Once upon a time, when I was a wee pup, Grandma Pat and Grandpa Buddy (your great grandparents) would take us to see the Bil Baird Marionettes when we were in New York. Then I got all grown up (about 5th or 6th grade) and stupid and said I was much too old to enjoy a marionette show. Eventually (thank goodness) I became young enough to enjoy puppets again.
Bil Baird and his wife produced and performed “The Lonely Goatherd” in The Sound of Music. Which is to say, they puppeteered; Julie sang.
Also when I was a wee pup, Grandma and Grandpa (yours, not mine) would take us to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We would watch the parade uptown near where Grandma and Grandpa (mine, not yours) lived and then go to their apartment for hot chocolate and to watch the balloons all over again on TV.
When I was in graduate school, I went the night before the parade to see them blow up the balloons. Very cool. Actually, quite chilly, but still cool.
And not too long ago, I had the great privilege of hearing John Lewandowski, Artistic Director of Madcap Puppet Theater, speak (all the actual facts hereafter are from the notes he was kind enough to share with me—all the mistakes and made up stuff is mine).
Puppets—depending on how you define these things—have been around since people have been around. Little prehistoric babies were entertained by prehistoric baby sitters using rocks and charcoal to make hand puppets (I made that up, but the theory is probably sound).
Shakespeare hated puppets. Probably because he was scared by one when he was in 5th or 6th grade. Also because he thought they took people away from his theater.
Traditionally, puppets were adult entertainment (think Jeff Dunham). I doubt you had to show ID to see a show, but the themes and dialog were definitely adult-oriented and frequently involved social or political commentary. The puppets were rarely locked up for their views. Can’t say the same for all puppeteers.
There have been some other incredible puppeteers in these here now United States in addition to Bil Baird. Tony Sarg, a Cincinnati native, toured a large marionette company at the beginning of the 20th century. He was invited to New York and created the first large street balloons for the first Macy’s parade, designed as upside-down string puppets (ta-dah! You thought I couldn’t tie it all together, didn’t you?).
Of course, my own personal heroes in the puppet world are Kermit Thee Frog and the stunning Miss Piggy who has a shoe collection to die for. I heard recently that there is a new biography of Jim Henson if you find yourself in post-exam-mode with nothing to do (ha).
Also in Cincinnati is Madcap Puppet Theater which does great shows and collaborates brilliantly with other arts organizations (puppet opera anyone?). They have done a marvelous job figuring out the fine line between appealing to adults and being accessible to children. Or possibly appealing to children and being accessible to adults. I still feel I should borrow a child to go see their shows, but I know I’ll enjoy myself.
I’ll meet you Thursday morning in front of the TV to watch the parade (“poodrade” as a certain someone used to say when he was but a wee pup) and its upside-down puppets. Not to worry—there isn’t any football until after the parade.