The village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, has always had an amazing arts scene. Currently there is a great upwelling of the visual and performing arts here, with a summer long weekend festival scene for villagers and our many visitors. Village arts folks are busy and happy, with so many opportunities to share.
My own contribution is in the realm of puppetry - actually, a mix of storytelling and toy theater. My little troupe (one human and several toys) is called "Carolion And The HOOZITS,"* and we just performed a new show this Saturday past. True to the spirit of playing with toys, my shows usually come to me at the last minute, as this one did. I went to bed Friday night with the thought that I'd wake up with a great show idea on Saturday morning. Great ideas, of course, are one thing; a coherent, entertaining show is another.
Between waking up and set-up time (3:15 for the 4 p.m. performance) I develop the story line, paint eyes, nose, and mouth on a new character (a standing metal spinning top, named "Spinner"); cut out a cardboard "book" and cut holes in the covers (eaten by a bookapillar, of course - her name is "Lou Lou") and paint the covers, adding words that have holes eaten out of them, and get the paint dry in the sun; make our sign ("Carolion and the Hoozits in - LIBRARY LOU LOU - featuring Music Al the Xylogator, Spinner the Top, and Lou Lou the Bookapillar") and figure out how I'll hang it; pack "scenery scarves" and a "magic flute" into my Magic Hat; figure out logistics of performance set-up (a small take-apart plastic table with a cloth over it so I can hide things underneath, with a little stool so I can sit behind it when I'm not standing or walking). Then I shower and get dressed (puppeteer's black - all the way to my wrists and my toes - nothing else feels right), pack the car and head downtown.
I park in the grocery store parking lot, carry my puppets and simple set and sign to our performance location - a nice shady ex-restaurant space bounded by a wooden fence and the side of a bookstore and wrought iron picket fence. There is plenty of seating and enough shade. I set the backdrop (an old red bedspread) and hang our sign. Emily, my arts council coordinator hasn't arrived yet, so I decide to approach people with young children to let them know there will be a puppet show at 4 p.m. Emily arrives with more signage, and our audience begins to gather. I wait the requisite 10+ minutes past 4 (we operate on "Yellow Springs time"), and during that time I make small talk with the small people in the audience. One little boy explains to us that you don't have to have a lot of performers - that one person can just change voices and make us believe that there are lots of characters. He knows my style - he and I go back a few library storytimes together. I say, "You're right! Maybe one day you'll be a puppeteer!" He beams.
I introduce Music Al the Xylogator first, and we sing his signature song to the accompaniment of the rainbow xylophone which is his spine. Al then tells me he wants to go to the library to find a new book. I say, "But Al! You have 50 zillion books at home!" Al responds, "Yeah, but you've read them to me 50 zillion times!" To which I say, "But you asked me to......" But Al is bored with his books at home, so we begin to walk "to the library," along the edge of the little stage. One little boy in the audience warns Al not to get too close to the edge of the stage, or he might fall off "into the water." Al says that he likes the water - that he even sleeps in a wet bed (the swamp) and loves it that way. We go merrily on our way, and Al decides to stop at his new friend Spinner's house, and take him along with us to the library.
Spinner, of course, is so pumped-up about going to the library that he begins to spin and spin, and I have to tell him to slow down or he might get dizzy and throw up. So on to the library we go, singing a little song about that. Finally at the library we talk about being in the World of Imagination. I say, "Good thing I brought my Magic Hat!" and begin to pull scarves out of it, to put in the hands of little audience volunteers. Yellow for the Sun, green for the Trees, and a flowered scarf for the Flowers. We make up a little story about Sun, Trees, and Flowers, and then our volunteers return to their seats. Music Al and Spinner and I find just exactly the book we want, yay! But when we pull it off the shelf, it has big holes chewed in the front and back covers, and all the pages have been eaten. Suddenly Lou Lou appears and confesses to having eaten all this, because she's a bookapillar and she's planning to make a coccoon and become a bookerfly. She's afraid that the librarians will discover her and put her out of the library.
The solution? I decide to pay for the damaged book, so we can take Lou Lou home with us. That way she can be safe to spin her coccoon. Spinner is delighted, and volunteers to help with the spinning. So - it all works out in the end. For the very, very end we sing a goodbye song, with Al's accompaniment.
After the show, children always want to have a visit with Music Al. He's a popular guy. It's a good way for me to wind down, finish out the performer energy, and get back to my everyday self. After a while of visiting Al and our new hit star, Spinner - and after some photos taken by parents - I tell my friends that Al and Spinner and Lou Lou have to take their naps. I tuck Al into the bottom of the Hoozits' basket, and tuck in Lou Lou and Spinner as well, with the Magic Hat and the Scenery Scarves.....Basket closed, sign and backdrop down, little table taken apart and put in its bag....We're ready to go. Emily has children's arts activities set up, and community volunteers there to help. It's another great arts afternoon in Yellow Springs.
*To read more about the HOOZITS, follow the ON WITH THE SHOW! link at the top of the page.