Puppets on parade
Children and the Arts Festival celebrates 20 years of artistic exploration in downtown Peterborough
The parade of puppets heads down Grove Street during the 2006 Children and the Arts festival. The theme for this year’s 20th anniversary festival is ‘Puppet Palooza’ and many giant puppets from previous years will be back for the parade.
An elephant and a turtle will be featured in the Crabgrass Puppet Theatre's performance at Saturday's Children and the Arts Festival.
A tiger and a jackel will be featured in the Crabgrass Puppet Theatre's performance at Saturday's Children and the Arts Festival.
ConVal student Owen Hale, right, rehearses with Keene State College adjunct professor Rodger Martin in preparation for a performance called "Toying with Milton" that ConVal students will present on Saturday during the Children and the Arts Festival. Hale will be taking the role of the angel Raphael in the dramatic reading, which is based on Milton's “Paradise Lost.”
(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
Captain Hook and a ship full of pirates head down Main Street during one of the early Children and the Arts festival parades. The theme for this year’s 20th anniversary festival is ‘Puppet Palooza’ and many giant puppets from previous years will be back for the parade.
Photo courtesy Terry Reeves
Children carry giant puppets down Main Street during a Children and the Arts festival parade in the 1990s. The theme for this year’s 20th anniversary festival is ‘Puppet Palooza’ and many giant puppets from previous years will be back for the parade.
Photo courtesy Terry Reeves
Peterborough Elementary School second-graders Joseph Gutwein, Oliver Theriault and Kevin Simmons, from left, show off Super Birds puppets they made for this year's Children and the Arts Festival. The students worked with artist-in-residence Lorraine Gilman, who is standing in back with students Danielle Luke and Ezra Faucher.
Second-graders Inaya Vaidya and Ethan Dysart work on their bird puppets at Peterborough Elementary School. Their work will be shown Saturday at this year's Children and the Arts Festival.
In the spring of 1994, Jeannie Connolly, Nancy Brown and Laura Hanson of Peterborough obtained a grant so students at Peterborough Elementary School could make a Claymation film. A contingency of the grant, according to Terry Reeves of the Mariposa Museum, was that the movie be shown to the community. So the filmmakers arranged to use the Peterborough Community Theatre for a showing on a Saturday in late April . The Unitarian Church sponsored a hand’s-on craft event for children. Students in the New Hampshire Dance Institute program arranged to dance at the Peterborough Town House. And New England Marionettes performed Mozart’s “The Magic Fantasy” in the theater where the Mariposa is now located.
From those relatively modest beginnings, Children and the Arts Festival was born.
The puppet parade came along in 1997, said Reeves, who has been on the Children and the Arts Festival Committee since the beginning, but it soon became a highlight of the springtime festival.
“We got another grant, and June Casey from Bread and Puppet Theater [in Vermont] came to work with elementary school students to build large puppets,” Reeves said. “There were 75 the first year. I was shocked. The second year I counted 150. I quit counting after that.”
Some of those early giant puppets will be coming out of the garages, barns and sheds, where they are stored, on Saturday. To celebrate the 20th anniversary, this year’s festival’s theme is “Puppet Palooza” and organizers are asking owners of some of the original giant puppets to join the parade.
“They’re stored all over the place,” said Hilary Graham of Francestown, one of the committee members for this year’s festival. “It will be sort of a historic overview of the festival. It should be a great parade.”
Reeves said at least 16 of the old-school puppets will be in the parade, and she expects there might be more.
“It will be interesting to see what else shows up,” Reeves said. “It’s a very organic parade.”
The parade features children from many area schools, both public and private, carrying puppets from the Peterborough Elementary School parking lot down Main Street, turning onto Grove Street and marching to Putnam Park, past waving friends, parents and grandparents crowding the sidewalks. It kicks off at the elementary school at noon.
Graham said many children in the parade will be carrying new puppets they have made in the past few weeks at their schools. Artist-in-residence Lorraine Gilman has been working with more than 200 students at the elementary schools in Francestown, Greenfield, Peterborough, Antrim and Hancock and at Great Brook School in Antrim. They’ll be performing with their puppets at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday at the Historical Society.
This year’s festival actually starts on Friday, when the first of several puppet-related events kicks off the anniversary celebration. The Tanglewood Marionettes, a Massachusetts-based group, will perform “The Dragon King,” an underwater fantasy story featuring colorful sea creatures that’s based on an old Chinese folk tale. The free show will be at the Town House at 7 p.m.
The Historical Society (now known as the Monadnock Center for History and Culture) will be the site of several puppet-related events on Saturday. After the early morning performance by the elementary school students, a paper-bag puppet making workshop will be held under a tent behind the building from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. A group called Nappy’s Puppets will do a shadow puppet show, one of the oldest forms of puppetry, at 1:15 p.m. and again at 2:15 p.m.
And at 2 p.m., Bread and Puppet Theater, the Glover, Vt., group that inspired the giant puppets nearly 20 years ago, will put on a show called “Circus of the Possibilitarians,” described as “a satirical horse and butterfly circus addressing pertinent national and international issues in a clownish fashion, including rotten ideas, a wild dancing horse, some mellow lions and a lot more.”
“They will do a residency on Friday afternoon with local students and adults,” Reeves said about Bread and Puppet. “Then they’ll do a performance with puppets and props on Saturday. They’re great. They bring people in, show them what to do and put on a show.”
Three other puppet events will be held at the Mariposa Museum. The Cobb Meadow Puppeteers will perform “The Pancake Mill,” an old European folk tale told with marionettes, at 9:30 a.m. The Crabgrass Puppet Theater will offer fables from around the world at 1:15 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. And Peterborough Elementary School fourth-graders will tell a tall tale about Davy Crockett at 2:15 p.m.
Mona Adisa Brooks will also be doing an operatic puppet show of Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” at 1:30, 2 and 2:30 p.m. at her gallery, Trumpet, on Grove Street. Children who have been attending free art classes at the Trumpet gallery will also be exhibiting their work, set up in clothesline fashion in the gallery.
And puppets will be featured in a first-of-a-kind show called “Toying with Milton” at the Sharon Arts Center at 11 a.m. Working with Keene State College adjunct professors Rodger Martin and Mike Wakefield, ConVal students are preparing a miniature stage set to visually showcase the creation story from Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Students will be reading the roles of God, the angel Raphael, Adam and Eve, and student musicians will be accompanying the performance.
“I’ve been working to do dramatic readings of portions of ‘Paradise Lost’ but I never would have imagined it as puppet theater,” Martin said. “The poem is meant to be heard. Our goal is to get it off the page.”
But puppets won’t be the only attractions of the festival. Music will be provided at various times and locations by the Pantastics Steel Drummers, the Folk Soul Band, Backbeats African drum ensemble and the High Mowing jazz band. Dance groups will perform throughout the day at the Town House and the Unitarian Church, which is also the site for crafts activities for children throughout the day. And food will be available from local nonprofit groups at an international food court near the Town House.
“The only thing people pay for is food,” Graham said. “This festival isn’t about spending money. It’s about enjoying the day and participating. It’s just amazing how much this festival provides, for free. I don’t know of any other community that does anything like this.”