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
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
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
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
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
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.