MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We turn now to a different sort of theater, one that is taking the D.C. region by storm, puppetry. Puppetry is popping up all over the place these days it seems. At the studio theater in Northwest D.C. it's the final weekend of the sci-fi puppet show "Baby Universe."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
At the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street Northeast you can see Burmese puppetry. In downtown Washington, puppets have found their way into this year's Capital Fringe Festival and through the middle of August Rockville's Strathmore Mansion is hosting puppets from all over the country for the summer long festival "Puppets Take Strathmore."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
So why is 2013 shaping up to be the year of the puppet? Emily Berman went in search of answers.
MR. DON BECKER
All right, so what we'll do here is we open up our clay, use polymer clay.
MS. EMILY BERMAN
Don Becker is hunched over a desk in his studio pushing a metal tool into a ball of clay.
And I'll grab some eyes here, glass eyes.
Becker's work is part of the Strathmore Festival's gallery exhibition of puppets from all over the world. His marionettes are small, no bigger than a Barbie doll and right now he's making the puppet's head, which doesn't look anything like a Barbie head.
It's funny, people's reaction to my work because I don't see it as creepy or dark at all. But there are some people that just walk by and go, oh my God you must have horrible nightmares.
His marionettes are goofy goblins, disturbed looking fairies and never before seen space creatures. But this isn't all he does. He's contracted by theaters all over town to make puppets.
People don't expect. They see a puppet on stage they don't know exactly what to expect. Just because it looks one way you really don't know what it is. For instance, you can have a puppet walk onto the stage. Puppet's feet are on the floor walking along the stage and all of a sudden before you knew it, you know, the puppet's whoop, maybe up and flying.
Later this summer Strathmore will offer workshops to teach participants how to create their own puppets. One of the workshops for kids will be taught by Chicago based artist, Blair Thomas. Kids tend to like puppet theater, Thomas says, because it feels very real.
MR. BLAIR THOMAS
They don't look at a puppeteer at all, they're talking to the puppet. They just go there immediately but for the adults it's this kind of place where people kind of go in and out of that belief where you get caught. You're like wow that does look real. No, it's not real. Though it does look, it looks really real, no it's not real, it's not real at all. And, you know, and this place is engaging to an adult mind.
Because it seems familiar and humanlike but is beyond what human can do that's what makes puppets seem powerful and to some a little creepy. In early August Thomas will perform his acclaimed solo puppet show, "Hard Headed Heart" at Strathmore. Its three tales about love in three distinct styles of puppetry that all incorporate music into the storyline.
But if you're looking to see something sooner across town in Columbia Heights a group of actors is rehearsing in the basement of the Gala Hispanic Theater.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE ONE
Remember me? It's Paul Bunion the greatest lumberjack in the world. Chop, chop, timber.
The Pointless Theater Company is getting ready for its show, "Mark Twain's Riverboat Extravaganza." Scott Whalen is a founding member.
MR. SCOTT WHALEN
We are trying to create puppet theater for adults and create theater that we enjoy.
The group is made up of students recently graduated from the University of Maryland theater department which had for a time an artist in residency program funded by the family of Jim Henson. It supported an artist working in puppetry to come to College Park and teach students the craft. Without that, Whalen says, they never would've fallen in love with puppetry.
It is being narrated by Mark Twain, it takes place on a riverboat and we have our Mark Twain's players, Becky Thatcher, Jim Griffin, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn telling five classic American folk tales through different styles of puppetry.
The show is part of the Capital Fringe Festival and is playing five times over the next two weeks. these puppets are aimed at adults but chances are your kids might like it too. I'm Emily Berman.
You can learn more about all the shows Emily mentioned on our website, metroconnection.org.
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