AshevilleLocal News: Asheville and Hendersonville

Regional puppeteer festival staged at Warren Wilson


Hobey Ford moves a hinged, cat shadow puppet into a leap. He demonstrates to Fletcher Elementary students, before they made and played with their own paper puppets. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By Pete Zamplas – A major regional festival of puppeteers from across the country is in Asheville next week, providing locals a chance to learn basics in workshops and to see pros in action.

A toy puppet-making lab will be conducted by Kevin Kammeraad on Friday, June 29 from 10:30 a.m. to noon, and is free for children. He will teach youths of various ages to make their own “up-cycled” toy puppet.The four-day Puppeteers of America Southeast Regional Festival is June 28 to July 1, at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa. It brings together puppeteers of varying styles and experience, novices and those curious about the craft.

He said that in a parade, they will then “bring those puppets to life through music, movement and imagination.” Also, Kammeraad “and (young) friends” will do a puppet show 3 p.m. June 30. The title “The Spinach Dip Pancakes Show” is named after one of his children’s books. He has performed in the National Children’s Museum in D.C. Kammeraad lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., hometown of former Pres. Gerald Ford.

The public can see a “Potpourri” puppetry talent show June 29, and a puppet slam variety show June 30 such as have been in Asheville clubs, Fringe and LEAF. Both shows are open for festival registrants to participate in. Those who put on a puppet show must keep it to within five minutes, festival organizer Keith Shubert noted. Other registrants see the show for free, while the non-registered public pays show tickets.

The National Marionette Theater of Erie, Pa. is in one of nine stage performances by acclaimed puppeteers. Seven of these shows are at Warren Wilson. Tickets for each show are $10 per adult, $5 per child 12 or younger.

The troupe (formed in 1967) uses detailed, handcrafted wooden marionettes in precise motion and sharp scenery, and will tell the original Russian folk story of “Peter and the Wolf.” Peter and his animal friends try to capture the wicked wolf, in circa-1900 Russia. The fully-staged show is set to Sergei Prokofiev’s classical music of 1936.

This is on the festival’s opening day of Thursday, June 28, 7-8 p.m. The puppeteers are troupe Mg. Dir. David J. Syrotiak, son of the founder, and Romanian native Mariana Palade Syrotiak. When asked once what puppet he might be, David quipped “I would never be a puppet, because then I’d be a tool in someone else’s hands…I prefer to be the hands!”

Puppet-costumed people of Giant Puppet Dance Club does “Zumba and Zaniness” June 30. Street Creature Puppets, an Asheville-based artisan collective, acts with giant puppets in the opening ceremony 6-7 p.m.

Most shows are family-friendly. Shubert noted adult themes are most apt to be in the Wham, Bam! Puppet Slam he hosts, for ages 15 and older.

The regional festival is “the biggest thing I have ever attempted, in almost a decade of living and performing here in Asheville,” Shubert stated excitedly. He foresees it as among “the most unique and exciting events” in town all summer.

Hobey Ford, a Connective native living in WNC, has been at Kennedy Center (in D.C.) performing and instructing artist for 20 years. He won three Jim Henson Foundation grants and the industry’s premier honor, the Citation of Excellence from Union Internationale de la Marionette (UNIMA). UNIMA formed in Prague, Czech. in 1929; its U.S. branch is in Atlanta.

Quate Bean talks about Stone Mountain near Atlanta. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Ford takes the stage June 29, in “Sea Song” with shadow puppets of sea turtles, birds and a boy. This puppet story is about a boy shedding his addiction to games on his smart phone, as he comes across sea turtles at his grandma’s beach home. In Japanese Bunraku style, Ford uses a table top stage and performs in full view while dressed in black.

For a week this winter, he taught workshops for Fletcher Elementary students and teachers. He showed how to make basic paper cut-out puppets with hinged joints, and to move them into various motions as shadow puppets. Children chose one of four animal shapes.

Shadows were cast from puppets, moving behind a backlit stage with a semi-transparent screen and cardboard frame. He noted shadow puppetry over a century ago was the first form of motion pictures.

Ford also gave two puppetry performances at the school. His visit was paid by the N.C. Arts Council and Fletcher Arts and Heritage Association.

Ford makes some puppets out of carved foam rubber, others with sticks or other rods. He started Golden Rod Puppets in 1980, housing it at 1030 Merrimon Ave. in Asheville.

Similar to what Ford did in Fletcher, Lyon Forrest Hill in “Puppets with Paper” (June 29, 3-4 p.m.) will show festival-goers affordable ways to create a “jointed paper puppet.” They can use one of his templates, or an original design. Hill has been artistic director of Columbia (S.C.) Marionette Theatre since 2000. He has made short puppet films.

Hill recently delighted Asheville crowds, telling Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabelle Lee” dark poetic tale with shadow wire figures of people and buildings. He spread them on a table, as the setting behind a screen. From back there, Hill shined a small flashlight onto one figure at a time. This enlarged and projected the image through the screen into view. Hill nimbly moved the light side to side, to simulate motion then go to the next shadowy image.

A shadow play is “Tongues Out: Birth of the Moon” 3 p.m. on June 29. It features animal puppets, with some stealing moon light and others thwarting them. “Shadow Factory: Still Life” by Matt Sandbank of Austin, Texas is 7 p.m. June 30.

Two shows will be in Sly Grog Lounge on July 1. “Jeghetto” Pipkins’ “Time Machine” is at 11 a.m. Then Bean & Bear from Georgia uses a mini-fort at 2 p.m. In Asheville before, Quate (“Cate”) Bean has used 3-D visuals of the Stone Mountain monument and other Georgian landmarks.

Carole D’Agostino leads a “Meet the Artist” panel discussion, asking peers questions ahead of audience Q&A. In a recent puppet slam locally, she got her female puppet to smoke by swinging a tiny cigarette to its mouth that sparked as if lit. She is puppet shop manager of the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, and worked with “Muppeteer” Jim Henson’s company to design puppets and sets.

“Sound and Storytelling in Puppetry” is a lecture by Jeff Bragg, June 29. He emphasizes sound quality in shows, for a more “immersive experience” for the audience. He put in 45 years in music and sound design.

Those wanting to take an act to the big screen can hear Alex Griffin teach puppet filmmaking basics. Also June 30, David Syrotiak tells about “Marionette Manipulation and Stringing.”

Festival registration is $300, or $250 for Puppeteers of America members, or $150 per child 12 or younger. For more on the festival, check online at:

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