practice maneuvering marionettes during PuppetFest Midwest,
a week-long crash course on the art of puppeteering held on
the campus of North Central Missouri College in June.
The room would
be silent if not for a rhythmic tap-tap of tiny feet on the tile
floor. Bette Midler, Liza Minelli and a goggle-eyed Swiss Miss girl
look on from the rack where they quietly hang, waiting their turn
posture,” says instructor and
professional marionette performer Phillip Huber. “Excellent
personality,” he says as a student
parades his puppet past a mirror-lined wall. “Good manipulation,” Huber
says to another.
The occasion is
PuppetFest MidWest, an annual gathering in Trenton of puppet enthusiasts
who want to become masters of puppetry. Students have descended upon
the north-central Missouri town to excel in the performance art. While
nearly a dozen students learn advanced marionette techniques in
class, 50 other
puppeteers are hard at work in other workshops.
Years ago, after
performing at the Grundy County Jewett-Norris Library’s
Hoover Theatre near the North Central Missouri College campus, professional
puppeteers Peter Allen and Debbie Lutzky-Allen thought the small
campus was the perfect site for a week-long puppet workshop. After
sharing that dream with the Rumpelstiltskin Society, a close-knit
group of puppetry friends, they decided to help inspire and instruct
future master puppeteers so the art wouldn’t die. So
they created PuppetFest MidWest, a training institute for both
long-time and aspiring puppeteers.
Peterjohn from Los Alamitos, Calif., practices manipulating
a shadow puppet during during a workshop led by nationally-recognized
puppeteer Jim Napolitano.
of live puppet theater, as opposed to television, movies or computer
animation, is very important to us,” says Peter Allen. “Most
of us have been performing for 20 or 30 years and we’re starting
to realize that if we want to see good puppet theater after we
retire, we’d better start
teaching the next generation now. We dinosaurs in the art are starting
to die off.”
While there are
numerous puppet festivals held around the world, few offer the intense
study that PuppetFest MidWest offers attendees.
many festivals where 600 people can choose from a buffet-style selection
of classes,” says instructor Jim Napolitano. “But you
get maybe an hour and a half in a session and you come away with
only a feel for that type of puppetry. It’s difficult to
come away with that ‘Oh,
I can do this at home’ confidence.
get at least 20 hours of instruction in small groups and you can
go home with a puppet recipe and create puppets over and over again,” says
Napolitano, who teaches a technique called shadow puppetry at
During this year’s
July 10-15 institute, attendees can choose such classes as developing
puppet character, rod puppet design and performance, advanced marionette manipulation
or ventriloquism technique to name only a few.
working with a hand puppet, students learn to convey their own
personalities through their art.
really aren’t any other options like what we’re doing
here,” says Debbie Lutzky-Allen. “You could take
long university courses or expensive short courses or you
can come here for an intensive, affordable, fun week of school.”
MidWest evidently meets a need, as attendance has grown
every year since its beginning in 2003. Last year more than 60
puppeteers from all across the United States, Canada and
Japan attended the school. To the layman, the instructors
might not be well known, but in the world of puppetry they’re
these guys make big money doing this, but they’re willing
to come here for a small honorarium, a dorm room and
cafeteria food. That’s
definitely commitment to the art,” Debbie says.
school costs $570 per person, which includes one workshop
of your choice, room, meals and tickets to evening
performances. Scholarships are also available to PuppetFest students.
aspiring puppeteers, the experience is well worth the cost. Bruno
Descaves, a Brazilian marionette puppeteer who resides in Japan,
has attended two of the workshops and plans to come back again.
the workshop make their own puppets.
a 12-hour flight here from Brazil,” Descaves says, “but
good marionette classes are so hard to find. And
Phillip Huber is so generous with his knowledge.”
student Lisa Hager of Kansas says she hopes to make puppets
for use with vacation Bible school as well as Renaissance festivals
that I can sit in this small class and pick the brain of a master
puppeteer amazes me,” says
Hager. “They don’t know me from
Adam, but they’ll talk to a novice like
they would a world-class puppeteer. It’s
For the public,
evening performances are offered for $5 at the Hoover Theater. After
watching the performances, one can see that
puppetry isn’t only for
kids. Even adults sit still with rapt attention.
is good, family entertainment,” says
Peter. “Our goal
is to help continue to produce good puppet
theater and help train up-and-coming puppeteers.”
For more details, go to www.puppetfestival.org.
You may contact the Allens at firstname.lastname@example.org or
by calling (660) 684-6825.