Puppetry Journal – Fall 2010 Volume 62, No. 1
Complimentary Online Expanded Article
In years past, festival participants headed down the street after the evening performance to The Wild Onion Cafe for a night of food, drink and good conversation. North Central Missouri College, where the festival is held, is a “dry “ campus, and the original concept was to find a place off campus where we could relax over a drink. Everyone soon realized that owner Pam Infranca’s cooking was an even better reason to visit. We were all heartbroken last year when Pam sold her Cafe. This year, with Pam’s help, the festival was able to rent an empty store near the campus and, for one week only, turned it into PAM'S PLACE. Fairy lights twinkled and festooned the otherwise questionable space, Lava lamps globbed, mexican marionettes dangled (they are collectable you know) and the late-night pub (“Manfully” serviced by Paul Mesner, Drew Allison and Art Grueneberger) was a hit. Everyone was relieved to find that nibbles and nosh were still supplied by Pam Infranca. This new space was so large that we were able to create a stage area, complete with handmade risers. Cabaret performances by festival participants, hosted by Nick Barone, were presented all week long. Even though the woefully inadequate restroom was transformed into the “Muppet Fairy Grotto” and we were fortunate to have Stan Gulick, a plumber and budding puppeteer, attending the festival and willing to repair the plumbing, the festival will be renting another space next year.
You never know what is going to happen at PuppetFest MidWest during the 4 to 5:30 p.m. time slot. On Wednesday, there is always the Grand Opening of the Puppet Exhibit, but Thursday and Friday are up for grabs. Sometimes there are extra performances, sometimes a workshop (Clay Martin’s Swazzle workshop one year was great fun), sometimes a roundtable discussion or who knows what else. This year, one afternoon was taken up with “Swap and Shop”, where your junk is someone else’s new show. This is a free perk of being a PuppetFest MidWest participant. You attend the festival, you get a free table to display your stuff. You do all the work and you get all the money. The exception to that this year was one unknown rogue who had Puppeteers of America National Fest DVDs for sale, with all money going directly to the P of A.
Friday afternoon’s PUPPET JEOPARDY, hosted by Alex Treebark (aka Drew Allison) was a great hit and had most of us in peals of laughter. It had a number of tough questions (thought up by Drew and Luman Coad) and the judges (Luman and Phillip Huber) were quite tough as well. This free-for-all featured contestants from the audience, wild sound effects and was more fun than anyone expected. We look forward to hosting this again (every other year or so). Maybe by then Drew will have grown into his sports jacket (See photo with the the two grand prize winners).
PUPPETFEST MIDWEST awarded four scholarships to attend this year’s event. Scholarship recipients had this to say about their experience. You can read their entire reports on the Festival website, www.puppetfestival.org.
From Stan Gulick, Missouri “... the staff are some of best puppeteers in the industry. They made me feel welcome, not as a beginner but as a fellow puppeteer. When you sat down for a meal, you never knew who would be sitting with you. But usually there was a staff member in the group. The conversations ranged from interesting, to informative, to very funny. All of the Festival staff was very friendly, easy to access and informative.
I attended Nick Barone’s workshop on building and manipulating moving mouth puppets. We not only learned how to build foam talking mouth puppets and practiced manipulation, but ...we learned about lighting, sound, stages, and more.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get better, there were the late nights at Pam’s place...The performances, the conversations, the food and drinks, were a few of the highlights that made the PuppetFest Midwest 2010 so memorable. Oh, when the toilet started having problems at Pam’s Place, the staff amazingly found a plumber at that time of the night (me).”
From Daniel Dold, Arizona - “I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to this wonderful event, having never experiencing any events like (it) I had no idea what to expect, well I am here to tell you, GO, if you ever get the chance.
I was able to take advanced marionette manipulation class with the one and only Phillip Huber. Not only did we get expert knowledge in working the marionette, but we were able to use his marionettes, it was a dream playing with these marvels of mechanical perfection. It was amazing. The puppets seemed to come life just held in a hand, the slightest movement causing these figures to do amazing things. I thought I knew how to work marionettes. It was like learning to walk all over again and I loved it. I want to say this class is not easy, nor should it be. But I came back with a clearer understanding of gravity and pendulum movement and weight placement.”
From Marianne Mettes, Canberra, Australia - “It was much more then inspiring. It was watching world class performances each night, seeing the different styles of puppetry and watch(ing) the puppeteers at work in their element. It was being on an equal level with such artists which was both humbling and encouraging. It was picking the brains of so many other puppeteers and hearing stories and experiences from so many perspectives. It was the support network of 50 puppeteers who believed in you and laughed at all the right places. It was the friendships I made where age had no barriers and who I’ll keep in my heart forever. It was the immense laughter I shared, where your belly and your cheeks would never recover.
For my ‘intensive workshop, I took Randel McGee’s ventriloquism class. On the first day of the workshop, I honestly have to say I felt a little overwhelmed - and we hadn’t even picked up our puppet yet! I had no idea ventriloquism was so complicated! It’s almost like learning a whole other language!
The most important thing I learnt in Randel’s class was about the interaction you must make with your puppet, i.e. you are no longer one person - you are two and you have to think for two. We also spent time in developing our puppet characters, puppet performance techniques and professionalism, script writing and also just lots and lots of insight into Randel’s 30 years of experience performing with his puppet Groark and the amazing support of his wife (Marsha).
The hardest part of the festival was leaving it. I felt like I had found my family, my people - but I already know I’ll be back next year and I’m counting down the days!”
From Camilla Henneman, California - “...it happens that Trenton MO has a great little festival that is still a well-kept secret. Other regions have their festivals...but Trenton may very well have the world’s greatest little puppet festival. For five days, some of the best puppeteers on the continent come to Trenton to share their skills by offering intensive workshops and performances for a very lucky group of festival goers.
I arrived in the afternoon and found lots of old friends, as well as meeting new ones. While we snacked on fruit and delicious cookies baked by the incomparable Doris, we got an update from our host, Debbie Allen, about where festival events would be taking place.
The first evening show was “Suspended Animation”, by Phillip Huber of The Huber Marionettes. Fantastic show! Pix Smith as our MC ... has taken particular care to point out the etiquette and safety concerns one must follow when visiting our Puppet Exhibit, particularly pointing out when, where and how NOT to poke our resident artist, Jim “Nappy” Napolitano, with sharp pointed sticks. No doubt, Nappy will sleep better, knowing that Pix has his back.
...We had our final rehearsal for the tabletop puppet performance, after five days of hard work we were really coming together as a unit. With some final encouragement and nail biting from Art, we suited up in our blacks, and got ready for our afternoon’s performance piece. Our class did a performance of a superhero VS supervillian skit that we titled after our beloved (and patient) leader, “Art Wars” We were finally working as a unit (even the tall people). ...We also all got to see the amazing projects that other classes had been doing in their own workshops.”
Next year’s dates for the 9th annual PuppetFest MidWest are already set, so clear those calendars to spend July 5-10, 2011 in Trenton, Missouri. Enjoy the quiet focus of this small independent festival before leaping into the joyful chaos of the National Festival the following week. For more information, you can go to www.puppetfestival.org or find us on Facebook.
Peter and Debbie Lutzky Allen, Directors
P.O. Box 14
Jamesport, MO, 64648