule was packed with the fun and the business of a national festival. Two workshops in the morning were followed by two shows after lunch and two shows after dinner with meetings and parties in between.

Most felt that the shows were uniformly great. Of the final total, only one was rated a stinker. But you cannot please 100% of the people all the time. Performance highlights for me were Huang Yi Que who performed a traditional Chinese marionette show. He's an in-law to the Carter Marionette family, our festival hosts. Huang Yi Que's complex; stringing contirbuted to dazzling life-like movement. The puppeteer also had one puppet who handled objects, an amazing trick that included pouring liquid from a pitcher into a cup. Huang Yi Que closed with his famous monkey act that was delightful. Paul Mesner always makes me laugh. His "Sleeping Beauty" was Paul at his funniest. You cannot believe one puppeteer puts on such a big show. Paul's one-of-a-kind. "The Gertrude Show" from Israel combined dance movement and body puppetry to create surreal vignettes. It was uniformly excellent and very funny to boot. Compagnie Coatimundi from France brought a new show, "The Archangel and the Lion Tamer." A mime-clown-puppet piece involving two neighbors, a man and a woman, a snail grows to huge proportions. Very amusing and very French, like a Sempé cartoon come to life. Orgeon Shadow Theater's production of Thumbelina featured Deb Chase's amazingly beautiful shadow puppetry. Backed by the charming antics of her partner Mick Doherty as narrator, actor and orchestra, these two are excellent talents.

Workshops included Ray DaSilva's discussing Hans Jurgen Fettig's designs. Some Fettig figures were on display in the great exhibit at the festival. I caught Lea's Wallace's workshop on movement and Jim Gamble's on trick stringing.

Although some participants griped about the long walks between events, it kept the weight off those who had desserts in the cafeteria after every meal.

The late night hummed into the wee hours. Our Seattle colleagues took late-night at the festival to new peaks There was a total abundance of events. Mesmerizing toy theater, video pot-pourris, Dada, "fringe," and performance art -like cutting edge stuff along with Las Vegas cabaret, Punch and Judy tossed in. Hosted parties anchored these events that started after the last schduled show at 10:00 pm. Beer and wine were free for the first hour of the night to guarantee attendance. The Los Angeles guild participated in the Pacific Southwest Regional host Wednesday night.

Gratefully, the weather was with us except for a little rain here and there. A huge thunderstorm appeared one afternoon. Lightning struck a tree outside the student union (where many guild events occurred), splintering the tree into pieces. A student sitting on the bench beneath it was injured. It made the local news. A few puppeteers reportedly gathered wood scraps from the scattered shards the next day. Anyone surprised?

The last day's Giant Puppet Parade on Friday afternoon was wonderful. Stilt walkers, dancers, and guild members with puppets and banners participated. The parade started at the student union and moved to the "quad." Open to the public, many Seattle locals got a great glimpse of the fun the puppeteers were having. The giant puppets included many by Fran Dowie who appeared himself. The Festival of the Millennium band provided music along with Sogolon, the wonderful puppet/dance/drumming group from Mali, Africa. (They also offered an excellent performance at the festival). Sogolon brought their giant puppets and costumes to the parade. Their infectious music made you dance. At the Faire after the parade, Bernice Silver got crowned Queen of Pot Pourri. Bernice rode the parade in her chariot. This comical lady is one of a kind. Joe Selph said he worships her.

Peter and Debbie Allen filled the Faire with dozens of Punch and Judy shows. The afternoon started with the master professor of Punch and Judy, Martin Bridle. A flea market ran concurrently where festival-goers and the public perused and purchased goodies. Lea Wallace had a wonderul table where I bought some puppet wigs and postcards...and a Chinese marionette horse that now hangs in my office. Thanks, Lea. I also bought a Festival of the Millenium T-shirt on sale at the Puppetry Store.

The final night of the festival had the Guild's own Phillip Huber and David Alexander performing. Evey Brown got a special award for her service on Puppeteer's of America Board of Trustees. Evey steps down, but we still have her. Rose Ware received the Vice President's Award for her contributions to the Puppetry Home Page. Mabel Beaton got the new George Latshaw award for puppetry editing and writing. George Latshaw retires after years of service as editor of The Puppetry Journal. Paul Eide is the new editor. P of A President Rick Morse also steps down as Steve Abrahms steps up. I look forward to Steve's contributions to the organization.
Dorm life took getting used to, but once you're there it's fine. The food was okay. Some of us sneaked out, and missed an event or two for an excellent dinner in Seattle.

The late-night private parties in the "quad-paritioned" dorms went on to the wee morning hours to the annoyance of those trying to sleep for the next day's sessions of solid puppet stuff. I never saw the four guys I shared my dorm area with together until the last night of the festival when I pulled in at 2:15 a.m. Everyone was still up to say good night. Talk about perseverance.

It takes staggering stamina to get through a national puppet festival. No one can see or do everything. Besides regular events, there were many scheduled field trips across Seattle: A Chinese shadow exhibit in the Seattle Asian Museum of Art, a tour of Aurora Valentinetti Puppet Museum in Bremerton, and, last but not least, Alan Cook's excellent exhibit of the Mantel Mannikins in Everett Washington, home to that historic puppet troupe. Phillip Huber visited the Carter's puppet center in Seattle on one field trip and reported it was great. Most of us got totally used to our nametags flopping on our chests, announcing our first names to everyone, while we scurried here and there, clutching schedules and manuals and newly acquired goodies. Some had dribbled toothpaste down their name cards in their haste not to miss anything. The dedication and perseverance of festival-goers could not match the fine work of the volunteers and staff who produced the Festival of the Millennium. Congratulations and thanks to the Carter family for pulling it off. Tampa is next in 2001.